The Starting Five:
PG - Chucky Atkins - Chucky is returning from an injury washed season in 2007-08 that started with a groin pull in preseason and progressed into a full-blown sports hernia. Atkins is back, healthy, and most likely going to be the Nuggets' starting point guard opening night. But aside from that nod against the Utah Jazz, Chucky is going to have to prove to George Karl in the first ten games of the season that his offense is worthy of maintaining the starting job. Remember, with AI and Atkins in the backcourt the Nuggets have the smallest guard tandem in the NBA and J.R. Smith is probably just as explosive offensively while giving the Nuggets a much bigger guard to compensate defensively with taller, more physical match-ups around the league.
SG - Allen Iverson - AI is starting shooting guard, but for how long is the burning question. The Answer is in the final year of his contract with the Nuggets, and unless Denver wants to pony up for a huge contract after this season it will probably be the last year for Iverson in the Mile High. With that being said, what kind of playing style Allen Iverson brings to this upcoming season may dictate just how much or how little success the Nuggets accumulate. We all know that AI is still capable of scoring 30+ points on any given night, but where the true gold hides is when Allen puts his scoring aside and makes sure others get into the act. Denver has proven to be almost unbeatable when AI double-doubles with points and assists, and if the Nuggets are going to compensate for their obvious defensive shortcomings it is going to be with AI taking a page out of the great Nate Archibald's book when he won an NBA championship with the Celtics as a facilitator first and a scorer second.
Allen Iverson will make $21.9 million this season.
SF - Carmelo Anthony - Fresh off winning the Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA, 'Melo will be the Nuggets' starting wingman next season and for the rest of his career in Denver. There is no question in my mind that Anthony will be in the top five scorers this season, yet again, but how the rest of his game continues to mature (or digress) will dictate whether or not he emerges as the true leader of this team. 'Melo posted a career-high rebounding average last season and that mark of 7.4 boards per game seemed to come him all but too easily. With Marcus Camby gone, not only is Anthony's rebounding effort going to need improvement, but his defense is also going to have to stiffen or the Nuggets are going to struggle tremendously.
Carmelo Anthony will make $14.4 million this season.
PF - Kenyon Martin - K-Mart's max contract and less than maximum impact over the years will forever be the defining black eye of the Kiki Vandewedghe era. But the fact still remains that said contract almost ensures Martin's stay in Denver through 2011. So, the best case scenario for the Nuggets is for a very defensive minded Martin to re-emerge as he reinvents himself for this franchise. The Nuggets are not short on offensive fire power and Kenyon Martin's most valuable impact will be minimizing the loss of Marcus Camby on the boards and relieving some of the lost post defensive burden on Nene.
Kenyon Martin will make $14.1 million this season.
C - Nene - Big Brazil will face the most pressure of any individual on this team in the 2008-09 season as he is thrusted into the Nuggets' starting center position. Nene has only played in 81 games for Denver over the last three years due to various injuries in addition to an unexpected fight against testicular cancer that limited him to just 16 appearances in the 2007-08 campaign. Nene is now healthy and reportedly in great shape, but the loss of Marcus Camby puts tremendous pressure on him to perform at a high level as of right now. If he does perform up to the Nugget faithful's expectations then all will be overlooked concerning his prior injuries. If he doesn't... Can you say, "lottery pick?"
Nene will make $9.6 million this season.
PG - Anthony Carter - "A. Ceeeeeeeeeeee." is back for another season with the Nuggets, but how much playing time he sees will be dictated by how well others perform. Chucky Atkins and J.R. Smith are presumably ahead of Carter on the depth chart, but the Nuggets were wise to invest a little bit of dough on Carter who has proven to be a quality insurance policy.
Anthony Carter will make $1.2 million this season.
SG - J.R. Smith - No player on this roster excites me more or may have more opportunity than the Prodigy. If he can prove to be a steady and efficient ball handler, while continuing to provide the Nuggets with a three-point threat, Smith may emerge as the Nuggets' starting running mate with AI within the first 20 games of the season. We all know what he is capable of doing with the ball in his hands, but like many other players on this team, his aptitude as a reliable defender will serve as a measuring stick for how high J.R.'s stock can rise. Now here's the B side of the record: Coach George Karl has delegated Smith as his whipping boy in the past for hoisting bad shots and showboating. Both need to be avoided this season for Smith to lose the "immature" tag and solidify himself as a night-in and night-out performer this team so desperately needs in their backcourt.
J.R. Smith will make $4.9 million this season.
SF - Linas Kleiza - LK is a player you have to feel sympathy for. Here is a guy that would most likely start for a majority of the teams in the Eastern Conference on his tenacity alone, but (un)fortunately is stuck playing behind perhaps the premier scoring small forward in the West. I've previously outlined how the only thing retarding Kleiza's numbers is the scarcity of minutes to go around, but make no mistake about Kleiza's impact off the bench. He is now going to assume the catch-all position that Eduardo Najera formerly occupied and I expect great things out of the L-Train in 2008-09.
Linas Kleiza will make $1.8 million this season.
PF - Renaldo Balkman - When Vice President of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien announced that the Nuggets traded PG Taurean Green, Forward Bobby Jones, and a 2010 second round draft pick to the New York Knicks for Renaldo Balkman and cash considerations I was less than pleased with the move. Denver already had Linas Kleiza log jammed behind 'Melo and to add another 6'8", "Big" small forward seemed pretty redundant. However, after talking to a few Knick fans (yes, they do still exist) I decided to leave the verdict out on Balkman. While his numbers aren't much to write home about he does present a tremendous upside with his energy. Balkman plays with a reckless abandon, shoots a high percentage around the goal, and his athleticism has been known to bother on the defensive end.
Renaldo Balkman will make $1.3 million this season.
C - Chris Andersen - If you haven't been a Nuggets fan for long I encourage you to go read Broken Wings to understand more about what makes the individual the Mile High City dubbed, "The Birdman" caw. Afterwards, it is important to understand that Chris Andersen is to the Nuggets as placing all your chips on double zero is on the roulette table in Vegas. Regardless of whatever happens, you're going to have a story to recount for years to come. So, if Andersen can play meaningful minutes off the bench while giving the fans good reason to cheer feel free to tip your waitress generously.
Chris Andersen will make $998,000 this season.
The Others (*Keep in mind only two of these players will be kept on the 12-man active roster list):
SG - Dahntay Jones - Reportedly a tremendous athlete, Jones has not been able to find a long-term NBA home since entering the league in 2003 as the Boston Celtics' selection with the 20th overall pick and his draft rights promptly being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. Perhaps with trader's remorse, the Boston Celtics gave Jones another look in 2007, but his stay in Beantown was short as he was waived in October of 2007 before the Sacramento Kings waived him again in February of 2008. Jones then found himself with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL before landing a one year contract with the Nuggets this season.
Dahntay Jones will make $926,678 this season.
SG - Sonny Weems - Denver worked with the Chicago Bulls in a three-team trade along with the New York Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire Weems. In July, Weems had surgery to repair a sports hernia suffered in routine workouts, but he is expected to fully recover in time for the start of training camp on Sept. 30th. Weems played five games for the Nuggets' Summer League team, averaging 9.2 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes per game.
The details of Sonny Weems' contract have not been disclosed.
PF/C - Steven Hunter - It's not a good sign when a player formerly suspended indefinitely for violation of the league's drug policy is brought in to take any minutes you may have been in line for of the bench. Which is exactly what the Nuggets decided to do after they sent starting center Marcus Camby packing despite still having Hunter on the payroll. This tells me that Steven Hunter will once again be on the end of the bench and rarely played. But, then again... Who can argue with getting paid $3.4 million dollars to watch basketball with courtside seats?
Steven Hunter will make $3.4 million this season.
So where does that leave Denver financially?
After taking on the league's third highest payroll last season with well over $85 million on the books this year's team is a little bit more of a bargain at $77.4 million. Leaving the Nuggets roughly $6.3 million over the NBA's luxury-tax threshold of $71.15 of which owner Stan Kroenke has to pay dollar-for-dollar that amount back to the league.