Nuggets need to establish identity for future
The Memphis Grizzlies bang inside and grind on defense. The San Antonio Spurs are a well-oiled machine with wily vets that rarely make mistakes. The Miami Heat play fast and have three superstars to make sure they win championships.
The first check on the Denver Nuggets’ offseason bucket list must be forthright: find an identity. Before the Nuggets go ahead and attempt to lure free agents to Denver, Brian Shaw and Tim Connelly must decide if the core players on the roster fit into a system that Shaw wants to play. If the players on the roster don’t complement the identity of choice, management should start making decisions to steer this team in the right direction.
Building around the core
As we know, Shaw is the apprentice to Phil Jackson and has seen the triangle offense win championships both as a player and coach. But is JaVale McGee a center you want as a key figure in a triangle offense? Probably not.
Furthermore, Shaw has said he wants the Nuggets to win games with defense, tenacity and grit. Are Evan Fornier and Danilo Gallinari candidates for the all-grit squad? Not likely.
If the Nuggets want to play tough they’ll need to get players that play that style of basketball. The personnel has to match the vision. Without a plan for the upcoming season, the Nuggets would be foolish to waste money by blindly signing players that don’t fit. Connelly has to be methodical this offseason and every move must have a purpose that fits into a calculated long-term plan if he wants Shaw to succeed.
The practical core the Nuggets should build around, based on basketball and contractual obligations, are Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, McGee, and Gallinari. Lawson, McGee, and Gallinari together occupy 52 percent of the Nuggets’ payroll next season. These are the guys making the big bucks, and so these are the guys who have to be the foundation of the roster. Faried will be due for a huge raise in a few years, and the Nuggets would be silly to not extend him. Gallinari and McGee will both be off the books in two seasons, but for now, this is the nucleus.
So, with this core, what do you see? An athletic front court with Faried and McGee, an All-Star point guard, and a 6-10 forward who can shoot from distance and get his own shot when needed in Gallinari. Add a shooting guard and Denver has a well-rounded starting lineup.
If Shaw is committed to assembling a team that grinds out victories and plays tough on both ends, he should send a memo to Josh Kroenke in regard to his old friend Lance Stephenson. Shaw was an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers last season when Stephenson had a breakthrough year, and he witnessed Stephenson’s unapologetic ferocity in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, especially when matched against Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. Stephenson is an elite rebounder for a guard and is a capable facilitator to go along with Ty Lawson. He’ll be a free agent this summer and the Nuggets should think about making a run at the 23-year-old guard.
The Nuggets have movable pieces to make trades and create a winning culture and a new identity in Denver. The trick is making sure you only enter the correct pieces.