“I think we’re the best team in the West.”
Hey now! That’s how to start off a season.
Nuggets guard Ty Lawson is the man who uttered those words – just yesterday in fact. And he didn’t backpedal, either. He stood there in front of a crowd of media types, proudly donning the Nuggets’ new “retro gold” alternate jerseys, and didn’t think twice.
“You can’t just game-plan for one person on this team,” Lawson continued confidently. “I think we’ll be No. 1 in the West.”
Yep. You heard it right. Bold in gold.
Conventional wisdom says: Oklahoma City No. 1, Lakers No. 2 (or flip-flop them if you truly believe Dwight Howard is more than a broad-shouldered, malcontent), Nuggets three, possibly four, at worst five. Lawson says: “One.”
And I like it.
Can they really be that good, though? That’s a tall order. Vegas doesn’t buy into what Lawson is saying; Sin City is giving 20:1 odds on the Nuggets winning the West – the same as Dallas, behind Memphis and the Clippers (both 15:1), San Antonio (6:1); OKC (9:4) and the Lakers (6:5). But with a break here or there, the Nuggets can be in the mix; no doubt.
Last year when Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL, the Bulls’ odds of winning an NBA title shifted from 4:1 to 12:1 – instantly. Nobody likes to talk about injuries, but they’re a reality in the NBA. If the Nuggets are hanging around the top of the standings, they’ve got a shot.
Besides, even if the West stays healthy from top to bottom (a would-be-first in the history of basketball) the Nuggets are good enough to vie for a conference title anyway. As Lawson suggests, they’re deep. They’re young, but emerging, and their ceiling is somewhat of a mystery.
Lawson showed he could be a star in last year’s playoffs. Newly acquired two-guard and defensive stopper Andre Iguodala is a star. And JaVale McGee, who comes in bigger and smoother (McGee looks like he’s gained about 15 pounds of muscle and he spent the entire summer working out with one of the game’s silkiest big men, Hakeem Olajuwon), is the ultimate X-factor.
Lawson isn’t crazy.
Of course, any team – from the Miami Heat to the Dallas Mavericks – needs a little magic along the way. It’s an ingredient nobody can predict, especially on October 1.
The Nuggets may very well have some of that, too. Let me explain.
Aside from liking Lawson’s confidence, I love the Nuggets’ new gold uniforms, a vision that plenty of folks in the know attribute to team president and governor Josh Kroenke. The alternate home duds are bright and bold (like Lawson), yet give an appropriate nod to the past.
But history suggests that a new look can actually mean more than just must-buy apparel for fans. In Denver specifically, there are plenty of examples of new laundry yielding new wins. No sooner than the Quebec Nordiques traded their odd little igloo for the “A” of Colorado, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. When the Denver Broncos switched from their ’60s-inspired orange uniforms to a primarily navy look that featured a fierce and modern Bronco, the franchise claimed its first Super Bowl. And then another.
The Nuggets’ history of improvement after a change of clothing is perhaps even more telling.
In 1974, when Denver’s ABA franchise switched from being the Rockets to the Nuggets (and changed its uniforms accordingly), the team surged from 37 wins in ’73-’74, to 65 wins in ’74-’75 (a 334-point winning percentage improvement).
In 1981, when the Nuggets opted for the now-famous “rainbow” jerseys, newly hired Doug Moe and his team posted nine more wins and earned a spot in the NBA playoffs.
After 13 seasons in the ‘bows, Denver again switched things up, going with a regal navy, scarlet and gold look, while ditching the skyline and mountain logo. Like clockwork, they improved, earning a trip to the postseason for the first time in four years. The ’93-’94 Nuggets also became the first team in NBA history to pull off the 8-versus-1 upset in the playoffs.
The navy-and-red uniforms lasted a decade until general manager Kiki Vandeweghe switched things up by going with baby blue and gold in 2003. Whether it was the new unis or a kid named Carmelo Anthony, Denver surged to the postseason, ending an eight-year drought.
Which brings us to Ty Lawson – all 5-foot-11 of him, grinning from ear to ear in his fancy new threads, looking like he just read this column.
“We’re No. 1.”
History tells us it’s not as preposterous as it may sound. And the Nuggets are going to be a damn good team. Maybe Lawson is right. He’s definitely bold in gold.