“We’re not a contending team.”
More than anything else that happened, that was the statement that hit Denver Nuggets fans like a punch in the stomach Thursday afternoon when general manager Masai Ujiri spoke to the media following an NBA trade deadline in which the Nuggets failed to make a single move.
Sure, it was a head-scratcher that the team didn’t unload center Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov, a victim this season of the team’s impressive depth up front, drew the intrigue of no fewer than five teams across the Association, with the Minnesota Timberwolves even offering a first-round draft pick for his services. He is not under contract for the 2013-14 season and the Nuggets almost certainly cannot afford to re-sign him if they want to stay under the NBA luxury tax, which becomes far more punitive next season.
More than a few fans almost certainly raised an eyebrow that Wilson Chandler didn’t get a ticket out of town, either. Although under contract with the Nuggets for five more seasons, Chandler has intimated that he is not happy with his limited role in Denver. If the team wants to clear cap space with the intention of having some room to spend in free agency in the offseason, Chandler seems like the ideal place to start.
But to say that the Nuggets are not a contending team, that one stings.
I guess we all already knew it, but it feels weird to hear it said out loud, especially from the man who was able to trade one of the top scoring threats in the NBA for a bunch of nobodies and still come out with a perennial playoff team.
Since Ujiri’s comments on Thursday, the usual suspects have come forward to defend the Nuggets’ GM. The operative word they all seem latched to is “refreshing.”
“How refreshing to have an executive in town who is honest about his team.”
“What a refreshing dose of reality for Nuggets’ fans to have a GM who tells the truth about his team.”
“The refreshing thing about Masai Ujiri is that he doesn’t give everyone the same tired old GM-speak.”
The list goes on.
Last year, Ujiri made similar comments regarding his team’s chances at contention.
“We don’t expect to make a deep playoff run,” Ujiri claimed in an interview early in 2012.
It was an honest assessment of where the team was developmentally. But the implication was that the youngsters would be more playoff-ready by the time the 2013 postseason rolled around. Pushing the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the opening round of 2012 only served to reaffirm fan optimism for this year.
Enter 2013: “We’re not a contending team,” said Ujiri. “We also need to be patient as a team, organization, to grow a little bit.”
Once again, probably an honest view of where the team sits in the Western Conference. Masai is nothing if not realistic, a refreshing trait in a GM in any sport.
But when does refreshing become business as usual? What’s missing from the reaction to Ujiri’s comments is that they are almost identical to those made early in 2012, yet pundits don’t seem the least bit phased by the lack of progress made by the team. The Nuggets may be young, but of the nine players getting significant minutes, only Kenneth Faried has fewer than three-and-a-half years experience in the league.
How much more development does Masai expect? And when is it time to expect more out of this group of players?
When Ujiri told us that he didn’t expect a deep playoff run out of the Nuggets in 2012, it pacified all but the most militant championship-or-bust fans in Colorado. We now know that the refrain is the same in 2013, yet still no one is willing to bat an eyelash.
If Masai Ujiri claims that the Nuggets are not ready to contend in early 2014, will it still be a refreshing dose of honesty? Perhaps just as important; will we all buy it again and be pacified for one more season?
Another year of maturity for the Denver Nuggets, but the expectation remains the same. Perhaps things will be different next year; but if not, it’s time to start questioning whether there is a larger underlying problem.
Honesty is nice, especially when so many of us are used to hearing the company line out of sports executives. But if that honesty is used to distract the public from a lack of progress, the gesture becomes empty.
I expect bigger things out of Masai Ujiri and the Denver Nuggets. You should too.
MORE NUGGETS NEWS
Mohrmann: Nuggets content being mediocre (CLICK HERE)
Masai Ujiri says no to a bevy of trade offers (CLICK HERE)
Dover: To trade or not to trade? (CLICK HERE)