The Denver Nuggets played their first game without center Timofey Mozgov last night, beating the Orlando Magic 93-90 at the Pepsi Center.
The victory extended the team’s winning streak to three games and raised their record to 16-20. Despite stringing together a few games, a possible playoff berth still looks a long ways off. Moving Mozgov now seems like the first acknowledgement that the Nuggets are looking towards the future instead of this season.
Although if you read Nate Timmons of DenverStiffs recap of general manager and vice president of team operations Tim Connelly’s talk with the media yesterday, it might not sound that way. While it seems like the organization is getting more and more realistic about their chances this season, the Nuggets still think they have a shot, and they’ll use the next couple weeks to clarify things. If things don’t go Denver’s way the rest of this month, it’s safe to say Mozgov won’t be the only player moved.
That prospect shouldn’t dismay fans in Denver, not after what Connelly managed to secure for Mozgov. Connelly did one hell of a job netting two future first-round picks for the 28-year-old center. Despite losing a well-respected and solid player in Mozgov, the team’s future looks much brighter today than it did 24 hours ago.
Connelly deserves the credit for that. For a guy who had some no-so-nice things written about his ability to do the job earlier in the year, this deal is a total coup. Despite what he says about not giving up on this season, the Nuggets and Connelly should be brimming with confidence about their ability to get good value for their veteran players should they decide that the season is a lost cause.
Still, those are thoughts for the future. Right now, the move means that center Jusuf Nurkic will take over the starting role at the center position. He’ll have his ups and downs, as he did Wednesday against the Magic (he finished with 8 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocks). But for fans already looking ahead, more of Nurkic is a good thing, as the rookie is loaded with talent and needs to be on the court as much as possible.
This deal assures that will happen. There’s also the possibility that center JaVale McGee will return sometime in the near future, so the Nuggets may have more options at center soon than it seems at the moment. All that, and the move means that the Nuggets will be in a position to reload in future drafts – or in a better position to flip those picks in additional moves down the road. It seems safe to say that, despite the pain of parting ways with Mozgov, Connelly helped secure the team’s future Wednesday.
As for Mozgov, he has a chance to win a title in Cleveland. Despite the Cavaliers somewhat bumpy start to the season, they’re almost assuredly going to make the playoffs, and getting Mozgov shores up their biggest problem – the lack of a true starting center and rim protector. Mozgov might not make them title favorites, but they still have the best player on Earth in LeBron James, and this it’ll be interesting to see if they can jell in time.
Mozgov had his moments here in Denver – his 23 point, 29-rebound shellacking of the Golden State Warriors late last season jumps to mind – and he’ll be sorely missed, both in the locker room and on the floor. It was exciting watching him develop into a true starting NBA center over the past few seasons, and his jump last year under head coach Brian Shaw speaks well to the coaching staffs’ ability to maximize the talents of Nurkic moving forward. I’m glad Mozgov will have the chance to join a contender in Cleveland, even though I’ll miss Chris Marlowe’s “Nyet!” call every time he sent a shot back at a defender.
Depending on how the next few weeks goes, the Nuggets might end this season looking mighty different than when they started it. If Wednesday was any indication, the Nuggets are in good hands as they work their way through that transition.