So. Ex. Citing… The Denver Nuggets!
Anyone living in Denver during the 1980s might recall this catchy jingle produced by those charged with marketing the city’s NBA franchise. If you’re new to the Mile High City, or need a refresher, just imagine a jazzy tune sung by professional singers, playing on local television and radio. The message was simple and it didn’t overpromise or under-deliver; if the ‘80s Nuggets were anything, they were exciting.
They had wacky uniforms, perfectly suited for the eclectic decade (see “ugly”). They were led by the Association’s most entertaining coach, Doug Moe, whose offbeat antics and sloppy dress become the loveable trademarks of a nine-year run in which the Nuggets didn’t miss the playoffs. In 1985 they even made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
What a lot of folks forget, however, is that the run in ’85 was made possible by a blockbuster trade that took place the summer before. Kiki Vandeweghe, the team’s leading scorer (29.4 ppg), was sent to Portland in exchange for point guard Fat Lever, center Wayne Cooper and power forward Calvin Natt, all of whom started for the ’84-85 Nuggets.
Lever was arguably the key, as the deft point guard ran Moe’s up-tempo, run-and-gun system to perfection. Cooper and Natt provided the “nasty” that every good playoff team needs.
But above all else, and up until Moe’s last year in 1990, they were exciting.
It seems like that’s what’s missing around Denver these days. Brian Shaw wanted to play a bland brand of basketball. Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets’ most exciting player, clashed with Shaw and it showed. Ty Lawson, who can be exciting, seems bored by all of it. And for fans, missing the playoffs most definitely is not exciting.
The Nuggets newest head coach, Michael Malone – who seems more likeable by the minute – wasn’t necessarily an “exciting” hire. Tim Connelly, the young GM who has known Malone since before he ever coached in the NBA, hasn’t done anything overly exciting since landing in Denver. Credit Connelly for drafting Jusuf Nurkic, a gem of a pick whose upside is unquestionably exciting, but about a year ago, that decision on draft night was met with a collective groan. “Exciting” isn’t always right (see Maurice Martin, who, like Nurkic, was the No. 16 pick in the ’86 Draft); and while fans – especially here in Denver – want their team to do both, they’d often prefer the former to the latter.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume whomever the Nuggets select at No. 7 – or No. 6 (or better) if they can slide up – has a coin flip’s chance of being an NBA star (or, probably more accurately, a solid contributor). Since that’s the case, let’s propose that Connelly simply does something exciting.
To begin, trade Ty Lawson.
At this point it would be addition by subtraction, because Lawson is bored with Denver, thus making us bored with him. Trade Lawson to Sacramento (talk about a cure for boredom) because George Karl likes him. Multiple reports have the Nuggets and Kings discussing a Lawson-for-No. 6 trade; some say the Nuggets will have to take on a salary dump if it goes through. Fine. Just get it done, because moving up in the draft – no matter what happens from there – is exciting.
And if a trade for Lawson can be made, with anyone really, that points the Nuggets in the direction of drafting a point guard; two of the most exciting players in this year’s draft just happen to be point guards.
D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay sure would look sharp in Denver blue. Neither player is necessarily a sure thing (as noted, who is?), but both have superstar potential and both would, in theory, start immediately. If you’re a fan of mock drafts, you already know that many of them have Russell and Mudiay going Nos. 3 and 4 respectively. But others don’t. In fact, some have one or the other falling all the way to No. 7. With some crafty maneuvering, Connelly must find a way to get his man at the point.
If both Russell and Mudiay are gone, Kentucky stars Trey Liles or Willie Cauley-Stein are the next best bets.
And just to be clear, the fanbase in Denver would not be overly excited about Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja. With all due respect to those players, the Nuggets already have them. Porzingis is a “less strong” version of Nurkic, while Hezonja is a 6-foot-8, poor man’s Danilo Gallinari. Both provide big temptation, but the highly touted foreign players always do. They too are a coin flip at best.
From there, the Nuggets shouldn’t stop. The current roster is filled with everything but untouchables, so there should be no fear in making moves. Why not try to move up in the draft once more. Take that late second rounder and someone else – say Wilson Chandler – and swap for a player and picks. Who knows, maybe they could try to swindle another later first-rounder. If Russell or Mudiay aren’t selected, go for a point guard like Final Four Most Outstanding Player Tyus Jones or Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who is a very solid, very strong senior (remember when seniors used to get drafted?).
Perhaps all this is wishful thinking. There are plenty of “no ways” and “will never happens” in all of these scenarios. But the key is this: Do something exciting.
The status quo has become tiresome and a shake up is needed. Here’s hoping from now until draft night, the Nuggets do something jingle-worthy.