SOSB'S COUNTDOWN TO 2014 (ranking the franchises for the new world order): GRADING THE NUGGETS

For an explanation of how this whole thing works, take a look at the Bobcats preview, located here

SOSB’S COUNTDOWN TO 2014: DENVER NUGGETS

CURRENT ROSTER: 7.0

Denver is in pretty good shape here, sporting depth at every position, plenty of talent and a mostly young core of players. Some rosters are top heavy, but not this one. What you get here is a team with at least ten good players, but no great ones. Ty Lawson, Danilo Galinari and rookie Kenneth Faried all have something resembling star potential, but they aren’t there just yet.

Above all, what they have here is enough assets to parlay them into a star player, if that’s what they seek. Otherwise, they’ve got more than enough to stay competitive for the foreseeable future.

CAP SITUATION: (Graphic from Hoopshype.com): 8.0

They’ve got plenty. Really, this is one of the better managed salary caps you’ll find anywhere, and the best part is, the team is actually good to boot. That combination is rare these days.

 

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The key was shedding Nene’s massive, 5 year 65 million dollar deal just months after signing it. Call it buyers remorse, since it appeared they were looking to move him almost immediately after the season started, especially since rookie Kenneth Faried emerged as an impact player. Thanks to that move, they have plenty of money to add pieces. As of now, they have two of their building blocks (Gallinari and Aaron Afflalo) locked up long-term, and it’s a good bet they’ll be looking to do the same with Ty Lawson. Heading into 2014, they’ll be in pretty good shape, with only reasonable priced veterans, a handful of young guys still on their rookie deals (Faried, Hamilton, Koufous) and a good chunk of change to fill out the roster.

The worst-case still entails them hovering around .500. The best-case sees them making a move for a star and being legit contenders. Either way, things are looking good.

 THE NUCLEUS FACTOR: 7.0

As mentioned, the Nuggets are more a function of the philosophy that you can win with lots of talent and no stars, and thus they are built in that mold rather than in the “big 3” model. As of now, the nucleus of the team is Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Afflalo and Al Harrington and Kenneth Faried. All of them are under contract for at least two years, if not longer. In Denver, this is how they do it: lock up a bevy of solid contributors and use their depth to win games.

Of course, there is always the chance that they will parlay some of those bodies to acquire a star in a trade. Seeing as though Denver isn’t thought of as an ideal spot for big-time free agents, it’s probably trade or bust for these guys.

Still, as strategies go, this one seems to be working just fine. Denver is poised to make the postseason even though they suffered nine separate misfortunes this year, and that fact is testament to the depth of their roster.

MANAGEMENT: 7.5

All things considered, it’s pretty solid. I mean, the two men in charge are the 31 year old son of the owner (Josh Kroenke) and Masai Ujiri, a first time GM. Both were thrown into the deep end of the pool last year with the the Carmelo Anthony saga and managed to not only keep their poise, they essentially fleeced the Knicks for everything they were worth. Fact is, they are in better shape now than they were a year ago, and it’s because they were able to parlay the departing Anthony into Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton (since traded for Andre Miller), Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, two second round picks AND a first round pick in 2014.

If you lost count, that’s five rotation players and three draft picks, all for a guy who was not coming back, no matter what. Can’t imagine they could have done any better than that.

Again, this is a team that appears to have a clear vision of who they are and what they are doing. Really, that’s about all you can hope for.

THE JEFF SPICOLI “I CAN FIX IT” INDEX: 7.0 

Not much to fix, really. Given that they are committed to winning with depth and without stars or burdensome contracts, they are right where they want to be. Of course, they have the depth and manuveurability to add a star, but that’s easier said than done. If they are to do it, it’s likely going to be in the form of a trade. Not sure they’ll be able to sign one of the big dogs in free-agency, all things considered.

Still, there’s no reason to think they can’t be a perennial playoff team. All the pieces are in place. For a small-market team like the Nuggets, I’m not sure they can do a whole lot better, and I’m sure they can do worse.

Total Score: 36.5

The Nuggets are on solid ground. Whether they take the next step depends on a few factors, but wither way this team should be in the playoffs every year for the near future.

-John Hathwell

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