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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
Mile low Nuggets
Ty Lawson The Nuggets may have taken too many body blows to be considered contenders.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Expectations are a funny a thing.

On one hand, in the realm of the NBA, coaches and players acknowledge expectations, but probably dismiss them as the creation of someone else. Teams know how good they can be without a pundit or former player in a suit on a set telling them so.

Expectations get coaches and executives fired. If the bar is high and the result is lower, there's no geometric formula to tell you those gentlemen might need to look to broadcasting.

Having no expectations can be liberating. You can free wheel on the floor when no one in the solar system expects anything more than a trip to the lottery. (Philly, Phoenix, Boston ...)

The worst kind of expectations are the unrealistic ones. Yes, playing your team up to lofty prospects can motivate the mediocre to a postseason berth (Minnesota, Washington, Detroit, Toronto ...)

But delusions of grandeur do no good. Expectations should be attainable and should be determined based on tangible data and history.

So, with a nowhere near borderline expert opinion, I ask you a few questions about the expectations of one of last season's elite teams in the NBA.

What reasonable expectations should a team have when it lost its executive vice president in charge of basketball operations/general manager, who assembled a roster that won 57 regular-season games last season, a team record, then himself won Executive of the Year?

What reasonable expectations should a team have when it lost its head coach, one of seven in NBA history with 1,000 career wins, who took the team to nine playoff appearances in nine seasons, won a franchise-record 57 games last season, then himself won Coach of the Year?

What reasonable expectations should a team have when it lost its best player, an overpaid, but incredibly versatile wing player, who is among the game's best perimeter defenders and all-around stat stuffers (13.0 ppg/5.4 apg/5.3 rpg/1.7 spg), and, to the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season, nonetheless?

What reasonable expectations should a team have when its next-best player, a 16.2 ppg scorer last season with 37 percent 3-point shooting proficiency, will miss a good chunk of the early season as he recovers from a torn ACL?

And, to top it off, what reasonable expectations should we have for a team that traded its starting center for a bench guy and a second-round pick?

What reasonable expectations should we have for the 2013-14 Denver Nuggets?

In one offseason, the Nuggets, last season's third seed in the Western Conference, lost Masai Ujiri, who bolted the high altitude for the rebuilding project that is the Toronto Raptors; George Karl, who will be an analyst for ESPN; and Andre Iguodala, who is now a member of the Golden State Warriors.

Danilo Gallinari will be racing Santa Claus over who we'll see first and Kosta Koufos was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur and the 55th pick.

How can one team overcome all of that? The answer is they probably can't, but the Nuggets' obituary shouldn't written just yet.

Tim Connelly was brought in to replace Ujiri, and one of his first decisions was to hire Brian Shaw as his new coach. Shaw was the trendy name among assistants ready for the big chair. He studied under Phil Jackson and Frank Vogel and those two gentlemen are on the Mr. Miyagi scale of great mentors.

Ty Lawson is among the top half of NBA point guards. Every team in the league would love to have Kenneth Faried, a high-motor forward who plays with the kind of smart, reckless abandon that coaches lick their lips over.

There is plenty of depth in Denver and you could see Shaw employing a 12-man rotation when Gallinari returns.

That provides some reasons for positive expectations.

But the Nuggets may have taken too many body blows to be considered contenders. That happens in sports, but the way Denver ended up in this situation is alarming.

The Kroenke family, which owns the Nuggets, couldn't do much if Ujiri wanted to leave. Toronto threw some money at him, he had a history with the organization and was looking for change.

Team president Josh Kroenke fired Karl because Karl had this season left on his contract and felt like he could've been a problem child as a lame duck (worth noting, Karl reportedly gave Kroenke every reason to think such a thing).

But the reality is that Karl was one of the three best coaches in the sport, and it had nothing to do with winning the Coach of the Year award. He built a successful team based on the athleticism of his personnel. Karl is a sensational coach and Kroenke has to live with his decision.

The Iguodala loss hurt worse than teenage heartbreak. He was the Nuggets Plan A and not only did he refuse to come back, but he went to the team that knocked Denver out of the playoffs. That's spitting on the guy you just kicked in the groin.

As if that wasn't enough, some reports indicated that Iguodala turned down MORE money from the Nuggets to go to Golden State for LESS. All of those factors added together will make you drink in the morning.

There's nothing you can do about Gallinari's injury.

The Koufos trade was a wash. Management wanted to go with JaVale McGee over Koufos. McGee's production was really impressive last season, but Karl never seem ga-ga over him. McGee's numbers last season based on 36 minutes were 18.0 ppg/9.6 rpg and 3.9 bpg. That's All-Star territory, but he's not the most dependable guy in the universe. McGee is who the higher-ups want, so that's who they live with. Again, Kroenke has to wake up every morning to face the decisions.

To compound the woes, Denver made some curious additions to compensate.

Randy Foye was brought in to compete, and probably start, at shooting guard. He signed a reasonable, three-year, $9 million contract and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc last season. Foye hasn't averaged more than 11 ppg four seasons and is not really a starter in the NBA anymore. Except, he probably has to be for Denver.

Next up was J.J. Hickson, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers. He got three years and almost $16 million as a backup big man, but he's had exactly one good NBA season.

And what a beautiful way to finish ... Nate Robinson. What makes it so beautiful was that no other team wanted to touch Robinson and Denver signed him about 11 months after most every other impactful free agent was already looking at carpet swatches for new houses. Robinson has a niche as a scorer, but with Lawson and the eternally underrated Andre Miller entrenched at the point, and on the floor at the end of games, where exactly does Robinson fit?

That's three questionable signings to go along with humongous departures. Championship expectations in Denver are now preposterous, so what are the expectations?

"I want us to improve daily in practice and game by game, so if we're fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we're prepared and we've gone through everything we need to go through to get us to advance deep into the playoffs," Shaw said at the team's media day.

"If we're fortunate enough to make the playoffs." That's incredible considering where the Nuggets found themselves in June. As the third seed, some thought Denver was a nifty NBA Finals pick.

Now, it's entirely fair to wonder if the Nuggets make the postseason. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are clearly better than the Nuggets. That leaves two spots open. The Timberwolves, Trail Blazers and Mavericks have all improved and who knows what you're getting with the Lakers.

So, yes, it's entirely possible the Nuggets, winners of 57 games a season ago, en route to the third-best record in the Western Conference, could fall right out of the postseason.

Teams can't overcome the kind of losses the Nuggets endured.

What else could you expect?

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- You know your organization is in bad shape when the mascot ruptures his Achilles tendon. The Toronto Raptors, ladies and gentlemen.

- Kobe Bryant spun more blood in Germany for his legs. I'm telling you, Kobe will be spitting fire this season. I'm picking the Lakers to make the playoffs.

- Movie moment - If I was a movie critic (and I'd love to be), here's my quote studio producers would be running to hype Tom Hanks' "Captain Phillips": "This is the best movie ever made about Somali pirates."

- TV moment - NBC is planning to reboot "Remington Steele" as a half-hour comedy. A critical part of revitalizing a network is bringing back a 1980s show that ran five years and peaked at No. 23 in the Nielsen ratings.