As I try to do before most games, I sent some email questions over to Nate Timmons from the SBNation Denver Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs. Sadly, this one ended up being a one-sided Q&A, as Nate was able to answer my questions, but we ran out of time for him to ask questions of me. I definitely want to thank Nate for taking the time, even though I stiffed him, as it were, on the reciprocation. I owe you one buddy. Next time we're in Vegas together, I'll buy you a drink.
Enjoy, after the jump.
Steve Perrin: I love, love, love the idea of what's happening in Denver (even if I'm not particularly fond of a couple of individuals, whose initials are Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov). The NBA is such a superstar driven league, where teams are built around one or two or three stars and the rest of the roster is an afterthought, that it's refreshing to see teams like Denver and Philadelphia and a few others succeeding with a very team-oriented concept. Obviously, the last couple of weeks haven't gone as well (more on that later), but in the bigger picture, my question for you is, can it work? I mean work, work, like winning a championship? Since 1980, only the Pistons have ever won a title without a league MVP on the roster. Like I said, it's a superstar driven league. What is a reasonable expectation for a Nuggets roster without a single All Star?
Nate Timmons: Why can't a team without a single "All-Star" win the title? Fans vote for dunks and guys who score a lot of points, the Nuggets don't have a Blake Griffin highlight factory player (well, Kenneth Faried is coming on) or a guy who goes out and gets 30+ points a couple times a week, but when has basketball ever been a sport where the smarter team or the team that plays the right way doesn't win?
It appears that the Nuggets philosophy is to blow teams out so that when the game gets to crunch time, the team doesn't need to rely on play-making ability. That's been the biggest downfall of this Nuggets squad. They have given away a few games late (L.A. Lakers, Memphis, your L.A. Clippers, and Oklahoma City) and almost gave away a few more (N.Y. Knicks and Minnesota both overtime wins). It's no secret that when games are close, the star players take over by either making big shots or getting themselves to the foul line (where in the NBA they will get a lot of calls). The Nuggets have yet to find a guy who is comfortable and actually executing late in games. Danilo Gallinari has tried it out and did well in the Knicks game, Andre Miller won a game for the Nuggets in Philadelphia, Al Harrington has tried to take over and had some pass/fail games, Arron Afflalo attempted a game winner vs. the Timberwolves, and Ty Lawson has had his number called as well.
George Karl has stated that it's a good thing to not have one guy to rely on late in games, as it makes it a guessing game for the defense, but his team has yet to respond when he challenges guys to step up. Gallo has been the best in tight finishes, but even he has had moments, along with his teammates, of playing hot potato with the ball down the stretch.
It is my belief that a team like Indiana, Denver, Philly, Memphis, and to an extent the Clippers (who have a superstar in Paul, but play team ball) could easily, well maybe not easily, win a title with more of a team emphasis over superstar emphasis. Dallas showed last season that when you play the game the right way, you can overcome a more talented squad. Basketball is the ultimate team sport and anyone that plays knows that if you play the right way, you can do big things.
That said, the Nuggets have a long way to go in terms of team development to compete for a title. The team just hasn't played together for a long enough time to really develop into something special, yet.
SP: At one point this season, the Nuggets were 14-5; beginning with a home loss to the Clippers on Jan 29th, they've gone 4-10 since (with one of those three wins being a demolition of the Clippers in LA). What happened? Injuries? 14 games in 23 nights? A tough schedule (two sub-.500 opponents in all of February)? Which is the real Nuggets team, the 14-5 one of the 3-10 one?
NT: The 14-5 start probably had a lot to do with the Nuggets playing some inferior competition, having guys who had their legs under them from playing overseas during the lockout (Lawson, Gallo, Koufos, and Mozgov), and just being able to run at teams that were not sure how Denver would attack them.
I don't think the Nuggets are as bad as the 4-10 record recently indicates either. Injuries have taken a major toll on the team. Nene is a special player on the interior and his absence has been huge, Mozgov being out disrupted his hot play that was coming on, and Gallo has been the key to the Nuggets offense, as my colleague Jeff Morton has pointed out.
As you point out in your question, a lot of things have been thrown as the Nuggets recently and with 33 games remaining I think fans are expecting the team to finish somewhere from the No. 4 seed to the No. 8 seed. The No. 2 seed that Denver held for a portion of the early season is probably too far-fetched at this point.
SP: The Nuggets and Clippers have found themselves on the opposite ends of two superstar trades in the last 12 months, but each team seemed to benefit from their deals. What did the Nuggets do right in trading Carmelo Anthony that the Hornets didn't do right in trading Chris Paul? Or is it to early to tell
NT: Outside of Eric Gordon, the Hornets accepted a poo-poo platter from the Clippers. The oldest player the Nuggets took back in their deal with the Knicks was for then 26 year-old Ray Felton.
In a round about way the Nuggets got the following players in return for Melo, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, and Renaldo Balkman: Ray Felton (traded for Andre Miller and the No. 26 pick in the 2011 draft: Jordan Hamilton), Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler (expected back next week from China, he's already in Denver), Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos (from Minnesota), Rudy Fernandez (traded to Dallas in that Miller/Felton swap from Portland, traded to Denver), and Corey Brewer (traded from Minny to New York, to Dallas, to Denver), a future 1st round pick from the Knicks. That's the bulk of Denver's rotation this season.
The Knicks were a good team last year with Felton, Gallo, Chandler, and sprinkles of Mozgov and the Nuggets were able to grab players that were on the bubble of becoming quality NBA players and maybe even a star player in Gallo. You can't really point to anyone besides Gordon and say the Hornets got quality players. And Chris Kaman has been trade bait since his agent informed him he was on his way to NOLA.
SP: Kenyon Martin has been a Clipper for seven games. He was a Nugget for seven years. What can you tell us about what the team should expect to get from KMart? Already he's had a positive impact on the team's defense.
NT: Seven games and you have likely seen all Martin can do. I've seen him a couple times with your Clips and he will rebound a little bit, play intimidating defense and tough defense, he has awesome hands and can strip the ball quite well, he uses the famous "pull the chair" post defense to perfection, and he can get you some incredible put-back dunks (like you saw him do against Portland last week). He'll even have a couple games where his offense is going and he may put up 20+ points.
What else can he do? Well, he can shoot mind boggling line drive jumpers that clang off the rim, miss bunny hooks at a fantastic rate, brick key free throws, grab some nice technical fouls at the worst possible times during a game, and fight with his coach so much that he gets suspended during the playoffs (happened when your Clippers beat my Nuggets). That sounds harsh coming from a HUGE Martin supporter, but those have been the frustrations of many on my site over the years. Martin probably felt he needed to do more than he can do as his max-contract called for it. He's a great guy to have coming off the L.A. bench, but I would caution against using him too much. The thing I'll miss most about Martin (he did some great work in the community, I still remember dropping off clothes for Hurricane Katrina victims in downtown Denver and seeing Martin there collecting bags from people ... wasn't even announced that he'd be there) ... but the thing I'll miss most was the Altitude TV microphones picking up his voice when he'd yell at Chris "Birdman" Andersen to, "Stay the f*** down Bird!" when Birdman went for a pump-fake and his famous, "Get that sh*t out of here" on blocks.