2009-10 Season Summary:
The Nuggets captured their second straight division title, won 50-plus games for the third consecutive season, and went to the playoffs for the seventh straight year even being a sleeper pick to knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference Playoffs. Then the Nuggets promptly laid an egg and got worked in the first round by the Utah Jazz.
The team definitely had its share of adversity to deal with as their head coach George Karl was absent for the second half of the season due to throat and neck cancer. The team was a bit of a mess under replacement coach Adrian Dantley (which doesn't really surprise anyone, does it?) and finished the season 9-8 over the last 30 days of the regular season.
One of the pleasant surprises was the play of rookie point guard Ty Lawson who appears to be the long-term replacement for the again Chauncey Billups. Lawson provided a spark to the second unit and brought a maturity beyond his years as an NBA point guard.
The Nuggets return nearly all of their productive players and supposedly Karl hopes to be back on the bench. With Carmelo Anthony heading into what could be his final year under contract, the Nuggets need to make the upcoming season count.
2010-11 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Nene Hilario/Chris Andersen/*Brian Butch
PF: Kenyon Martin/Renaldo Balkman/Shelden Williams
SF: Carmelo Anthony/Al Harrington
SG: Aaron Afflalo/J.R. Smith/^Coby Karl
PG: Chauncey Billups/Ty Lawson/Anthony Carter
NBA Free Agents:
^SG Coby Karl (TO)
*C Brian Butch (TO)
PF Malik Allen (UFA)
C Johan Petro (UFA)
G/F Joey Graham (UFA)
2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $81.8 million
2010-11 League Salary Cap: $58 million
Nuggets sign F Al Harrington to 5-year, $34 million deal
Nuggets sign PF Shelden Williams to 1-year deal for league minimum
Nuggets re-sign PG Anthony Carter to 1-year deal for league minimum
NBA Offseason Needs:
1. Stability- The Nuggets were the No. 2 team in the Western Conference going into the All Star break before Coach Karl announced he would be taking a leave of absence for cancer treatment. After Dantley took the reigns, the team fell to the No. 4 team in the conference and only won the Northwest Division because of the head-to-head tiebreaker versus Utah. If Karl returns, the team will respond and they will again look like a top team in the West.
2. Incentive for Carmelo Anthony- Many people are so concerned with this year's crop of free agents that few are even aware that Carmelo Anthony could be a free agent next summer. If Denver performs poorly or doesn't do enough to show Anthony that they're working toward a championship, Anthony could opt out of his final year and test the free agent waters. Denver needs to continue surrounding the young star with talent and make sure he's convinced that Denver is the best place for him to win a championship.
3. Sit Tight- No draft picks and no cap space means this summer should be pretty uneventful for the Nuggets unless they start to trade some assets. Realistically they only have one tradeable asset that wouldn't hurt the team too much - Chauncey Billups. However, the team in its current state really relies on Chauncey to be their leader both on and off the court. Even if Billups isn't as lethal as he once was, he is vital at keeping the team on track especially since Karl's status is currently an unknown quantity. As bored as the Denver front office might get this summer, patience is what should be preached.