For the second time in just nine months the Denver Nuggets lost their second best player, Danilo Gallinari, to a knee injury. The same exact knee that derailed their 2012-2013 season has now put their 2013-2014 season in jeopardy.
Denver just lost the guy who could take some offensive pressure of Ty Lawson, the player who would allow coach Brian Shaw to run some great half court sets, the player who create a big shot himself against stiff defense, and the Nuggets lost their secret weapon this 20-21 team needed to back into the top eight teams of the west.
Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly’s reaction to the news completely failed to capture the impact this loss brings to the Nuggets on the court and to Nuggets fans in the stands.
“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Connelly said in a statement. The GM lost a major asset to his team, and he must have been so down he couldn’t really muster out a more emotional sentence.
Even with the big loss - and Connelly’s newfound depression – this isn’t another, “Why the Nuggets team should tank” article. In fact, making sure Gallo’s knee isn’t going to break like Derrick Rose‘s did right after coming back is a great decision.
Gallinari at full strength, “I’m not playing scared because my injury is going to come back” full strength, can be a major part of a Nuggets core that still features enough solid talent to be a contender with some additional pieces. Making sure he’s ready is one of the best things a franchise and player can do after a major injury like that. The LAST THING Denver wants to do is to lose Gallo’s production (16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists last season) for nothing in return.
Don’t get me wrong. Combining Jarbawigginsmart (the combination of the top draft prospects in the draft) with Lawson and a finally healthy Gallo is a sweet scenario. However, keeping Gallinari off the court this season can allow for a lot of productive changes the Nuggets need this season.
First, more minutes for developing the already young roster. With Gallo back it would be a rare sight to see Evan Fournier or Quincy Miller when both have had chances to play because of Gallinari’s absence. Denver’s youth will develop some on the practice floor, but not nearly as quickly as they will develop on the game floor.
Plus, even though it will be close, the Nuggets do have enough without Gallo to sneak into the Western Conference Playoff scene. They have to find consistency and keep improving under Shaw’s direction, but with impressive wins over western powers Oklahoma City, Golden State (in Oakland) this team has shown they can hang with the best. Even if this year’s Nuggets has bad losses to teams like the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers (I really gotta stop talking about those losses, but I can’t get over them).
An ACL tear means a player needs time to regain their rhythm. It would make it even tougher on Gallo to do that under a first year coach who has no experience with his game. No need for Denver to fight for a slightly higher seed in the playoffs when we are headed for a first round exit either way, especially if it means compromising a core player’s future. In fact, it makes ZERO sense to force Gallinari back midseason in hopes making a seven or six seed in the West over an eight seed.
The Nuggets need to continue to fight with the players they started the season with for this playoff spot. Wilson Chandler has proved so far he is worthy in Gallinari’s absence, averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and serving as the Nuggets best perimeter defender. Founrier and Miller can use Gallo’s minutes better than he would be able to trying to become his former self.
Besides finding every possible way to help whoever the New York Knicks are playing win (GIVE US THAT PICK), the best possible thing the Nuggets could have done for their future was to allow Gallinari to sit this season out and get healthy. No need to tank without the Italian, because the team can find ways to use his time rehabbing as time developing a contender.