One question will dominate Tim Connelly’s first full offseason as the Denver Nuggets’ general manager – how good are the Nuggets with a healthy roster?
The Nuggets finished the 2013-14 season 10 games under .500, but only the Los Angeles Lakers had more players miss games due to injury than Denver did this season, according to mangameslost.com.
Two years ago, when the Nuggets’ remaining core (minus Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller) put up a franchise-best 57 wins, the team finished third in the rough Western Conference. It’s clear even without Iguodala the Nuggets had some real talent on the roster.
Then the injury infestation of 2014 happened. I’ve said it before, but it was BAD. The Nuggets lost one of their best players, Danilo Gallinari, for the entire season. Projected starting center JaVale McGee only managed to play in five games after signing his big extension. To make matters worse, the Nuggets lost key rotation players Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson to ACL injuries. On top of THAT, starters Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler had to sit out 20 games each due to injury.
I’ve never seen the Nuggets suffer from injuries so bad in one season. But with everyone scheduled to return for training camp, does the current roster have enough talent to contend for a good Western Conference playoff spot when healthy?
Barring any trades, Connelly will be working with a roster that is pretty much set in stone going into the 2014 NBA offseason. If Darrell Arthur and Nate Robinson pick up their player option as they are expected to, then ONLY Aaron Brooks and Jan Vesely would be the unsigned as return Nuggets for next season.
So, let’s start there. Does Connelly like the healthy Nuggets roster enough to keep it completely intact? Is it worth it to keep Brooks and Vesely, whom he brought over at the trade deadline?
He should like Brooks enough to keep him. Bringing Brooks back makes sure both Lawson and Robinson can return from injury without being overworked right away. Brooks’ Nugget tryout went well as he averaged 11.9 points and 5.2 assists a game after the trade deadline, and Head Coach Brian Shaw has repeatedly said he wants three point guards on the roster. Sign him up Connelly!
Resigning Vesley won’t bring the Nuggets closer to a championship, but for a minimum contract it still makes sense. When the Nuggets only had nine healthy players down the stretch and Vesely had to play, he wasn’t bad. He put up 5.5 points and 4.7 assists in 18 minutes a game. With how well bigs develop under Brian Shaw I don’t mind keeping the former top 10 pick around for cheap.
Signing both players brings the roster to a maximum 15 players. So, Connelly should then waive Anthony Randolph and use the top 11ish draft pick to bring in a solid rookie, and consider it an offseason.
This team deserves a shot at the West while healthy. They may have lost Iguodala, but even while hurt the Nuggets showed flashes of a talented team this season. They won 10 of 12 before Lawson got hurt in mid-November, and they were three points shy of making it 11 when they lost a close one to the Thunder.
Connelly told ESPNDenver the expectation was to not just make the playoffs in the 2014-15 season, but also for the Nuggets to FINALLY advance past the first round of the playoffs. By saying that BEFORE any changes were made he insisted that the current team is good enough when healthy to make it happen. Plus, he’ll actually get to see a game of the roster at full strength before making any major changes.
It may be an uneventful first offseason for Connelly, but he should keep the changes to a minimum, draft solid, and pray to the injury gods that the bad luck is over so we can finally see just how good this Nuggets roster is.