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In the first part of BSN’s “Denver Nuggets offseason to-do list” series we explored two aspects of the current state of the Nuggets: First, exposition about where the team stands monetarily, especially with regards to future player contracts; and second, a brief rundown of the first three of nine offseason moves the Nuggets should strongly consider for the betterment of the franchise. And while I was somewhat ambivalent of the suggestions in Part 1, I’m most certainly dogmatic about the following three below. These are without question of utmost importance to the Nuggets moving forward both immediately and years down the line. So without further ado, here are the next three moves the Nuggets should strongly consider executing for the summer of 2015…
6. Find some way — any way — to jettison J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson is perhaps Tim Connelly’s third worst decision since accepting the role as Nuggets GM almost two years ago. The first, of course, was shipping Rudy Gobert to Utah in exchange for cash (however, this had to of largely been nfluenced by Josh Kroenke considering when given the choice of utilizing first-round draft picks or trading them for a cash most GMs will almost certainly commit felonies in exchange for the chance to keep their picks). The second decision of the “awful” variety was nearly signing hero-ball extraordinaire Monta Ellis in free agency a few summer ago. And while signing Nate Robinson was almost equally as frustrating, the fact Connelly atoned for his mistake by trading him last winter should be enough for most fans to forgive and forget.
Hickson, however, continues to linger. Like Ellis, Robinson and far too many other players the Nuggets have been linked to as of late, Hickson is what I deem a “negative asset” to a basketball team attempting to win actual basketball games. OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. He does rebound well and at times he can score rakishly. But when it comes to the things that win games — defense, fundamentalism, court awareness, selflessness — Hickson falls short in nearly every sense. If the Nuggets want to be taken seriously by the rest of the league, guys like Hickson cannot find their way onto this team.
More than anything, Hickson just doesn’t have a role with the Nuggets any longer. Joffrey Lauvergne — essentially the anti-Hickson — has emerged as a younger, more viable backup forward who the Nuggets must invest in moving forward. Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic each deserve 30-plus minutes of action per night as well. Yet above all else, if Nuggets can succeed in somehow dumping Hickson they’ll move nearly $6 million off their books that they can in turn use to target more talented free agents, which as you’ll see later on is of utmost importance this summer.
5. Sign several defensive-mined role players
As of now the Nuggets have eight players under contract heading into free agency. All eight should see valuable time as role players next season. Gary Harris, Nurkic and Lauvergne will likely see the most increase in playing time and luckily for Nuggets fans each is a solid if not impressive defensive specimen. But relying on guys who are 20 and 23 years old to win you games on the defensive side of the ball isn’t exactly a recipe for success. If the Nuggets really want to start clamping down on their opponents they’ll need veterans.
Dishing out max contracts to guys like Jimmy Butler (another one of my predraft favorites!) or Draymond Green (ditto), while certainly helpful, isn’t going to totally change the Nuggets’ culture. What the Nuggets need, or rather who they need, are guys who’ve been in the league for a while, who have established reputations as potential “stoppers” and who do all the little things to help you win ball games. Examples included: David West, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Thaddeus Young, Danny Green, Corey Brewer, Aaron Brooks, Gerald Henderson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jason Smith, Kirk Hinrich, DeMarre Carroll, C.J. Miles, Omer Asik, Matt Barnes, Brandan Wright, Tyson Chandler and even younger guys who’ve shown a penchant for defense like Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder, Al-Farouq Aminu and Iman Shumpert.
Tim Connelly often talks about wanting to win titles, but signing guys like Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson is contradictory to such sentiments. If the Nuggets truly want to take the next step, make a push for the playoffs and eventually contend for a title, they need to start signing the types of players that engender on-court success, i.e., those who play defense.
4. Sign a rim protector
At one point last season the Nuggets had perhaps the best trio of centers in the entire league in Nurkic, Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee. Yet by February only Nurkic remained. Ergo the Nuggets finished as one of the least productive teams in the league with regards to paint protection and blocked shots. And as any diehard NBA fans well knows, unless you have LeBron James this is a recipe for disaster.
If there’s one need the Nuggets absolutely must address in free agency this summer, it’s backup center. Luckily for Denver the free agent class of 2015 might very well be the most center-rich crop of free agents we’ve seen in years. The list of available centers and shot-blocking power forwards includes Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Enes Kanter and the above mentioned Tyson Chandler, Robin Lopez, Jason Smith, Omer Asik and Brandan Wright. Put simply: There’s absolutely no reason the Nuggets shouldn’t be able to land at least one of these guys given their dearth of current shot blockers and abundance of cash to spend this summer. If this need goes unaddressed the Nuggets will undoubtedly suffer the consequences next season as guys like LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook will have field days against Denver on a nightly basis.
So please, Tim Connelly, sign a backup center. Do it for the team, do it for the fans, do it for the mental health of the writers like myself who watch this team night in and night out, because if there’s one way to give an advantage to your opponent in today’s NBA, it’s a lack of paint protection.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of BSN’s “Denver Nuggets offseason to-do list” series dropping later this week. In the meantime, please feel free to leave your thoughts on what the Nuggets should do in free agency this summer in the comments section below.