The NBA is back after a marathon negotiating session in New York City on Friday night. Both labor and the league will have to sign-off on this tentative deal, but it looks like we will have NBA basketball by Christmas Day.
For the Denver Nuggets the shortened season will be both a boon and a challenge. The Nuggets have an established coach and system, but many of their players are scattered across world leagues or likely lost to free agency. Pulling together core players as quickly as possible will be key.
Fortunately, point guard Ty Lawson included an exit clause in his contract with Lithuanian team Zalgiris Kaunas where he has been playing since early October. That gives Denver their most important offensive cog as soon as a deal is signed.
Unfortunately, forward Wilson Chandler along with pending free agents JR Smith and Kenyon Martin are all locked into contracts with China’s top basketball league. While most Chinese teams have indicated a willingness to let their American players return to the NBA, the Chinese league itself was careful to point out to incoming western talent that their contracts would be binding through the conclusion of the season.
Most likely the Nuggets will consider Smith and K-Mart lost to free agency anyway. Rookie power forward Kenneth Faried will hopefully be a long-term replacement for Kenyon, and fellow draftee Jordan Hamilton is being touted as a dynamic scoring forward/guard in the mold of JR.
Replacing Nene, who the Nuggets cut ties with in the offseason, will be a taller order. The best free agent option at center is Tyson Chandler – an athletic big man who would fit Denver’s up-tempo attack. Denver has dumped considerable salary between the Anthony/Billups trade and the loss of formerly burdensome Nene/Martin contracts. They should have their pick of willing free agents, and Chandler should be their top target.
The Nuggets’ ability to get immediately into a groove (as they did after the big Melo trade late last season) should also give them a boost over NBA competition once play starts in late December. Denver’s youth and above-average conditioning will be a major plus as teams play 66 games – not far from the typical 82 – in just over half a regular season. This will be especially true for Ty Lawson and other Nuggets who will come to Denver in mid-season form after playing in foreign leagues.
In the end, it will be up to head coach George Karl and his staff to get the Nuggets ready for this condensed NBA Season in less than a month. And it will be up to Denver’s relatively new front office to get prepared for what will be a brief and intense free agency period starting December 9th.