5,280 Feet and Rising
Once again the Nuggets find themselves in July with the same squad, same coach and the same empty space in their trophy cabinet. Same ol’ same ol’, right? Wrong. For once Colorado has a basketball team they can be proud of, a young squad of real promise as capable of making them giddy as the air up there.
Their outlook brightened as much as their uniforms this past season as fans the world over gradually began to realise that there was more to the state than hockey, football and mountains. Writers began to care that there was an accent in Nenê. Commentators learnt to pronounce Bzdelik and Vandeweghe. Tskitishvili came to be more to the fans in the Rockies than a word they couldn’t spell. The Nugs started to take names and the public began to take note.
We’ve heard the story before: perennial cellar-dwellers pick up talented rookie and unpredictable free agent, make a run and get bounced in the first round. Next season, it’s back to whence they came. Not this time though; Kiki and crew are about to flip the script and the Nuggets will be on their way to writing a new tale, a success story Denver hoopheads have been itching to read for years. Why does your average Nugget have more reason to be hopeful of a bright future than a Clipper or Bull then? The O’Jays said it best: money, money, money, money. Money.
Only the aforementioned Clips and Utah have more money to play with this off-season than Denver. The former will have to dedicate a portion of their funds towards re-signing Quentin Richardson if they so choose and will more than likely want to keep some coin in reserve to make a run at Kobe Bryant. In addition, big-name players will be more than aware of Donald Sterling’s legendary frugality and, if they seek long-term security, will avoid the Lakers’ arena-mates like the plague. The Jazz may have anything but a dearth of dough, but there are few players who would choose to set up home in Salt Lake City if offered similar pay elsewhere and, although Denver is no New York, it’s undoubtedly a more desirable residence than Utah.
As far as Denver is concerned, the four biggest fish in the free agent pool are Bryant, Ginobili, Martin and Richardson. I’ll address this quartet individually.
The odds are very slim that #8 will pull on a metallic blue jersey at any point in the future, although there are reports that he has spoken to Vandeweghe this week. Bryant thrives on adversity and playing within a stone’s throw of where he is alleged to have carried out a crime serious enough to keep him locked up until he’s pushing sixty would be his greatest challenge yet. This aside, it seems unlikely that Denver, who appear to be building their franchise around Carmelo Anthony, a fellow three-man, would gamble so much on a man who looks as likely to not be booed each time his hand touches synthetic leather on a wooden surface in Colorado as Mark Madsen does to become MVP. Expect Bryant to stay in L.A., even if that does mean moving to the locker room across the hall.
The flashy two-guard from Argentina has openly stated that he wants to put pen to paper before he makes the trip back home for his wedding. As a restricted free agent he’ll be a tricky signing, especially since the Spurs have told him that they’d match “most offers” and the organisation and city loves Manu like Dick Vitale loves college players. Word is, however, that Denver is prepared to make him what has been termed a “huge” offer. Ginobili addresses their needs at the off-guard, lacks the ego which devalues players every year and seems more than happy to comply with Bzdelik’s “Run, Run, Run” philosophy.
On the back of his best statistical outing and at only twenty-four years of age, Richardson will almost certainly be on Vandeweghe’s mind if Ginobili inks elsewhere. Again, he is restricted, but if the Clips pick up Kobe, they’ll likely have less interest in re-signing Q and will certainly be strapped for cash. If that’s the case, there is every chance the unpredictable DePaul product will make the trip to the Mile High City, perhaps with his former team-mate and close friend Darius Miles, who has expressed interest in finding a home with his head-bumping buddy.
While the Nugs already have Nenê at the four, a player still learning the game and language who is ready to explode, they won’t turn their noses up at the chance to snag another athletic freak in Martin. As yet another restricted free agent, he might tie up their money for fifteen days with no return, but it just may be that he angered the New Jersey management sufficiently by asking for the maximum last year that they let him go. This, however, seems improbable now that he and the organisation seem to have kissed and made up (he has repeatedly claimed that his first choice would be to stay with the Nets) and since they are making no apparent moves which would indicate that they are looking to fill a gap he might leave. Like Ginobili, he is a great defender and loves to get out and run and would be similarly well-suited to the team.
Very soon the Nuggets will likely hand out some silver to one of the four and not long after there’ll be a gold rush in Denver. A mile above sea level and a few steps from the top. 5,280 feet high and rising. The Nuggets will hit the ground running next year and opposing teams will have two options: get out of the way or get run over, because it won’t be long before these kids run all the way home with a trophy