With the college football season coming to an exciting close and the N.F.L. playoffs revving up, it’s usually about this time of year that I start to pay attention to the N.B.A., particularly the Denver Nuggets, to see if they are going to be worth watching and, hopefully, following closely.
Having just caught a few glimpses of this year’s Nuggets squad under new coach Brian Shaw, and having seen a few headlines, things don’t look good for Nuggets fans who are hoping for another season of excitement. Instead, I am afraid, we are in for a season of drama, uninspired play and a downright collapse of what was once a team that consistently made the playoffs.
I hope what I am writing doesn’t turn out to be true, but unfortunately, given the direction in which the team is headed right now, I’m not sure things can rebound all that well.
As you read this, veteran point guard Andre Miller may or may not be a Nugget. On Tuesday, according to The Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey, the Nuggets organization was working hard on a trade to get rid of the seasoned leader. As it turns out, Miller and coach Shaw just can’t get along, so the Nuggets are looking to send Miller packing. According to Dempsey, the Nuggets’ decision to put Miller on the trading block comes after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct, apparently, was a heated argument Miller had with Shaw.
Miller, a key component of the team’s high-powered offensive scoring machine last year, has basically been marginalized under Shaw. A veteran of the court, Miller understands how to move the ball effectively and score effectively. Unfortunately for Miller and the Nuggets, it’s just not happening in Shaw’s system, and I can understand why Miller blew up and is now probably ready for a trade. With 14 seasons in the NBA, he’s at a career rock-bottom in scoring, with only 5.9 points per game. According to bleacherreport, he’s also playing at a career-low of 19 minutes per game.
Maybe Miller is getting old, and Shaw sees that he’s slowing the team down. Maybe not. For now, I’ll take Miller’s side of this argument, because I know what we can get out of Miller. We have all seen it. With Shaw, on the other hand, we still have no idea what we are getting, and so far, it’s not good.
While Miller’s departure from the Nuggets has been in the spotlight most recently, I would also like to bring up the fact that Shaw also took away pizza and nachos from the locker room as the team fought their way through a terrible slump in December. Apparently Shaw thought high-fat, greasy foods were to blame as the Nuggets struggled for wins on the court. After these treats were barred from the locker room, the team had just one win in eight games.
I don’t know if Shaw really believed the team’s lackluster performances were due to high-calorie locker room gluttony, but I do believe what he did pissed his players off. I recently wrote about Coach Ed Orgeron, who brought the U.S.C. Trojans back into the national conversation last year as the team’s interim head coach, following the Lane Kiffin firing. One of the first things Orgeron did in his locker room was bring back candy and snacks. While Orgeron did a lot of things to turn that team around, permitting junk food just might have been the biggest contributor to the turnaround.
In Shaw’s case, I am surprised he didn’t learn from Orgeron and allow even more food and drinks in the locker room. But really, are we seriously talking about forbidding the Nuggets from eating pizza and nachos? I guess we are.
To me, it sounds like Shaw has a problem controlling this team. He wants to be in charge, as any coach should be. Unfortunately for Shaw, his young team doesn’t believe in him, and is reluctant to do what it is told. So, in a show of power, Shaw took away the locker room food and the team dove further to its demise. I feel like I’m writing some kind of parenting column right now, titled “What to Do When Your Kids Just Won’t Listen.” It’s the age-old struggle of power between parents and kids.
And that’s what our esteemed Nuggets President Josh Kroenke has gotten us into right now: A power struggle between a coach and his players. What sucks is that Shaw doesn’t seem to have the stature to lead this group of men onto the court. The team’s attitude has diminished. As of Tuesday, Denver was sitting below .500 at 16 and 17. Any more months like December – when they went 5-10 – and you can kiss this season goodbye.
If I remember correctly, Kroenke sent coaching great George Karl packing last season by basically not wanting to pay him what he’s worth and not being able to win a first-round playoff series. Well, where are we now? We are talking about pizza, nachos and a below-.500 record.
I’ve said from the very first day since Karl was let go that it was a stupid mistake. Karl was a leader and the players respected him. They loved to play well for him. I’m not even sure any of the Nuggets want to play for Shaw right now. Losing Karl was a first-rate blunder for the Denver Nuggets organization, and Shaw is doing a pretty damned good job of proving it.
I have said time and time again that I would love to see Shaw succeed in Denver, to prove me wrong in thinking that losing Karl was detrimental to the organization. I guess I am starting to wonder how many times I can say such a thing before winning becomes the impossible dream. Denver was an up-and-coming team just one season ago. Now, it seems like a team in need of rebuilding from the ground up, which is something we Nuggets fans know all too well.