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2013-14 Denver Nuggets Preview

<p>The Nuggets were upset in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs by the Golden State Warriors. It marked the ninth first-round exit in 10 consecutive postseason appearances.</p>

The Nuggets were upset in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs by the Golden State Warriors. It marked the ninth first-round exit in 10 consecutive postseason appearances.

The first domino to fall was Executive of the Year, general manager Masai Ujiri. He bolted for the great north to run the Toronto Raptors. Even his assistant, Pete D'Alessandro, left Denver for the general manager job with the Sacramento Kings.

The owner, Josh Kroenke, then decided to be the one making changes.

Next up, or down if you look at it that way, was reigning Coach of the Year, George Karl. After a franchise-best 57-win season, ownership wondered if Karl would be a bother with only one year to go on his contract. The brass fired him.

The last piece to leave the high altitude was Andre Iguodala, the prize acquisition of the previous offseason. He brought the wing defense and all- around play-making Karl loved. Iguodala left for the dreaded Warriors.

To sum up - the Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year and best player - all gone in one offseason.

Tim Connelly was introduced as the new general manager and at his introductory presser, stated his first priority was re-signing Iguodala.

Oops.

Iguodala left, but Connelly did well to hire Brian Shaw, the hottest assistant coach on the market.

Shaw inherited a good, but no longer great, roster, thanks to the defection of Iguodala. His importance couldn't be undersold. He's a top-five wing defender in the league and his offensive versatility fit beautifully into Karl's up- tempo style.

But Iggy is gone and so is that offensive philosophy. Shaw is a disciple of Phil Jackson and spent the last two seasons on the bench of Frank Vogel and the Indiana Pacers. Neither of those squads was what you'd describe as high- octane.

It's going to be tough sledding for Shaw. In addition to Iguodala's absence, Danilo Gallinari, one of the team's leading scorers, is not going to be ready for the start of the season after a partial ACL tear in early April.

The rest of the roster, save for starting center Kosta Koufos, who was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies, remained intact.

Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried represent the core. McGee, especially, will have a heavier workload thanks to Koufos' departure.

To replace Iguodala, the Nuggets traded for Randy Foye, a combo guard who can shoot the long ball fairly well. Denver's big signing in free agency was J.J. Hickson, who enjoyed a career year in Portland last season. He'll bring big man depth.

Nate Robinson was also brought in. The diminutive guard can score and excite, but if you have to rely on him for heavy minutes, the roster better be depleted.

All of this change could spell doom, but Shaw is excited to have his opportunity.

"The most exciting thing for me is doing it from the ground up together, establishing that trust," Shaw told the Nuggets website. "There are coaches you feel are on another stratosphere and you feel like you can't get close to them, you can't talk to them. There's a fear factor. I don't want it to be like that. I want to be approachable. I want to connect with them and build that trust and establish those relationships."

2012-13 Results: 57-25, 2nd in Northwest, lost in West quarterfinals to Golden State

ADDITIONS: HC Brian Shaw, GM Tim Connelly, G Randy Foye, C/F J.J. Hickson, G Nate Robinson

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Ty Lawson SG- Randy Foye SF- Wilson Chandler PF- Kenneth Faried C- JaVale McGee

KEY RESERVES: F Danilo Gallinari (injured), G Andre Miller, G Nate Robinson, G Evan Fournier, C/F J.J. Hickson, C Timofey Mozgov, F Darrell Arthur, F Anthony Randolph

FRONTCOURT: With a healthy Gallinari, this group is well above-average.

Faried will be the best starter on the frontcourt. Last season, the boundless source of energy averaged 11.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg. Those numbers could easily go up as he gets more comfortable offensively in the NBA. His rebounding (eighth in offensive boards last season) and defense make him a staple in Denver's lineup.

Chandler is the expected starter in Gallinari's absence. He only played 43 games last season after an injury from the season before delayed his start. When Chandler played, he averaged 13.0 ppg, which, it might shock you, tied for third on the team with Iguodala. He's still only 26 and the surgery might have hurt his athletic ability some, but he's more than capable of manning the small-forward post until, (or if) Gallinari comes back.

McGee is the wild-card. He signed a three-year deal in the offseason and the starting center job is his. Karl never seemed to fall in love with McGee, thus he averaged 18.1 minutes per game. If you expand McGee's numbers over 36 minutes a night, which would be too many, he would've averaged 18.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 3.9 bpg. More minutes will help as long as McGee is cooperative.

BACKCOURT: Ty Lawson led the Nuggets in scoring one season ago. He's fast, quick and capable of scoring on his own. He always facilitated an offense that was unselfish and efficient. How does Lawson fare without fellow North Carolina Tar Heel Karl on the bench? That's the biggest question facing Denver. Lawson was probably a result of the system, but the talent is there to be a top-10 point guard. Here's something to like about Lawson - his scoring and assists both increased during the postseason.

The off guard spot is a huge weakness for the Nuggets. Foye is the definition of adequate. Last season with the Utah Jazz, Foye only managed 10.8 ppg on 39 percent shooting. However, he did connect on 41 percent of his three-point attempts.

BENCH: This is a deep, but flawed group. Miller is 37 years old, but still effective. He averaged a career-low 9.6 ppg, but hit a game-winner for the Nuggets in Game 1 against the Warriors. He was a Karl favorite, but with Robinson in the Mile High City, could Miller and his $4.625 million contract for next season be expendable?

Shaw will probably favor Miller over Robinson. But, Robinson has a niche. He can score and score quickly. He can't or just doesn't pass, so if you need some buckets, the little man is your guy.

Fournier was a non-factor last season, his first in the league. He could threaten Foye for the starting spot and Shaw wouldn't be disappointed if he did.

Arthur is a stretch four who can shoot.

Mozgov fell down the depth chart last season, but he's McGee's primary backup.

Hickson was an interesting signing. He averaged a double-double for the Portland Trail Blazers last season. What will he be like in a reduced role? Hickson could help tremendously.

COACHING: Shaw has been the trendy name on the market for a few years now. Denver gobbled him up and with his mentors, success shouldn't be too difficult to attain.

His approach, at least during the game, is still to be determined.

"Phil Jackson didn't stand up a lot, but he had a presence," Shaw said. "Some coaches pace up and down the sideline. Will I be a coach that stands up most of the game and paces the sidelines, or will I sit down and get up when I need to get up?"

Shaw will have to replace one of the most respected minds in history fresh off a Coach of the Year award while leading the Nuggets to their most victories.

Good luck.

OUTLOOK: Denver will take the biggest fall of any team this season.

Iguodala is a huge loss on the floor and his move to Golden State should propel the Warriors past the Nuggets in the standings. Couple that departure with the Gallinari injury and Denver will be without two of its three best players from last season.

The on-court product will suffer, but the other major downfall for the Nuggets this season will be the loss of Karl. He is seventh in all-time coaching victories and his system brought out the best in the Denver personnel.

Can they run an up-tempo offense under Shaw? Do they even have the right players for that without Iguodala and Gallinari?

"We're going to try to get the most out of what we have," Shaw told the team's site. "If it's 46 wins or 48 wins, 50 wins, that's what it is. In the process of going through the season, we want everybody to get comfortable with the way we're going to do things. And then if we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we'll try to make some noise and go the distance."

Shaw will be fine...in time. This team is probably still strong enough to make the postseason, but the Nuggets won't finish higher than the seventh seed.

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