Nuggets: a few bad apples can spoil the batch.
Your Denver Nuggets have been on quite a tear of late. Coming into last nights tilt with the Celtics in snowy Boston, the red hot Nugs had taken down nine in row and were coming off a convincing dismantling of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It seemed as though all was right in Nuggetland. And, although they ultimately lost to Boston in triple overtime, the Nuggets showed the NBA world that they are no easy out - not even for the other hottest team in the NBA. The Celtics have now won seven games in a row, but Denver came within a bad three-point attempt from Andre Miller of advancing their own streak to ten games.
With the All-Star break only a few days away, the Nuggets are looking good. Really good. They're firmly in the fourth spot in the Western Conference and have their sights set on the Clippers and their three seed. Everything is coming together for Denver. Sadly, a small faction of players it trying to tear it all apart.
One advantage the Nuggets have over most clubs is their depth. The Nuggets have an expansive bench and, on any given night, they're likely to have a range of players score in the double-digits without a single one putting up jaw-dropping numbers. The Carmelo Anthony era is long over. Anthony scored 42 points on Sunday - in a blowout Knicks loss. That's no longer something you'll see happen to the Nuggets. They've achieved balance - which is great news in many respects. But, to the malcontents - the guys who want to be starters and aren't - the guys who want more minutes and to pad their own individual stats, the Nuggets current model, AKA "Karlball", isn't working.
Last week Andre Miller granted a now-infamous interview to Paul Klee of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph in which he threw his team and his coach under the team bus. Miller, who's ticked off that he's not a featured star for the Nuggets, wants to be shipped out. His need for ego fulfillment clearly outweighs the needs of his team. He told Klee: “I’m not just going to sit back and settle in and be a backup and let my career just fade away. I’m competitive in that way.”
Furthermore, Miller is skeptical that Denver can find success in the long term being constructed in the manner that they are. It's not a team that relies on super stars. Miller objects: "I don’t care how much team basketball you play or how much talent you have all spread out. You can’t win in this league without a superstar.”
As Mile High Sports' James Merilatt asks in his column this morning, how are fans supposed to believe in the Nuggets when Andre Miller, who has been an on-again, off-again fixture in Denver for a long time doesn't? It's painfully ironic that a player who demands more time and calls out the very structure of his team is the very player who's poor decision making and impatience cost the Nuggets a win in Boston last night. Had Miller not been given the minutes he played in the third overtime period, the Nuggets might have had fewer turnovers and wound up making a needed extra pass prior to jacking up a final three-point shot that had a snowball's chance in hell of finding paydirt. The Nuggets battled hard for seven periods only to have selfish play on the part of Miller send them packing.
Andre is not the only Nugget complaining about his minutes and talking trade. Wilson Chandler has taken to Twitter to express his frustration. On Saturday night Chandler told one Twitter user that he had asked the Nuggets to shop him around. Chandler has never seemed satisfied to be a Denver Nugget. Ever since he was traded from the Knicks he has put off a vibe that says "too good for this town". Like so many NBA players, Chandler wants to be in the bright lights of the big city and he sees Denver as Siberia. He denies this, of course. In fact, I had an exchange with Chandler on Twitter just last night during which I Tweeted that fans wanted him to embrace being a Nugget. His response was: "trust me I am! Don't get one thing twisted with another. Never said one thing about the team and/or fans." But it's one thing to say that and another to act as though it's true.
One of the most disconcerting things we've seen is Nuggets players using the social network to air their grievances. It's not at all an appropriate thing for them to do. While the First Amendment certainly applies to athletes as much as it does anybody, they should be more careful.
After the stinging loss to the Celtics last night, JaVale McGee took to Twitter to piss and moan about his minutes, too. McGee whined "SCRAPS AGAIN TODAY! NO LOVE!". Rather than approaching George Karl and asking him for more time - or proving on the court that he deserves more time, McGee turned to the fans to get his back. There's obviously nothing they can do to change his situation. Besides, the Nuggets have been winning, so doesn't it all just sound like sour grapes?
There's a cancer swimming in the Denver Nuggets blood stream. Either the malcontents are right, and George Karl isn't doing a proper job of managing the depth of his team, or some guys have got to go. Nothing can take the wind of the team's sails more quickly than having angry guys skulking about the locker room bitching about their own roles while the team as a whole is successful. There's almost a sense that certain guys, Miller, Chandler and McGee specifically, resent the fact that the Nuggets are getting it done in the manner that they are.
Would these players rather score 42 in a blowout loss? It seems that way. Perhaps George Karl is losing his locker room. Maybe he hasn't done an effective job explaining his reasoning. But, for a team with over 30 wins before the All-Star break, the Nuggets are suddenly surrounded in negativity - all thanks to a few bad apples spoiling the batch.