The Nuggetssuffered a slap in the face last season when both the Clippers and theGrizzlies--knowing that a late loss would mean they'd face Denver in theplayoffs instead of the Mavs--went to great lengths not to win. Then things gotmore ignominious: The Nuggets fell in the first round to the Clippers (whohadn't won a series since 1976), but not before forward Kenyon Martin wassuspended by the team for cursing out coach George Karl during Game 2. "Ithappened. I can't take it back," says Martin. "We've got no choice butto move on if I'm going to be here."
There was plentyof talk that Martin would be moved, which didn't seem to be a bad idea: TheNuggets were 24--25 with him in the lineup and 19--13 without. But with nomarket for balky-kneed four men with hefty contracts--he's in the third year ofa seven-year, $90 million deal--he stayed put. The 28-year-old Martin, whohasn't been at full strength since microfracture surgery on his left knee after2004--05, spent the off-season rehabbing and staying off his feet as much aspossible.
If Martin and the6'11" Nen√™, who missed all but three minutes of last season with a tornright ACL, stay healthy, they'll give Denver a forceful presence under thebasket--and much-needed stability. Last year Karl used 21 starting lineups,which Martin believes contributed to the bad mojo. "We could never get intoa rhythm," he says. "It was definitely a down year. Injuries,chemistry, guys not really jelling. You name it, we had it."
Projected StartingLineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 44--38 (T7in West)
Points scored:100.3 (5th in NBA)
Points allowed:100.1 (23rd)
(third season withthe Nuggets)
*NEW ACQUISITION*2004--05 STATISTICS
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nuggets
They're on shakyground considering George Karl's history. As good as he is, you know thatthings will eventually blow up around him.... There are only a few guys capableof leading a team to the title, and while Carmelo Anthony is very talented, Iwouldn't say that he's one of them because he doesn't make his teammatesbetter. If he scores early, he'll share the ball, but if he doesn't, then he'llfeel the pressure to score because he's one of those guys who's always aware ofhow many points he has.... They're rolling the dice asking someone as young as21-year-old J.R. Smith to fill such a big hole at shooting guard. Smith hasexcellent shooting range but bad shot selection.... Andre Miller is a terrificdefender when he wants to be, and he's unselfish. But his jumper--no matterwhere he is on the court--is a negative.... Their shooting will kill them: Allyou have to do is get back on defense, pack it inside and force them to takeshots from the perimeter.... Why did they give so much money to Nen√™ whennobody else was bidding for him coming off major knee surgery?
The Nuggets were fifth during the regular season in scoring (100.3 points pergame), but they collapsed in the playoffs, averaging just 87.4 points, 15thamong the 16 teams.