Was 2013 really that long ago? For the Denver Nuggets, it sure was. A little less than two years ago, this team was in the midst of a fifteen-game winning streak en route to a 38-3 home record. That's a far cry from the low-hanging fruit the team is today.
After Saturday's loss to the Pistons, the Nuggets have lost twelve of their last thirteen games, including two losses to Boston (19-31), one loss to Minnesota (11-40) and one loss to Philadelphia (12-40) -- all three of which are rebuilding teams that entered this season thinking about the next one.
The Nuggets, coming off an injury-plagued season to start the Brian Shaw experiment, rescued Aaron Afflalo from NBA purgatory in Orlando in exchange for Evan Fournier and a second-round pick and drafted some promising talent in Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic. With Danilo Gallinari returning from a yearlong absence and another offseason to learn Shaw's system, this team was thought to have a shot at making the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference.
But even the most pessimistic minds didn't see such a drought coming. Afflalo is already being dangled as trade bait after failing to live up to expectations, Gallinari is nowhere near what he was and Kenneth Faried's clashes with coaching have been well documented
Most of the fans the team still had checked out after either the embarrassing loss to Golden State on Martin Luther King Day or the 69-point effort against Memphis in a game that was broadcast on TNT. After these embarrassments, Shaw publicly questioned his players' desire to win for him -- and in the process, he basically crop-dusted a national audience with the same woeful stank Nuggets fans have been forced to inhale.
The team looks disinterested, and Shaw seems resigned to the fact that he has to coach it. He knows that, barring a miracle, he's done after the season, and don't be surprised if many of the players exit with him.
Here are just a few headlines from national sports publications last week after Tuesday's loss to the 76ers:
"The Denver Nuggets are a train wreck" via CBS Sports
"Denver Nuggets: Their New Rocky Mountain Low" via Sports Illustrated Online
"The Denver Nuggets Are A Burning Clown Car Plunging Into A Gorge" via Deadspin
And that was before defeats to the Celtics and Pistons. Tonight brings the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team desperate to remain in the playoff-chase and fresh off a demolition of the Clippers. If Shaw's right about his players' lack of effort, exhibited in some highlights below, then Russell Westbrook will attack them like the shark he is.
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It's hard not to wonder how George Karl would be doing with this roster. Considering how well the Golden State is playing this season, was that first-round loss to the Warriors in 2013 wasn't such a fireable offense? Although it's fair to criticize Karl's lack of playoff success in Denver, one could also say he was maximizing the talent of teams that had no business competing with Western Conference powers to begin with. A lot of those first-round exits were as seventh and eighth seeds going up against the Spurs and Lakers, and we can all look back on how easy (or not) it must've been to get Melo and J.R. Smith to play winning basketball.
As Karl negotiates a possible return to coaching in Sacramento and the Nuggets continue go up in smoke, the stench of the season only gets stronger. Even if Denver is playing like the lousiest team in the NBA right now, it's not like fans can take solace in a top draft pick next year with a record (19-32) that's currently only bad enough for eighth-worst. Before January 6, before getting serious about digging an inescapable hole, the team was slightly mediocre, with a 18-20 record-- too many wins to catch season-long bottom dwellers like Minnesota and New York.
At least Denver can still claim it won the Melo trade....