|Iguodala is the new face of the Nuggets. (Getty Images)|
I. How they finished 2012: Were the Nuggets better in 2012 than they wer in 2011? It's difficult to tell, a mixed answer, not really the most important question out there.
In the first season after Melo's departure, the Nuggets came to embody the "win-now, win-later" non-superstar model. They came out to one of the hottest starts in the league, playing a brand of fast-paced, athletic basketball that got up and down the floor and set the nets on fire. But an injury to Danilo Gallinari set off a chain reaction that resulted in a slide back to the pack.
After trading Nene at the deadline for JaVale McGee, the thought was that the team would take a step backwards, but instead the Nuggets landed in the sixth seed in a hyper-competitive Western Conference. Unfortunately, they wound up in the worst matchup possible, facing a big-heavy Lakers team that was able to pound them inside.
Even then, the Nuggets surprised many by pushing the Lakers to seven games, showing what the team is capable of, especially Ty Lawson. But they still bowed out in the first round. Were they better? Probably. Did their team look better long-term? Absolutely.
II. Needs entering the offseason: The big thing for Denver continues to be trying to find a star, someone to create the points in close moments. But beyond that, the team needed defensive improvement. The Nuggets, for playing a fast-paced style which almost always causes issues defensively, weren't outright awful. But they weren't good enough.
They also needed to figure out whether to re-sign JaVale McGee and Andre Miller, and how to adjust their depth.
III. The Draft: The Nuggets took Evan Fournier, lodging quite a few "huh?"'s around the media. It was an athletic wing on a team full of them, who likely wouldn't be ready to contribute immediately. There was even talk of him not coming over yet. No one really knows what to expect from Fournier, now or in the future, though his play in Summer Leage was very promising.
In the second round, the Nuggets snagged Quincy Miller, a high-upside pick out of Baylor who has all the tools but the standard queston of whether he can put it together.
IV. Free Agency: The Nuggets brought back Andre Miller, which kind of came as a surprise. Miller had indicated he wanted to start, and indicated he wanted to pursue a championship. But apparently the familiarity of Denver brought Miller back.
They brought in Anthony Randolph, piling up the hyper-athletic bigs who have struggled with court awareness other places.
Then they re-signed JaVale McGee. McGee had reportedly wanted $14 million per year, but wound up with a deal for $11 million instead. It's a deal that is judged entirely by your perception of McGee. If you think he can develop into a better version of the player he was in the playoffs for Denver, it's a steal. If you think he'll always be the same knucklehead he was in Washington, it's a critical mistake.
The reality, of course, as always, is likely somewhere in the middle. Big men in this league are overpaid, and that's not a secret. They're paid to market value, not production value. And for the Nuggets, having a player of his size and skills, who's able to run in their system is huge. It allows them to play Kenneth Faried at power forward. The small chance McGee makes the leap is more than worth it, specifically for the Nuggets.
So a pretty good offseason, standing pat. No big moves. Right?
Enter the Iguodala. The Nuggets snuck in on the framework of the Dwight Howard trade and acquired Sixers guard-forward Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is an All-Star who isn't thought of as one.
Iguodala immediately improves their defense. He's a wing defender who can rotate from man to man, guarding point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and the odd stretch four. He can pressure the ball, keep his spacing, get in the passing lane, help and recover, and lead the defense.
So is he just a defensive improvement? Because he's never been known as the kind of player who can produce his own offense. But Iguodala's passing is at an elite level. He can run an offense, produce in the post, on offensive rebounds, off-the-cut, and off-the-dribble. He took a step forward last season in hitting key shots in big moments. He's a veteran with athleticism in his prime.
And they got him for Arron Afflalo coming off an awful season and Al Harrington who played well but on a sizeable contract with age making an impact.
It was a huge, terrific move for Denver, and if it works, puts them into a higher tier. They're not a championship team, but they're closer.
V. Overall grade and accomplishments: A+
If you believe Denver only deserves an A if they get a superstar, I invite you to inform me of which ones are available who are willing to re-sign with Denver. They're limited by their market and the current brand-megalomania of stars in the league. But while adding Iguodala, a superb player on both ends of the floor, they maintained their flexibility. They'll be in a position to re-sign Ty Lawson, who is coming into his own.
They have a great team that could be better this year, and have the ability to swoop on any opportunity for a star that comes available. What more can you ask for?