Jussel: Nuggets a work in progress

There is no panic in Denver, not in the offices of Masai Ujiri, the team’s general manager, and team president Josh Kroenke.

No, these two are thinking last week’s rather shocking first-round ouster from the NBA playoffs is simply a part of the process of growing, of learning, of getting better.

Sunday, Ujiri said, “I think it’s nothing that we need to panic about. We will fix it. We knew we had a growing team, and there would be growing pains, and we will fix the problems.”

Kroenke said, “I think we’re still positioned very well going forward, and I believe in the guys in that locker room. It’s on us. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we’re going to go about getting to where we want to be.”

So, what needs to be fixed with a team that won a franchise-record 57 games on the season?

The problem, and it’s the same problem that has haunted this team for decades, is the NBA allows, even suggests, that officials call the game differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. God forbid that any player worth his salt foul out of a playoff game. Thus, games more resemble a rugby scrum than anything basketball was intended to be.

Teams that thrive on movement up and down the court are repeatedly held, bumped and slowed by any method possible.

Need an example? As the final playoff game in Oakland got under way, Denver guard Ty Lawson, all 5-foot-10 of him, went up for a 3-point shot and was leveled by Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who fell on top of Lawson.

The ball somehow went in, and Lawson, lying under Curry, looked up at the nearby official, who merely shrugged his shoulders. It was far too early in the game to get Curry into foul trouble.

That’s the way the playoffs go, and that’s been bad news for Nugget teams for seemingly ever: Run during the regular season, slow down and play ineffective half-court basketball in the playoffs.

What to do? Very simply, they need to add shooters, people who can run, but people who excel at shooting the 3-pointer.

The Nuggets, with Lawson leading the way — he was great against Golden State, averaging 22 points and eight assists per game — had nobody who could hit the 3-pointer when Lawson dished.

The good news for the Nuggets is there are 3-point shooters out there to be had.

Free agents include Kyle Korver (45 percent 3-point shooting with Atlanta last season), Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent with Indiana) and Martel Webster (42.2 percent with Washington). Perhaps the most well-known 3-point shooter, J.J. Redick of Milwaukee, is also a free agent, but he hit only 36.6 percent last season, a down year for him.

Compare those mad bombers to Denver’s best this past season: Danilo Gallinari (37.3 percent), Lawson (36 percent) and Corey Brewer (29 percent).

Signing one or two of those free agents would go a long way toward helping Denver get over the playoff hump.

One other item on the agenda is to determine what to do with the team’s own valued free agents, Andre Iguodala and Brewer. Both will be in demand elsewhere, and both were vital parts to what Denver put together this season.

Ujiri says the team wants both back, but the bidding may get excessive for both in terms of what Denver wants to commit.

Another thought was posed recently by Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla, who suggested the team try to pry double-double machine Kevin Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Love apparently being on the outs with team ownership. His thought was to trade Gallinari and possibly center Kosta Koufos for Love.

Two problems with that scenario: Minnesota recently named Flip Saunders, Love’s former coach, as team president, and Love is brittle to the max, having missed huge portions of the past two seasons because of injuries. Running, running and running some more at altitude would not seem to be the perfect fit for his beat-up body.

No, I don’t look for a big trade.

Instead, I look for the Nuggets to do some massaging of the roster, bringing in someone who can shoot the eyes out of it via the free-agency route and maybe by working a trade where there is a roster surplus such as at the small forward spot where Gallinari and Chandler are virtual duplicates.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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