Jussel: Time to rebuild in Nuggetland

Until further notice, this is the Denver Nuggets’ starting lineup: Nene at center, Kenyon Martin at power forward, J.R. Smith at small forward, Arron Afflalo at shooting guard, Ty Lawson at point guard.

In the not-too-distant future, meaning as soon as new players are introduced to coach George Karl and understand the offenses and defenses he wants to run, Smith will go back to the bench, replaced by Wilson Chandler, and Martin might go to the bench, replaced by Danilo Gallinari.

You might notice that any of the above combinations are significantly different than what has been the norm for the past two years with Chauncey Billups at the point and the past seven years with Carmelo Anthony at small forward. You might also have noticed that Billups and Anthony carried roughly 50 percent of the team’s scoring load, each charged at differing points of each game with hitting the big shots.

Billups, as we all know, a Denver native and Colorado-reared legend, was known as Mr. Big Shot. Anthony, as we all know, was simply Mr. Nugget, quite possibly the best player ever to wear a Nugget uniform.

But as we all know, stuff happens.

Here we are as Nugget fans (or ex-Nugget fans if the fancy strikes you), at a new beginning to a new beginning.

Something tells me that all is not as it will be, with more change possibly coming prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, more certainly to come before — and if — the next season starts.

The Nuggets were forced by Anthony to retool. It is what it is, and that is a professional sport in which the end result is always about the bottom line.

Denver’s basketball team was above the salary tax threshold, meaning they had to pay double the dollars for everything paid out over a certain sum. That was apparently not acceptable — and apparently won’t be for some time.

So, what now?

There is the little matter first of all of qualifying for the NBA playoffs ... or not. The Nuggets as constituted on Sunday would have done that.

The Nuggets as constituted today might have a chance at doing that, most likely as the eighth seed.

The Nuggets as constituted after Thursday might need to claim a few D-League players just to hold the bench down — especially if, as some rumors contend — they trade some of their recently acquired players for draft choices.

In the grand scheme of all things NBA, the Nuggets were not going to win the NBA title this year with the team they had on their roster prior to the All-Star break.

They weren’t going to win it with that roster next year, either. Not with the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and another three or four teams in the West and not with the likes of the Boston Celtics, the new All-Star team in Miami or even the Chicago Bulls in the East.

I’m sure there were people in the Nuggets front office who knew that.

The question right now becomes how far does the team have to drop off the NBA contender map before it legitimately qualifies as a contender again?

A couple of things to ponder:

In the West, the Spurs are ancient and the Lakers not far behind. Both will be forced into a total rebuild in the near future.

The Mavericks are one aging superstar away from becoming a nonentity, Portland has lost its star center of the future and its star point guard is broken up almost beyond repair.

The team to watch in the West is Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant soon to be the next Kobe — the one player capable of taking a team all the way to … well, at least to compete with Miami for the next decade.

That’s what Denver is up against, if owner Stan Kroenke or son Josh will go about the business of hiring players and paying bills.

Denver’s team is significantly younger and cheaper than it was just days ago, down $20-plus million per year with Anthony gone, and another $14 million with Billups out of the equation.

This summer, if not before, Martin and nearly $17 million per year will be gone. Nene and $14 million might be. J.R. Smith, maybe a bargain at roughly $6 mil, also might be headed elsewhere, not so much to save money but to save the sanity of all around him.

That means the Nuggets could have roughly $68 million in salary to replace with …

Draft choices?

A free agent of the Anthony ilk?

Free agents — lots of them — of lesser ilk?

Or any combination thereof that seems to make sense to those in charge at the time, be it this season or the next season, whenever that may be?

The building of the Carmelo-led Nuggets was an interesting process to watch. It will be interesting to watch again, this process of retooling.

It’s just a matter of whether you and I can stomach it, especially after all we’ve gone through with another team attempting the exact same thing.


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