As we plan to do before every Nets home game this season (or until another blogger tells us where to stick it), today we talk with Jeremy Wagner of the fantastic TrueHoop Denver Nuggets blog, Roundball Mining Company. Wagner answers some questions for us and lets us know how it feels to root for a team that might actually win an NBA title. And just to show what a good sport I am, I've done the same over at this site, sans the telling people what it's like to root for an NBA title contender.
NAS: There's been a lot of early buzz about Carmelo Anthony's hot start. Is there anything that he's doing differently that you believe could be at the root of this MVP-caliber of play?
Wagner: The best way I can explain Carmelo’s play so far this season is to compare it to the end of The Matrix when Neo realizes he is The One and what was once difficult or impossible became effortless. Melo is exuding a great deal of confidence and everything he does seems to have a purpose. He is very conscious of earning the best shot he can and will eagerly pass off if a teammate has a better opportunity to score.
In addition to his improvement on offense, he is playing very hard on defense. Last season he learned how much simply paying attention to what was going on around him can help improve his defense. This season he is coupling that with hard work and determination. In the second game of the season he welcomed the opportunity to go mano a mano with Brandon Roy on both ends of the floor and he won that game for the Nuggets in Roy’s building.
Obviously there will be nights when his shot is not falling, but as long as he continues his complete play, he should be a legitimate MVP candidate.
NAS: Do you feel the Nuggets are a forgotten team in the West by the pundits considering the attention the Lakers and Spurs got in the off-season?
Wagner: I did think the Nuggets were being undersold before the season started. Clearly the Lakers are the team to beat and even if Ron Artest does not make them better, they were still the best team in the conference by a comfortable margin.
I absolutely do not concede that the Spurs are a better team than Denver. I do not think Richard Jefferson is going to help as much as most observers expect him to and Portland’s big signing of Andre Miller is a poor fit for what they do as well. The acquisitions of Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson were not intimidating by any stretch of the imagination, but they both fit needs the Nuggets had much better than some of the players other contenders brought in.
NAS: Nets fans are always linked to Kenyon Martin. Do you have any hope that he puts together a full healthy season with the Nuggets this year?
Wagner: What I consider a healthy season from Kenyon is not what I would consider a healthy season from Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. Many Nuggets fans hold Kenyon’s big contract against him as well as his injury issues, but I think Martin deserves all the credit in the world for what he has done. No other player in the NBA, and probably any of the major sports has ever undergone two microfracture procedures and returned to play. Not only did Kenyon return, but he is as athletic and aggressive as ever.
While many people consider Kenyon and Nene to be injury prone players, I consider them to have had bad luck (I mean Nene had cancer, how many NBA players in their mid 20’s have missed a season because of cancer?). Kenyon has had a couple of major injuries such as the broken leg at Cincinnati and his two knee surgeries, but those were in the past. He will miss a week here or a week there with his balky back or an ankle turn here or there, but I expect him to play between 65 and 70 games ever year. Instead of rehabbing last summer Kenyon finally worked on his jumper he loves to shoot and so far it looks better thanks to the way he moved his left hand back on the ball. He no longer has to make an awkward twist of his wrists to get the shot off.
NAS: Given the financial situation in Denver and what the starting five is expected to make next season, do you feel this is Denver's last shot with this current group to win an NBA title?
Wagner: Geez, can’t I just enjoy this season? The truth is you are absolutely right. The Nuggets have the potential for an $80 plus million payroll next season and as John Hollinger likes to point out, their five highest paid players alone could be over the tax limit. There is certainly a chance Nuggets fans could be facing a fire sale next summer.
Owner Stan Kroenke has been very much against paying the luxury tax lately, but he does not have much choice this season. However, he has splurged on the Nuggets before as just two seasons ago by my calculations he spent about $95 million in salary and luxury tax. Plus Mark Warkentien claimed just a few days ago that the Nuggets will pull the trigger on a big deal if it makes sense.
I cannot predict the future and if you doubt me I will show you my record on NFL picks this season, but if the Nuggets do indeed prove to be legitimate contenders, I think at the very least he keeps the team together and allows them to make another run. Of course with the success the front office has had with slashing costs while still improving the team, they may not hesitate to ship out a veteran or two and sign cheaper alternatives.
Whatever ends up happening with their track record over the previous two offseasons it will be difficult to argue with anything they do.