2009 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back over the course of the next couple of weeks for previews of each division.

Denver Nuggets (6)
The Nuggets are coming off a 54-28 record and a Northwest Division title. Of their top rotation players, they return all but Linas Kleiza (Olympiakos) and Dahntay Jones (Indiana). HC George Karl hopes that J.R. Smith can be a consistent starting shooting guard, but he won’t be afraid to use Arron Afflalo if Smith doesn’t play solid defense (or with his head on straight). Much of the credit to Denver’s fine season is given to Chauncey Billups, who provided steady play and leadership at point guard, but the health of Nene and Kenyon Martin should not be overlooked. The Nuggets re-signed Chris “The Birdman” Andersen to provide energy, rebounding and shot blocking off the bench. If the front line can stay healthy, Billups can stay productive at 33, and Smith can fulfill his considerable potential, then the Nuggets have enough talent to reach the Western Conference Finals for a second straight season. Even so, it’s hard to see Denver upending a healthy Lakers or Spurs squad in a seven-game series.

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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

2008 NBA Preview: #19 Denver Nuggets

Offseason Movement: In what can only be considered as a straight salary cap dump, the Nuggets traded stalwart center Marcus Camby to the Clippers for the right to swap second round picks in 2010. Given Camby’s more-than-reasonable contract (two years, $15.7 million) and defensive prowess, it left a lot of people scratching their heads, especially when the team turned around and signed J.R. Smith to a deal worth $16.5 million over three years.
Keep Your Eye On: J.R. Smith/Linas Kleiza
The team says that whoever plays better defense will get the bulk of the minutes. Both players are offensive-minded and are capable of putting up points in bunches. Smith has the better PER (18.15 compared to Kleiza’s 14.43) and is a year younger (22). The Nuggets are already defensively challenged, and neither guy is going to make anyone forget about Camby’s excellence in that area of the game.
The Big Question: What is the Nuggets plan?
They didn’t trade Allen Iverson, but they did trade Marcus Camby. Are the Nuggets trying to win now or are they building for the future? The Camby trade implies the latter, but the fact that they held on to both Carmelo Anthony (smart) and AI (not smart) indicates that the team is still trying to win with (mostly) the same group as the last few years. Iverson is in the last year of his contract ($21.9 million) so if the Nuggets don’t get off to a good start, expect them to move him before the trade deadline, assuming they can find a trade partner with something of value to offer (like a few expiring contracts and a first round draft pick or two).
Outlook: Confused. The loss of Camby means that the Nuggets are likely to take a step back, which means they are at the bottom of the playoff picture in the West. If they miss the playoffs, Iverson won’t be on the roster next season, so this will be a very interesting year in Denver.

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