Biggest Needs for Denver Nuggets During 2014 Offseason
It would be tough to classify this season as anything better than a disappointment for the injury-plagued Denver Nuggets.
They've played in the postseason for each of the last 10 years but will truly have their summer off in 2014, having been officially eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.
Last season, the Nuggets went 57-25, with George Karl winning Coach of the Year. Following a first-round loss in the playoffs, Karl was fired and Denver brought in Brian Shaw to instill more of a defense-first culture.
We didn't really get a chance to see how well the Nuggets would play under Shaw in his first year as a head coach, as several key players missed significant time with injuries.
But even without Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and others, the play of the healthy Nuggets revealed some needs they should address before the 2014-15 campaign kicks off.
Extend Kenneth Faried's Contract
Anyone remember all those Iman Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried rumors? If there was ever any truth to those, the Nuggets have to be thanking their lucky stars they didn't pull the trigger.
Frank Isola of The New York Daily News made it sound like both teams were interested, tweeting, "J.R. Smith is starting & Iman Shumpert could be departing. I'm hearing Knicks-Nuggets continue to discuss an Iman for Kenneth Faried trade."
Well, the Nuggets definitely got the better end of that deal not going through.
Since those reports surfaced from Stein and Isola, Faried is averaging 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds in 30.7 minutes while shooting 54.8 percent from the field. Shumpert is averaging six points while shooting 38.6 percent over the same span.
Faried has not only proved that the trade idea was preposterous, but he's shown the Nuggets he's a franchise power forward.
There may not be another player in the league who plays harder on a nightly basis. That's overly simple analysis, but have you seen this guy play? Every loose ball and rebound is attainable in his mind, and he goes after them with unbridled energy. It's no wonder he's known as "The Manimal."
Now, after three seasons on his rookie contract, Denver will have the option of extending Faried. It won't be cheap, but it'll be worth it.
His agent should use last summer's Derrick Favors' extension as leverage. The Utah Jazz big man signed a four-year, $49 million deal based on production that was nowhere near what Faried is doing this season.
If Denver can retain him for around what Utah paid Favors, it would be a bargain. If they get him for a few million more, it would be an investment.
Just look at some of the names that missed at least 10 games with some kind of injury: J.J. Hickson, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Nate Robinson, JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari.
McGee played in just five games. Gallinari didn't get on the floor once.
It's impossible to know how good Denver might've been with everyone healthy, but they certainly would've won a few more games than they did.
So this offseason will simply be about getting the right rest and treatment for several guys. The Nuggets need them back.
Robinson is one such player who'll be recovering this summer after tearing his ACL. And according to The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, he thinks everyone will bounce back:
I've never seen it (like this) before on a team. Each guy has to bounce back on our team and be ready. And we'll do that. We'll be a healthy team next year, and we'll be fun to watch.
If they do indeed all come back healthy, the Nuggets could be a dangerous team.
Gallinari and Robinson are both explosive scorers, while McGee has the size and athleticism to be a defensive anchor who could cover for a lot of mistakes. Among active players, McGee's career block percentage (7.0) trails only Larry Sanders and Serge Ibaka.
Add Perimeter Defense
Shaw may have been hired to give the Nuggets a more defensive identity, but that just hasn't happened this season.
Denver has the league's 21st-rated defense, giving up 105.3 points per 100 possessions. Last season, they were 11th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 102. Clearly, they've taken a step back on that end.
Sure, the injuries have played a big role, but that's not all. No one stepped up and filled the role of defensive leader after it was vacated by Andre Iguodala.
Last season, the Nuggets gave up 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Iguodala was on the floor. He was always able to at least slow down the opposition's top wing, and he even defended point guards at times.
His ability to control players along the perimeter relieved Denver's big men of a ton of pressure.
Before the season started, I thought Chandler could assume that role—even if he wouldn't be quite as effective as Iguodala. Unfortunately, he was plagued by injuries all season.
Relying on him to get healthy and be ready for the role of defensive leader is risky. So the Nuggets need to look for someone in free agency or the draft who can be that player or at least help with those duties.
Add a Wing
In addition to someone who can defend on the perimeter, Denver needs a wing who can contribute on both ends of the floor.
There's no guarantee Gallinari's knee will hold up next season. We've come a long way in terms of ACL recovery, but it's still a tough injury to bounce back from.
Plus, Chandler was in and out of the lineup all season, and Jordan Hamilton was dealt to the Houston Rockets for Aaron Brooks.
Evan Fournier looks like a solid up-and-comer, but with all those injury concerns, more depth would be nice.
Take Advantage of the Draft
As part of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011, the Nuggets received a 2014 first-round pick that will be in the lottery thanks to the Knicks missing the playoffs.
Barring a miracle in the lottery, they'll miss out on any of the big-name prospects like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
But there will still be some good players around that 10th-14th-pick range.
If Denver's not sold on Aaron Brooks and still has concerns about Robinson's ACL, they could go for a point guard like Tyler Ennis from Syracuse.
Wings like Zach LaVine, Nik Stauskas and Doug McDermott will likely be available as well.
But perhaps the most intriguing option would be 6'9" point guard/small forward Kyle Anderson. His draft stock is all over the place because he's unlike any other prospect in this class.
His size and skill set say Penny Hardaway or Magic Johnson, but his lack of athleticism makes those comparisons laughable.
It's a classic high-risk/high-reward option. But if Denver is confident its current players can get and stay healthy, they might be in position to take such a risk.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.