Posted Oct 19 2010 8:18PM
When sizing up their concerns, the Nuggets probably don't rate too high on the Lakers' list right now. The defending champs are working through the normal preseason issues of finding their rhythm, fitting new pieces into the triangle and waiting on another Andrew Bynum return.
Pretty standard stuff. Denver's issues run much deeper and threaten to tear apart the season before it begins. Somehow, though, there's this notion that a team in obvious disarray is just a tad short of greatness. After a weekend visit to Staples Center, talk centered on the Nuggets' place in the West.
Ty Lawson gave a pretty standard answer ... if it was October of last year.
"Everybody is hurt right now," the backup point guard said, "but once everybody is healthy, I feel like we'll be No. 1 or a close second to beating the Lakers and dethroning them."
Pump the brakes there, kid. The Nuggets may be closer to the lottery than catching Kobe Bryant and crew. Too much has to go right for Denver to repeat its 2009 trip to the Western Conference finals and, deep down, they know it. Even if they don't want to admit it.
No. 1 obstacle: Carmelo Anthony hasn't backed off his trade stance. The word out of Denver is that his camp is getting progressively more frustrated by the lack of progress in finding 'Melo a new home. New York, New Jersey and Chicago remain at the top of the wish list.
Whatever frustration Anthony is dealing with inside isn't spilling onto the hardwood. He's already in regular-season form, averaging nearly a point a minute in the preseason. 'Melo's teammates say he's the picture of professionalism in the midst of rumors.
"I'm sure behind closed doors management will take care of that," Arron Afflalo said. "But Carmelo has been great. He competes every day, and the team is happy to have him and we're going to keep trying to progress forward."
That's the charge for George Karl, who's in for either the most rewarding or the most mind-numbing coaching job of his life. Karl isn't complaining, mind you, after returning from last season's well-chronicled and successful bout with cancer.
It's also still October. Should the uncertainty of the summer continue deep into winter, perhaps Karl tugs at the few strands of hair remaining on his head. He plans to make the best out of the current state of flux, while attempting to get more out of Anthony than ever before.
During the Los Angeles stop, Karl shared a few more details from the personal talk he had with Anthony earlier this month.
"I told 'Melo, I'm excited about coaching you maybe a little harder than I did before, because I don't think we're getting you to the top of the mountain, and that's where I think you belong'," Karl said. "'You're close. You're at the last stage of Mount Everest, but you have strengths and talents that can be improved.'"
That talk probably should have taken place a year ago. Still, a new and improved 'Melo might not be enough to put a scare into the squad the Nuggets want to be measured against. Denver is likely without Kenyon Martin until at least January and Chris Andersen until December, leaving a sizable void in size.
The Nuggets, also missing Al Harrington, were out-rebounded handily by the Bynum-less Lakers. That's going to continue to be a problem as long as the bigs are on the mend. Harrington is hoping to return in time for the opener after suffering a minor foot injury less than two weeks ago.
So where does this leave the Nuggets now?
"I don't know," said Afflalo, the third-year shooting guard who's been a preseason standout. "It's hard to tell right now until we really put it together and get all our pieces out there at once. We'll have a better gauge as the season goes on. Right now it's just too early to tell."
Unlike the brash optimism flashed by Lawson, the wise old sage in the Denver locker room isn't concerned with tracking down the Lakers just yet. This isn't 2009.
"No, I think we've got to work our way back to that," Chauncey Billups said. "I think we have to get healthy first. I think when we do get healthy, we could be a force. But that's yet to be seen."
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