Expectations remain high as Nuggets open new era

Denver seeking to build upon momentum of 2012-13 success
by Aaron Lopez

Less than five minutes into media day, new Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly threw it out there for first-year coach Brian Shaw.

“I told Brian, it’s (championship) ring or bust,” Connelly said with a laugh.

Shaw, who has won five NBA titles as player and assistant coach, didn’t flinch.

“With the organizations and the places I’ve been, I’m used to it being that way anyway,” he said, smiling back at Connelly.

Some of the faces in the front office, on the coaching staff and on the roster have changed, but expectations around Pepsi Center remained high as a new era of Nuggets basketball began Monday.

After winning a team-record 57 games in 2012-13, Denver is once again seeking to make noise in the Western Conference. The Nuggets, who have reached the postseason 10 consecutive years, finished third in the West last season but fell to Golden State in the first round of the playoffs.

“I’m not conceding anything,” Shaw said. “This team won 57 games and it translated into a first-round loss in the playoffs. I’m not at all concerned about putting a number on (regular-season wins).

“I want us to improve daily in practice and game by game, so if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we’re prepared and we’ve gone through everything we need to go through to get us to advance deep into the playoffs.”

The Nuggets traded starting center Kosta Koufos on draft night and lost starting shooting guard Andre Iguodala and reserve forward Corey Brewer in free agency, but they added big man J.J. Hickson, sharpshooter Randy Foye, dynamic guard Nate Robinson and dependable forward Darrell Arthur.

“This is a young team, an energetic team,” Robinson said. “We have to challenge ourselves to mesh well early and get that team chemistry going as soon as we can. Every guy is excited and we’re ready.”

Denver will open the season without injured forward Danilo Gallinari (knee) but remains deep at every position.

Kenneth Faried and Hickson will provide quality minutes at power forward, with Arthur and Anthony Randolph also in the mix for playing time. Wilson Chandler steps into Gallinari’s spot at small forward, and JaVale McGee opens camp as the starting center.

Point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and shooting guard Evan Fournier return from last season, joining Foye and Robinson to give Shaw plenty of options in the backcourt.

“It’s an audition,” Shaw said. “There's competition at every position on the team. It's a good problem to have, having depth. It's healthy for competition and they have to battle it out.”

The opportunity to impress officially begins Tuesday when the Nuggets hold their first practice at Pepsi Center. If the offseason was any indication, it will be a spirited atmosphere.

“The work ethic by all our players (this summer) was fantastic,” Connelly said. “Everyone comes into camp in tip-top shape. Brian’s put together a heckuva (coaching) staff and there’s a palpable energy in the gym.”

No Nuggets player epitomizes energy more than Faried, who started 80 games and averaged 11.5 and 9.2 rebounds in his second NBA season. He is looking forward to honing his game in practice against Hickson, who averaged a double-double (12.7 points, 10.4 rebounds) last season while starting 80 games for the Portland Trail Blazers.

“It’ll be fun,” Faried said. “We’re both going to go at it each and every day. We’re going to try to get better and really focus in on each other because we’re both fighting for a starting spot. I was starting there last year, but it’s a new coach and we’ll see what happens.”

Regardless of how Shaw distributes playing time, Faried and his returning teammates just want to erase the disappointment of last spring’s playoff loss. Regular-season success was great, but the Nuggets want to prove they can carry that over to the postseason.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” Lawson said. “We have a new team, a new system. We might have hiccups early, but I think we’re going to be good. I want to get past the first round and then from there, see what happens.”