A seasonal look at Colorado’s professional sports teams | SummitDaily.com

A seasonal look at Colorado’s professional sports teams

As mud collects in the soils of Summit County, the season is ripe to peer down to the flatlands and look in on the professional sports scene in Denver.

The gloom of the Colorado Avalanche’s first-round exit in the NHL playoffs has just begun to wear off. Still, it’s hard to believe, in early May, only one of the big four teams is in action.

–  It wasn’t so much that the Avs lost in the first round. This team has been a runaway success for so long, it was due a let-down. It flirted with one last season when every one of its playoff series went to seven games before Detroit finally ended the run in the Western Conference Finals.

The shocking part of the team’s ouster this year was that the Avs, being one of the most experienced teams in the playoffs, were up 3-1 to a Minnesota team making its playoff debut. Then the Wild won three straight to advance.

On top of that, the hated Red Wings, the defending Cup champs, were swept in Round 1, and the door was seemingly ajar for another Colorado Cup run. It’s hard to stay upset with a team that has spoiled us for so long. And at least Summit County’s surrogate team, Dallas (they’ve held preseason training in Breckenridge the past two autumns) were still alive Monday, pending its late-night elimination game with Anaheim.

– Have you heard? The Colorado Rockies are above .500 and playing pretty well. They have one of the best pitchers in the NL – Shawn Chacon – and he’s a Colorado native. Todd Helton and Todd Walker are among the league leaders in various hitting statistics, and center fielder Preston Wilson has been a pleasant surprise.

Colorado came into the season having abandoned its pay-for-pitching strategy; it seems to be returning to the let’s-outslug-everybody philosophy that won the team a wild card playoff spot in 1995. It makes for good watching, and besides, the Rockies are the only game in town.

– The only Colorado team that needs a winning season more desperately than the Rockies is the Nuggets. They finished the season tied with Cleveland for the NBA’s worst record (17-65) and now enter the most exciting time of their year: draft lottery time!

The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft looms large as high school phenomenon LeBron James is there for the taking. The league is full of college-skipping busts, but remember, All Stars Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett all made The Leap from high school. I’m of the mind that James is a blue-chipper who will be among the league’s best within a few years. The Nuggets, who have been bad enough to get high draft picks for several seasons, are, at the very least, young. And last year’s No. 7 pick, Nene Hilario, showed All-Star flashes in his first season. Add James and the Nuggets have a future.

Because Denver and Cleveland are tied in the cellar, they have an equal 22.5 percent chance of getting the first pick. The draft lottery will be held May 22, and the draft is scheduled for June 26.

– I’m still amazed at the Broncos’ late-season collapse. I had them going to the Super Bowl in the preseason, and the pick looked good when they were 6-2 at the midway point. The offseason is never easy after that type of disappointment, and the Broncos have made some changes. The most noticeable is acquiring Jake Plummer to take over for Brian Griese at quarterback.

Time will tell on this move, but to me, the problem with the Broncos was not Brian Griese. Maybe he’s not the best leader, and perhaps his minor off-field problems were too much of a nuisance. But that offense is so full of veteran leadership – Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith – that it should have been able to cover for a naive quarterback. Especially one with the arm strength and pedigree of Griese.

Plummer has that flare for the dramatic that Broncos fans miss from the Elway days, but he’s shown a propensity for making poor decisions, and may turn out to be more of a liability than anything.

That said, a good offensive brain trust like Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak should be able to coach some of Plummer’s weaknesses away. Bottom line, the Broncos will contend.

Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at jstarr@summitdaily.com.

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