Nuggets say this is the start of something special
DENVER ” The Denver Nuggets are torn between what-ifs and what-a-year.
Deep down, they still think they’re the best team in the West and maybe even in the NBA altogether. They won’t get a chance to prove it, however, after losing the conference finals in six games to Kobe Bryant and the steely Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think we’re better athletically,” J.R. Smith said. “Pound for pound, I think we’re definitely the better team.”
Carmelo Anthony agrees but he also knows that’s the loser’s lament.
“We can always talk, we can say it all day every day,” he said. “But until we go out there and beat the Lakers, they’re going to be the best team in the West.”
The Nuggets, in any case, come out of this a more experienced team.
“These guys have been through a lot in just one season, grew up a lot,” Chauncey Billups said Saturday. “That’s when you start to turn the corner and get better, when you see what did and didn’t work and you get better from it.”
Next year, Denver will have a full training camp with Billups, whose acquisition from Detroit for Allen Iverson on Nov. 3 marked the Nuggets’ metamorphosis from afterthought to contender.
The Nuggets’ top five scorers return and their three unrestricted free agents ” Chris “Birdman” Andersen, Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter ” all are practically begging to come back.
Asked what’s the next step for these Nuggets, Andersen cracked, “Re-signing me.” He suspects the team is ready for a title run in 2010 after a season spent figuring out schemes and styles on the fly.
“We were one series away from getting to the big show and I think next year we would be very capable, if we had the same squad, of making our way there and possibly even winning the championship,” Andersen said.
Re-signing Birdman is the Nuggets’ top offseason priority, followed closely by keeping Jones. Jones said he would “love to stay here,” as would Carter.
“We need everybody back,” Anthony said. “We want everybody back. We want our same team. It took the Lakers a couple of years to get where they’re at right now. They built it not overnight. It took time. I think that’s where we see our team right now.”
The Nuggets were fortunate to finally go through a season healthy, although Nene broke his left forearm when he ran into a Shannon Brown screen in the fourth quarter Friday night and will be in a splint for up to a month.
Other than that, Nene made a successful comeback from cancer; Kenyon Martin returned from operations on both knees; Andersen came back from a drug suspension to become a fan favorite; Smith bounced back from an auto accident that killed a friend; Jones went from the D-league to NBA starter and got under his opponents’ skins; and Anthony became a star after five straight first-round exits.
This band of misfits came together and won more games than any team in franchise history and reached the conference championships for the first time since 1985. And they very nearly went to their first NBA Finals.
The Nuggets said they’ll put the lessons they learned to use this fall and turn this franchise-record 64-win season that nobody saw coming six months ago into the start of something special.
Bryant’s a believer. He said the series with the Nuggets made the Lakers a better, more focused team. And if he wins a fourth ring, he’ll have Denver to thank.
“This Denver Nuggets team is a problem,” he declared.
And much less of an enigma than in years past.
“This is, I feel like, a new beginning for me,” Anthony said. “We’ve got the whole summer to think about this, see where we went wrong, come back in training camp next season and pick up where we left off. We don’t want to take no steps back. We want to move forward from here.”
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