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Klee: What's new at Pepsi Center? The Nuggets, for one

By: Paul Klee
August 28, 2013 Updated: August 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm

DENVER - The 14-year-old home of the Nuggets, Pepsi Center, has a brand-new, fancy-schmancy scoreboard dangling from the center of the arena.

Can't wait for you to see it. This thing's really snazzy.

Know what else is new?

"Our success will be judged by how we do in the playoffs," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly told me in a recent conversation.

This transient offseason suggests the Nuggets also installed a revolving door at Pepsi Center. So Connelly's point is important for a couple of reasons:

One, it tells us the GM is adjusting the mindset. Awesome regular seasons were fun; awful postseasons were not.

Two, the Nuggets aren't fixing to fix their place in the NBA draft lottery.

That's a thing, you know. The next draft should be as deep as we've seen since the 2003 draft that brought LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

By blowing the 2013-14 season, teams are lining up and laying down for a shot at the worst record and the most pingpong balls in the draft lottery.

"I think there's a handful of teams that have collectively waved the white flag already," Connelly said. "The NBA's a tough place. To get good, you've got to get bad sometimes. I think a lot of people see the potential there is in the next draft, and they're excited about that potential.

"And they see the (2014) free agent class, and they're excited. But I don't think you can always hang your hat on hope."

To squash any conspiracy theories, I asked if throwing the season to earn a high draft pick is in the Nuggets' playbook. He said, "No."

"Our goal is to win as many games as we possibly can," Connelly said. "And then, like I said, we'll be judged by how we do in the playoffs."

See, there it is again.

What I like about the Nuggets is not how good they will be in 2013-14. I see a team, with a superb hire in coach Brian Shaw, that projects to be on the road for Games 1 and 2 in the playoffs, at best.

Then it's up for grabs. Right, Golden State?

What I like is how the Nuggets are set up for the future. There's no heavy contract handcuffing Kroenke Sports Enterprises from turning a marginal playoff roster into an NBA title contender.

The longest contract is Ty Lawson's deal that ends in 2017.

The Nuggets tried to mess up that flexibility by offering Andre Iguodala too much money for a third option on offense, but they were bailed out when he bolted for Golden State.

"If you look at our books, we can go a bunch of different directions. If you're not in the Finals last year - if you're not the Heat - you have to set yourself up for flexibility," Connelly said. "With our books where they are now, we don't have any bad contracts. We don't have any long-term contracts.

"I want to see what this team looks like. If something's not working, we'll address it. But we're definitely not tied down right now."

There's another way to look at their approach to next season, of course. You could say the Nuggets are cushioning the blow if the regular season turns sour.

I found the 2012-13 Nuggets to be a liberating escape from the clutch-and-grab style of play that is slowing basketball, especially on the college level, to a crawl. Those Nuggets were must-see TV, and even better in person, without the new scoreboard.

Give credit where credit's due: "Masai (Ujiri) and George (Karl) left us big shoes to fill," as Connelly said.

Then the playoffs rolled around. With Oklahoma City weakened by injury, the Nuggets were presented a super opportunity to travel deep into the Western Conference tournament.

Instead, the Nuggets folded like a $5 lawn chair, and Stephen Curry kicked it over.

Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried were undervalued in the collapse, but a No. 3 seed that nearly is swept by a No. 6 seed is not one built for championship success.

One man's humble view: the onus is on the development of two players, Lawson and JaVale McGee.

On Lawson's arrest after an incident with his girlfriend earlier this month, Connelly declined comment.

"We'll address it when the time is appropriate," he said.

One thing that has stood out about the new GM is how he involves players in personnel decisions.

Before acquiring J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye, the GM surveyed his top players for their take. Kenneth Faried, in particular, was fired up for the signing of Nate Robinson.

"We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Connelly said. "Collectively, most of the guys on the team haven't enjoyed success in the playoffs. We need to use that as motivation."

By that standard, success for the next Nuggets won't be defined until the spring.

Good or bad, that's new.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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