Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Klee: Eric Decker, Shaw's Nuggets and The Kid

By Paul Klee Updated: March 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

DENVER — Codeine cough syrup prevents driving and clear thought. But it has a profound effect on tying flies.

So, after a few down days with a cough from hell, my streamer boxes are sufficiently full for April, May and deep into June's runoff. And now I'm feeling fine, thanks. Just don't tell my bosses. Or my dog, who now thinks we're going fishing. Soon, ol' girl, soon.

There's plenty going on in Colorado sports, though, and most of it's good. Even the Rockies are good, or at least undefeated. Here is some of the rest:

- The Avs drafted a generational talent in Nathan MacKinnon. But if you wish to interview the 18-year-old prodigy? You'll have to wait. After every practice session, The Kid is the last player on the ice, whipping shots at an empty net, skating around hockey gloves or going through power-skating drills. This can go for a good 45 minutes — well after one of Patrick Roy's practices — and usually alongside fellow rink-rat Ryan O'Reilly.

A devoted fanbase follows the Avs. MacKinnon also is the rare talent who turns non-hockey fans into hockey fans. They don't know a blue line from a red line, but they recognize when a guy performs at a different speed than the others. That's The Kid.

- NFL free agency opens at 2 p.m. Tuesday. It's worth noting the 2014 Broncos will add players without adding contracts. If Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe, Ryan Clady and Rahim Moore are healthy for the bulk of next season, they add six starters who weren't available for the Super Bowl.

- Part of the free-agency equation must include the health of those injured players. For example, are the Broncos comfortable with Clady's expected recovery? If Clady's foot injury is worse than we know, the Broncos might make a push for an established offensive tackle. This is sometimes how surprises happen in free agency.

- This NFL draft is deep at wide receiver. But if I'm the Broncos, I don't let Eric Decker go. He's a durable, drama-free wideout with 172 catches and 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Taking that kind of production for granted leads to regret.

- Expect John Elway to sign at least one big-splash free agent. History suggests he goes big in the open season, with Peyton Manning in 2012 and Wes Welker in 2013.

- News flash: Star athletes can be moody. So if Brian Shaw were unable to motivate the Nuggets' best players, perhaps a disconnect would be understandable. But his issue has been with the backups, who should be eager to prove their value. Instead, he's begging for effort. The early red flag isn't Shaw's rookie coaching record, but his inability to reach players. As a former player himself, this should be a strength.

- Kevin Love and the T-Wolves visited the Pepsi Center last week. It was a reminder of Carmelo Anthony's greatness in Denver. Love has a legion of followers, those who believe he ranks among the top-10 — even top-five — players in the NBA. Yet in five-plus seasons, he's never led a team to the playoffs. He will fail again this season. The Nuggets, often with Andre Miller as their second-best option, were a playoff team in Melo's first five years. We're told Anthony's not a winner. Then what's Love?

- Wichita State should enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Conference championship Sunday, they also will be 34-0. I asked one college coach, who has scouted the Shockers for multiple games, for their weakness: "If there is one, it's their bench. They're not deep. Be physical with them; beat them up a little bit. If you get their (starters) in foul trouble, you have a chance."

- An interesting aspect of this NCAA Tournament is how the games will be officiated. If the referees emphasize the freedom-of-movement rules that boosted offense and limited defense, we'll see fewer upsets than in years past. When teams are allowed to clutch and grab, it evens the playing field. The best examples are the Butler teams that reached the 2010-11 Final Fours. "The most physical team we've ever played against," then-Kansas State coach Frank Martin told me. If the new rules were in effect back then, Butler probably doesn't smash brackets and reach a Final Four.

- De'Ron Davis, a 6-8 sophomore at Aurora Overland, is the state of Colorado's top basketball prospect. Regardless of class, Scout.com recruiting analyst Josh Gershon said. Don't hold your breath that he ends up in Boulder; Davis is a national recruit. That's OK. CU recruit Dominique Collier led Denver East with 32 points in a quarterfinal win against Highlands Ranch on Friday. "We don't have to get all the good ones in the state," CU coach Tad Boyle told me. "If we get one or two every year, we're in great shape." Boyle and the Buffs got a good one in Collier, who will play as a freshman.

- When a veteran like Champ Bailey is released from the Broncos, it can leave a void outside Sports Authority Field. "Personally, it's very hard for me to see him go," said Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for the Denver Rescue Mission. Champ has worked with the Rescue Mission since 2006. He served meals, signed autographs, hosted an annual party. He decorated gingerbread cookies with families in transition. "Champ rarely said no to anything," Gagner said. "Just a very down-to-earth guy. The kids were drawn to him." Along with the rest of Colorado, Champ.

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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