Updated: February 19, 2014 at 6:50 am
DENVER - This is the state of the Denver Nuggets.
"Even if everybody does what we want them to do, even if everybody plays the best game they could possibly play, it's still going to be tough for us to win games, being honest," Brian Shaw said after a rough draft of the Nuggets practiced Monday.
That, folks, is the most brutal truth a coach can say about his own team:
We can play our best game, but we still might not have a chance to win.
This is the state of the Nuggets.
"All our fans want us to do - regardless of whether we get beat or not - they want to see us compete. They want to see us play hard and give it everything we have," Shaw continued. "If we get blown out by 30 doing that, we can live with that. I didn't honestly feel like everybody was giving it everything they had, especially when we got down. We just kind of splintered off and everybody went different directions."
Don't shoot the messenger with Rocky's T-shirt gun. That's the coach talking.
Instead of gold rally towels draped over the seats at Pepsi Center, there should be white ones. This Nuggets season is a wrap. Dun, dun, dun.
It's important to say their tumble from relevance isn't all on Shaw, all on the front office, all their fault. The roster remains crippled with season-ending injuries to Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson and, presumably, JaVale McGee. Andre Miller is still absent. Ty Lawson is still out with a rib injury and didn't play in Tuesday's 112-107 overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The NBA allows 15 players on a roster. On the day the Nuggets returned from the All-Star break, I watched them practice with nine. It looked like a really good D-League team.
"The lineup may be Timo, J.J., Kenneth, Darrell and Anthony," Shaw said.
The 10th player on the practice court was Shaw, the coach, who stuck a forearm in Kenneth Faried's lower back and battled for position on the block.
This is the state of the Nuggets.
"We already knew we had a small margin for error. Even if, like I said, we play a perfect game from everybody at every position, that still doesn't guarantee we're going to win," Shaw said. "But I want to see every individual out there fighting and giving everything they have and not hang our heads."
Injuries are one thing. So is breaking down the roster in order to build it up.
But professional athletes making millions and giving a half-hearted effort is entirely different. The four-game road swing that preceded the All-Star break represented the worst stretch of Nuggets basketball I've seen since the 2002-03 team won 17 games.
These Nuggets lost by 27, 17, 39 and 27 points. Only one of the opponents currently would be in the playoffs.
"Guys didn't know what was going on or what to do or how to get out of that slump," Faried said.
To quote former Colorado philosopher Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets quit. That's what it looked like to me, anyway. Sounds like Shaw saw the same.
"We asked them to try to get some exercise in while they were gone," Shaw said. "I don't know how many guys did that, but sometimes just being away and taking their mind off this and being away from each other is the best you can do."
Don't blame the Nuggets for the Andre Miller situation. Last season, with the team in the midst of a nine-game winning streak, Miller told me he was upset with his playing time. Well, these Nuggets badly need a point guard, and he refuses to play.
"A big part of missing the guys that we're missing is we're having a hard time organizing the offense and getting into the offense, without your floor generals out there on the floor," Shaw said.
Do blame the Nuggets for not yet resolving the Andre Miller situation.
They have a healthy point guard on the roster. He's making $5 million this season.
I asked Shaw: If you need a point guard, and you have one on the payroll, why isn't Miller with the team?
"I'm getting really tired of answering questions about Andre," Shaw said, cracking his code of cool. "I've said from the beginning that, at this point, it's between the front office and Andre and his representatives. I'm coaching the guys that are here. I've addressed the situation over and over again."
It's worth addressing this situation again: when the Nuggets signed up for major change, they signed up for growing pains.
We didn't sign up for mystery theater.
Gallo was expected to return from a knee injury this season. Instead, he underwent a second procedure and won't return until next season. McGee was expected to return from a foot injury this season. He hasn't returned yet. There's a veteran point guard, drawing a paycheck, who isn't practicing with a team that needs a veteran point guard.
So let's solve the mystery. The Nuggets didn't set out on this path. But once the injuries piled up and the Shaw-Miller feud turned ugly, they re-plotted their course.
The Nuggets are not playing for now; they are tanking for later.
That is the state of the Nuggets.