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Daily Babble: What Are the Nuggets Thinking?

It's just as promised: Our "Being Befuddled By Nuggets Management" special is here at CelticsBlog.

Truth be told, we almost laid off the topic entirely.  Reader response to Saturday's Zach Randolph-to-Denver rumor column seemed to indicate a nearly unanimous understanding of what a mistake this would be for the Nugs.

That said, it appears the Nuggets themselves don't even have the first clue.  This is because, in addition to the Randolph rumors, word out of Sacramento is that the Nuggets and Kings have resumed talks surrounding Ron Artest.

Which means the rush of scrutiny is officially on.

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All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!


Over the summer, when it was the Miami Heat who were rumored to be in pursuit of Ron-Ron's services, I first wrote about my longtime personal theory known as the One Lunatic Rule.  It was described thusly in that Artest-to-Miami column:

As a general rule of thumb, it is possible for an NBA team to win a championship with one certifiable lunatic in tow. Usually, this lunatic is someone of extraordinary physical talent but a player who has had chronic trouble keeping his head on. Putting a team of players like this together (read: late ‚1990s Portland Trail Blazers, mid ‚2000s Indiana Pacers) is a formula of disaster, because all the talent in the world can't make up for the dumb decisions and the off-court distractions that often follow.

However, if a team can establish a core filled with a coaching staff and players who are all capable, team-oriented and of high character, the occasional loose cannon can be brought in as a missing link with his craziness neutralized by those around him. The classic example of this would be the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, a team built around solid players and generally good guys in Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups and strong-armed Larry Brown at the helm. The team had come off back-to-back 50-win seasons followed by disappointing playoff ousters. But with an almost-over-the-hump group of stable characters intact, Dumars could afford to take a flier on Rasheed Wallace, who turned into the final piece to a championship puzzle. Dennis Rodman played the same role for the Chicago Bulls' second three-peat. And though he made a much smaller contribution, Stephen Jackson's idiocy was very well concealed by the 2002-03 title team that he played on in San Antonio. So the deed can be done.

So far as the 2007-08 Denver Nuggets are concerned, one can forget the One Lunatic Rule.  The Nuggets have been playing with fire all season by rolling with four guys who could potentially qualify for this distinction.  Between Carmelo Anthony's "Stop Snitching" cinematics and Mardy Collins sucker-slapping, Allen Iverson's gun-play, rap lyrics and practice habits, J.R. Smith's driving and peace-disturbing skills (and the fact that he at one point referred to himself as a "team cancer" in an apology to the Nuggets last season) and Kenyon Martin's career-long reputation of combustibility, one would have to say that the Nuggets deserve quite a bit of credit for being as successful as they have over the past year and a half.  This isn't the thoughtless labeling of NBA players as thugs: Every one of the four players mentioned here has engaged in behaviors that precipitated significant off-court distractions over the course of his career.  Yes, AI has gone through a fair bit of change over the years and yes, most of the time Melo appears to many to be a nice enough dude who has simply made some mistakes form hanging around the wrong people, but the fact remains that the Nugs have done a fairly decent job of playing with fire and not getting terribly burned over the past year and change.

That said, it is a near certainty that this team will finally get scalded should it manage to acquire either of the two players most recently rumored to be headed toward Denver.  Somehow, George Karl has managed to find a dynamic that appears to be working for him with his two ball-hungry stars and the rest of his roster.  Both Artest and Randolph can only mess that up.

Ron Artest remains known as one of the NBA's most prominent head cases of the last decade, and rightfully so.  The fact is that no contending team without an absurdly solid character structure in place should even think about acquiring Artest, and most of the ones with that character structure would value that chemistry enough to avoid acquiring him as well. 

Furthermore, the biggest strength of Artest's game is his excellent perimeter defense.  While just about every team in this league could use help on the defensive end, the Nuggets don't need it badly enough to be willing to take on the risk that is Artest.  In fact, they're in less need of defensive help than most of the teams in this league.  While the Nuggets give up high point totals thanks to playing the fastest-paced game in the league, they give up just 105.1 points per 100 possessions, ranking them fifth in basketball in defensive efficiency, putting them behind just the Celtics, Rockets, Pistons and Spurs.  That doesn't exactly scream for acquiring a head case just because he is an excellent defender. 

It definitely doesn't scream for acquiring a head case who is chastised in Sacramento for stagnating the offense and keeping the ball out of Kevin Martin's hands by shooting it 15.7 times per game.  This is especially the case when one considers that AI and Melo combine to shoot the ball nearly 40 times per game, and it's hard to imagine them being interested in seeing some of those touches start going Artest's way.  He doesn't function well enough in the flow of a team offense to make his addition worth it on that end of the floor either.

Randolph, meanwhile, has been discussed nearly ad naseam in this space over the last couple of months.  He could well be the single worst defender in the league.  Yep, he is that bad, and what is worse is that he simply doesn't care.  He doesn't hustle back on defense, doesn't close out on shooters, doesn't seem to react to screens at all and doesn't rotate in help.  Insert this guy into the lineup in Martin's spot for a few games, and watch that defensive efficiency rating drop in a hurry.  Meanwhile, even though Randolph adds something the Nuggets are missing -- a major post scoring threat -- he too does his work in a way that is terrible for the rest of his team.  He stagnates the offense by holding the ball for extended stretches and isn't a particularly good passer, meaning that once he gets the ball on an isolation set, either he is putting it in the hoop, or it isn't going in at all on that possession.  He doesn't force defenses to play off him and into the passing lanes, and he doesn't make the people around him any better.  Combine that with his checkered past and huge contract, and it is inordinately hard to see him providing viable help for this Denver team.

The Denver Nuggets' brass is absolutely correct in its apparent belief that the team is likely too flawed to be a serious title contender as currently constructed, especially in the ridiculously deep Western Conference.  But, as has been discussed in this space on many occasions before, having a team with flaws doesn't justify making a move simply for the sake of making one.

Especially when that move could put one's team in violation of the newly synthesized Four Lunatic Postulate. 


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