After a flurry of moves from the Avalanche and one big monster signing by the Nuggets, optimism reigns supreme in Colorado. There’s a belief that both teams are poised on the precipice of greatness.
Let’s not go start planning championship parades just yet.
Start with the Nuggets. Jamal Murray’s five-year, $170 million contract extension is an aggressive, bold, risky, but ultimately necessary move. I remain more convinced than ever Denver is simply a flyover city when it comes to NBA free agent stars. The Nuggets have to work twice as hard and be twice as good just to stay even with a big-market team that can instantly change the fortunes of their franchise simply by signing a couple of max contracts.
The Murray deal is one the Nuggets had to do. I don’t believe the Nuggets are absolutely sure Murray will blossom into a superstar. But when you are a draft-and-develop team and you appear to have found something in a guy like Murray, you have to go all in on him.
The Nuggets can’t risk letting him get to free agency, where some big-market team from one of the coasts swoops in and dazzles him with an offer. Denver has to get ahead of the curve and lock a guy like Murray up. In part, to show everyone that “Look, we can sign players to max contracts, too. We’re legit. Take us seriously!”
Then, the hoping begins. Hoping that Murray takes “The Leap.” Hoping that his 4-for-18 gag job in Game 7 against Portland was more of a learning experience than some big reveal as to what he’ll be when the chips are down.
And the hoping doesn’t stop there. Hoping Gary Harris can do more than just be a healthy Avery Bradley. Hoping that Michael Porter Jr. is indeed as good as he seems to think he is. Hoping that Malik Beasley and Monte Morris can be more than just glorified G-League players. Hoping that Paul Millsap has more left in the tank than the Portland series revealed when he looked painfully old and slow.
The old saying in sports is “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” The Murray signing grabs headlines. But it doesn’t change the fact the Nuggets will be coming back with basically the same team as last year. Denver is banking on this core. They’re banking on Porter.
They’ll be good. But in the end, this just doesn’t feel like a Western Conference Finals team.
Meanwhile, down the hall at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche have made a flurry of moves. Gone are Tyson Barrie, Carl Soderberg, Alex Kerfoot and Semyon Varlamov, and in are Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, first-round draft pick Bowen Byram and the first full year of Cale Makar.
The great Bill Walton likes to quote his great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden by saying, “Never confuse activity with accomplishment.” Yes, the Avs have made moves. But how impactful will they be? Especially when Joe Sakic doesn’t hide the fact he made a major push to sign a true star in Artemi Panarin who ultimately showed he’s got a lot of NBA player in him by chasing the big bucks and big spotlight in New York with the lousy Rangers. If Super Joe was convinced that his long, slow-play youth movement was ready to bear fruit, why court Panarin?
Instead of getting the “Bread Man,” the Avs have acquired a bunch of bottom six forwards and a player in Kadri who is a loose cannon and who saw a dramatic decline in his play last year in Toronto. Much has been made about what the Avs gained, but what about what they lost?
The departures of Barrie, Soderberg and Kerfoot have been glossed over but the fact remains that trio combined for some serious production. Combined, they posted 52 goals, 98 assists and 150 total points. That’s a lot to replace, let alone improve upon.
But the Avs are hoping Kadri bounces back. Hoping Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher are ready to blossom into 20-plus goal scorers. Hoping Donski can be more than just the 14-goal scorer he’s been the last couple of years. Hoping Andre Burakovsky is able to do more now that he’s not overshadowed by all that talent in D.C.. Hoping that Cale Makar is a sure fire rookie of the year. Hoping Samuel Girard and teenager Byram can make sudden impacts. Hoping Philip Grubauer is truly a number one workhorse in goal.
Just like the Nuggets. A whole lot of hoping.