Maybe it’s the altitude. That’s the only plausible explanation for the Denver Nuggets’ increasingly brazen decision-making process lately.
It’s common for playoff-bound teams to rest star players in anticipation of a long post-season run, but when losing teams start doing it in a shamelessly-obvious attempt to jockey for prime real estate in the draft lottery, well, we call that tanking, and a lot of folks don’t take too kindly to it, even when it’s in the team’s best interest moving forward.
For the second night in a row on Monday, the Nuggets rested a trio of their key players – Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and Danilo Gallinari – in a loss against the Memphis Grizzlies, and speaking to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post after the game, interim coach Melvin Hunt claimed that it was purely for health reasons. By now, you’ve probably seen this delightful quotable:
“Yeah, but we’re in a very unique situation here, having come off what we did last year with so many injuries. We had players with ACL injuries; our owner’s dog had an ACL injury. We had a little bit of everything going on. We have to be very, very careful. We have to be really wise, given the situation that we are in.”
The only problem is that no one’s buying it, and we’re not talking about the dog’s purported knee injury here. If Hunt sounds like a company man, that’s because he really has no other choice if wants any chance of removing that “interim” tag from his job title. But Hunt isn’t really the culprit here. It feels almost too obvious to point out that the Nuggets brass issued this decree largely in part because the mid-season shakeup – firing Brian Shaw, giving the green light to Will Barton, etc. – hasn’t quite worked out the way they planned, i.e. the Nuggets surreptitiously started winning games again, which is both too-little-too-late for a playoff berth and won’t help them secure better lottery positioning this summer.
It goes without saying that tanking is an institutional endeavor. Hyper-competitive NBA players aren’t in the business of trying to lose games on purpose, nor do they appreciate it when the front office goes out of their way to aid this process.
Faried, for instance, answered with a simple but telling “no comment” on the matter, but Wilson Chandler was a little more forthright:
“I have no idea what they are going to do,” Chandler said. “Whoever is on the court just has to keep playing. It’s the nature of the business. I’m not a GM; I don’t know what’s going on. It’s tough when you’re fighting together but you’re getting set up for failure.”
To be certain, tanking is the ugly part of this business, and many find it disturbing just how commonplace it’s become, but it’s also somewhat of a necessity given the current NBA landscape and the overwhelming pressure to consistently put a winning product on the floor. A lot of fans in floundering markets around the league have had no choice but to succumb. Just ask weary Philadelphians about the Herculean effort required to wait patiently through what feels like a never-ending rebuilding process. (We’ll see you on the other side, Sixers fans. Clear eyes, full hearts.)
But perhaps we’re all jumping the gun here a little bit. A pair of back-to-back games is hardly an adequate sample size, and it remains to be seen who’ll be active for the Nuggets’ game against the Houston Rockets Thursday. If the trend continues, then we can continue to bemoan something that’s as much a part of today’s game as the unimpeachable three-point shot.