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SB Nation Chicago's Western Conference preview continues with a look at the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets by Ricky O'Donnell.
The formation of the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010 ushered in the next era of NBA elitism, one where superstar tandems weren't as much as recommendation as a requirement to compete for the title. Many teams have tried to copy what Miami has done with varying degrees of success, from the Knicks haphazardly dismantling a sneaky-good roster to pair Carmelo Anthony with Amare Stoudemire to the Clippers acquiring Chris Paul to team with Blake Griffin. This is the NBA's new ideal, though it's a ploy only a handful of teams even have a shot at. Unless you play under the gaze of a major metropolis or kill it in the draft like the Thunder, a Super Team © just isn't possible. So how's the middle class to survive with such a jarring big market-small market divide forming? It seems as if the Denver Nuggets may have figured it out.
The Nuggets don't have an All-Star caliber player on the roster, but that didn't stop ESPN's John Hollinger from picking them to win 59 games and finish second in the West. What Denver lacks in kilowatt power they'll make up for with size, depth and athleticism. If you can't have one LeBron, the next best thing may be to have a 12-deep roster with an emphasis on versatility. The roster combinations George Karl has to play with this season can be potentially deadly as the NBA continues to emphasize small-ball, but Denver also has the pieces to play a traditional five-man get-up. They will throw waves of fresh, young legs at teams, a strategy punctuated by a peddle-to-the-floor offensive charge led by Ty Lawson and wily veteran Andre Miller. The Nuggets will push the boundaries of pace while spreading the floor with shooters and crashing the boards with size. What's not to like?
Whether Denver can make noise in the playoffs remains to be seen, but this should be a regular season powerhouse and perhaps the most decidedly fun team in the league. Whoever called this outfit the "Isle of Lost Toys" is dead-on. Denver will be a joy to watch.
Perhaps the training staff of the Phoenix Suns really is magic. Why else would injury-plague guard Eric Gordon throw such a hissy fit after the Hornets matched the Suns' four-year, $60 million offer sheet? Of course, NBA contracts are as much about respect as they are about dollars, and Gordon didn't like how the Hornets' slow-played his restricted free agency before eventually matching Phoenix's mammoth offer. Something tells me Gordon will drop the petulant, over-privileged teenager act if New Orleans starts winning, and the Hornets are a strong bet to make some noise in the long-term.
Chicago's own Anthony Davis is the reason, mostly. The NBA has never seen such a versatile defender, someone who should be able to change one-end of the court all by himself from day one. Davis' offensive game is still a work in progress, though he's not nearly as unpolished as some think. There's a reason no one from a particularly strong draft class never even made a vague threat to wrestle the No. 1 selection away from him. A.D. is a rare, rare breed, the type of player that turns a bad team into an average one and can make a good team great.
The Hornets also made one of the smartest signings of the offseason by grabbing Ryan Anderson from the Magic on a very fair four-year, $34 million deal. Anderson is the NBA's premier stretch power forward, and will help space the floor with Gordon barreling towards the paint.
The playoffs will likely be out of reach in the always formidable Western Conference, but the Hornets will be well-coached by Monty Williams and will play an exciting brand of ball thanks to Davis. This team is far from fully-formed, but the future is bright.
The Kings were rumored to move to Virginia Beach this offseason, which makes perfect sense because one could totally see DeMarcus Cousins vibin' in the background of a Timbaland music video. "Big Pimpin'" aside, the franchise's unstable turf will likely overshadow anything they do on-court this season, which is unfortunate because there's some serious potential here for the truly bizarre. Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette are more ill-suited for a congruent basketball team than they are for a reality show, which is problem No. 1. Chaos can be an asset in the NBA, but only when it's controlled, like the best Don Nelson teams. Who knows if Keith Smart can wrangle this rag-tag bunch into something resembling a functional playoff contender, but there's no per-existing evidence to suggest he can.
For casual NBA fans just looking to their kicks, the answer is simple: who cares. With Cousins poised to launch himself into the NBA's stratosphere save for self-sabotage and rookie Thomas Robinson hell-bent on killing the glass, the Kings will be a favorite for the sector of the League Pass crowd that doesn't care about results. They'll be plenty of sloppiness to go around, but you can count on some moments that take you to a higher place. This outfit is a playoff long-shot, but that doesn't mean it's without value. The Kings could be a blast this year, even if most of the joy comes from Cousins' ascent.