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News » Nuggets ready for another run

Nuggets ready for another run

Nuggets ready for another runDENVER (AP) - While the top teams in the Western Conference bolstered their rosters by adding big name free agents, the Denver Nuggets largely stayed the course.

That's because they think the nucleus of a championship squad is already in place.

"We're good," Kenyon Martin said Friday. "I think other teams made moves after looking at where we were."

The Nuggets went on quite a journey last season as their band of misfits bonded together to reach the conference championships for the first time since 1985. They nearly made their first NBA Finals appearance before bowing out to Los Angeles in six games.

However, the memory of the series loss to the Lakers, not the playoff run, propelled Chauncey Billups & Co. in the offseason.

"I know the reality of it is we had a good year," Billups said. "But I think about the loss and losing to a team that was a great team, but a team like I felt we had a great chance to beat. I don't think we fought to the end like we should have."

And that's serving as motivation.

Nuggets coach George Karl sees a different mentality with his team as they enter training camp this weekend. They're not satisfied.

"Going into camp, we might have talked about winning a championship," Karl said. "I believe this team can win a championship."

The road through the West, though, definitely got more difficult. Some of the elite teams added big pieces to their roster. The defending champion Lakers acquired Ron Artest, while the San Antonio Spurs landed Richard Jefferson, Dallas got Shawn Marion in a four-team, eight-player trade and the Blazers brought in Andre Miller.

"There's a lot of teams that got better," Billups said.

So, where do the Nuggets stack up?

"Right up at the top," Billups said.

Over the offseason, the Nuggets lost defensive stalwart Dahntay Jones through free agency and long-range shooter Linas Kleiza, who took his game to Europe.

The team added Arron Afflalo to fill in for Jones and drafted Ty Lawson to help spell Billups in the backcourt.

However, Karl thinks the biggest reason his team will be a power in the West is the window of improvement open to players like Nene, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony.

"We felt from the very beginning that our improvement was going to come from within," Karl said. "We're excited about that. There's not much disappointment that we didn't make a major move or improve our team or make a change like some of the other teams did.

"Some of those other teams made those changes because I think they knew they had to catch up," Karl continued. "I think one of the teams they had to catch up to was us."

The arrival of Billups last season helped solidify the team, transforming the squad from middle-of-the-pack into a contender. Billups said it was more about changing the culture than anything.

"We expect to be an elite team," he said.

Anthony certainly bought in. His scoring averaged dipped, but the wins went up and that wasn't lost on him.

"I'm (not) the same player you all saw years ago," Anthony said. "Last year, I really took a couple of steps forward."

He wasn't alone:

- Martin returned to his intimidating form after being slowed by microfracture surgeries on both knees.

- Andersen made a successful return from a drug suspension to become a fan favorite and provide a lift off the bench.

- Nene flashed his soft touch around the hoop after missing almost an entire season as he battled cancer.

- Smith bounced back from an auto accident that killed a friend.

For Smith, it was a tumultuous offseason. He spent 24 days in a New Jersey correctional facility after pleading guilty to reckless driving.

He said it was a sobering experience, and he wants to prove he's grown up.

"I've said in the past that I've matured," said Smith, who was suspended by the league for the first seven games of the season. "Now it's not about saying, it's about showing."

While in jail, Smith said he did sit-ups, push-ups, some reading and lots of thinking - like what he wanted to learn from the incident.

"Wake up with a purpose, have a goal," Smith said. "Know every time that I do something it doesn't affect just me. It affects my family, my friends, my team, players and coaches."

The first thing he did after getting out? Head to a gym to shoot hoops.

Asked if he expected a breakout year from Smith, Karl said: "What we've seen in the summer is a more total player."

In the offseason, the Nuggets re-signed backup guard Anthony Carter and Andersen.

However, the team didn't extend Karl's contract past this season.

"You're not going to down me on the excitement of being with this team," Karl said. "That's the most important thing."

And getting his team to leave last season in the past.

But he doesn't think that will be an issue.

"My amateur psychology of the team is they're happy with last year, but they're kind of angry also," Karl said. "We thought if we played a little bit better, we could've gotten to the Finals. If we had gotten to the Finals, we think we could've been fortunate in catching a team like Orlando that we felt we could've competed against.

"The chalk board is wiped clean. Right now, there are 30 teams that think they're great. But I think we're excited because it's the first time we've probably started the season with a genuine sincere championship attitude."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 26, 2009


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