Scott Howard-Cooper
Thursday August 13th, 2009

Whatever chance there was for a simple offseason is now officially gone, hopes of a conventional summer scattered from Denver to Indianapolis to Greece. On the other hand, if it's any comfort, it was the impossible dream all along. These are the Nuggets. They don't do simple.

A lovably unpredictable 2008-09 season, in which they made a blockbuster trade, changed the atmosphere for the better and ultimately reached the Western Conference finals with composure and defense -- like anyone would believe the ingredients -- has merged into a vacation gone hectic. That's this week's development, at least, as Denver lost an important member of the rotation without compensation, Linas Kleiza, on the heels of losing an important member of the rotation without compensation last month, Dahntay Jones.

An offseason that began with hopes of retaining three major free agents has unfurled with big man Chris Andersen re-signing (a successful completion of the most pressing business) and Jones and Kleiza leaving. A fourth, Anthony Carter, became less of a priority once the Nuggets drafted point guard Ty Lawson in the first round, but the security of a veteran ball-handler known to fit well on the roster is important for a team plotting a course for June, so the Nuggets still have a strong interest in keeping Carter.

Losing the unrestricted free agent Jones to the Pacers would not have been an irreparable setback on its own. His arrival a year ago was a meaningful development in the improvements on defense that helped spark the Nuggets to a 54-28 season. And though he was the starting shooting guard, he was the starter only in a sort-of manner; Jones averaged 18.1 minutes a game during the regular season and 17.5 in the playoffs while reserve J.R. Smith was at 27.7 and 27.2, respectively, and so moving Smith into the opening lineup will be an easy transition.

Losing restricted free agent Kleiza to Greek team Olympiakos on Monday -- the Nuggets retain the right of first refusal for his future NBA business -- would not be an irreparable setback on its own, either. He was a valuable reserve, but also with a smaller role at the end of the season than the start.

Losing two members of a proven rotation without compensation, though, adds up at some point for a West finalist that plays in a traffic jam of a conference. The departues come at a time when the Lakers got better, the Spurs got better and the Trail Blazers -- the team that had the same record as Denver and lost the Northwest Division title on a tiebreaker -- got better by signing Andre Miller to shore up point guard.

"We really like our team," said vice president Mark Warkentien, the reigning Executive of the Year. "We're not done with the construction yet. Obviously, you can't go into the season with 10 players. We'll see what it looks like when it's constructed."

Ten is right -- newcomers Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Malik Allen, along with Andersen, Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Nenê -- so additional moves are coming. The Nuggets hope to re-sign Carter. That's 11. There will almost certainly be another wing player arriving by trade or free agency. Twelve. And at least one more pickup beyond that.

(Who won't be coming: Allen Iverson. Denver's second-unit offense has been weakened with Smith's promotion to the starting lineup and Kleiza's departure, however inconsistent he was, but there is no sign anyone wants to organize a reunion.)

"The Linas thing is new and we haven't been able to address it yet," Warkentien said. "But we'll move on."

Of course, they're not sweating it much. The Nuggets stepped over a lot more madness than this last season, thanks in part to a big shakeup when Iverson was traded for Billups, who didn't have the benefit of a training camp with his new team. They have a sharp front office. They have an owner who will spend -- not enough to counter Kleiza's reported two-year, $12 million deal with Olympiakos, but good luck finding an NBA club that would.

If the offseason could be the beginning of the end of the Denver resurgence, the way those guys operate, it could also be the latest catapult moment. There's no way of telling. These are the Nuggets.

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