Nuggets again bank on winning without superstar

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 14, 2011
George Karl scoffs at the notion that a team needs a superstar to be successful. The Denver Nuggets' coach would be more than satisfied if the organization manages to retain guard Arron Afflalo after agreeing to a five-year deal with Brazilian center Nene on Tuesday night. Regardless, Karl insists this roster already is a sleeping giant, even if no one will take the Nuggets seriously. Sort of like last season. The Nuggets didn't miss a beat after dealing All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster deal last February, going 18-7 the rest of the way to once again make the playoffs. The squad didn't have a bona fide star, yet still threw a scare at Oklahoma City in the first round before being eliminated. Karl believes this team can be just as accomplished, especially with a full camp together. Well, an abbreviated one anyway, given the late start due to the lockout. ''The best team wins championships,'' Karl said after practice Tuesday. And for proof of that, Karl offered up the Dallas Mavericks, who won the NBA title last season. Sure, they had Dirk Nowitzki, but after that it was pretty much a well-balanced cast. Karl thinks Danilo Gallinari, who was acquired in the Anthony trade, could be Denver's version of Nowitzki, someone who can step up at crunch time. Or maybe it will be Nene, who considered leaving Denver for the Nets, Rockets or Pacers as an unrestricted free agent, but decided to stay in the city where he began his career in 2002. Afflalo could again play a valuable role - provided the team can sign him. The restricted free agent was instrumental in keeping the team moving in the right direction after the Anthony deal. ''Arron was that glue that made everything work and fit,'' Karl said. Unlike last season, though, the Nuggets won't have J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin, who all left to play in China while the NBA was in a lockout. Not now, at least. Maybe down the road, when their obligations overseas are fulfilled. ''I still think we're hopeful that some of those guys are going to be in a Nuggets uniform sometime this year,'' Karl said. ''It's a business right now. Got to respect that. ''There's a possibility of J.R. and Wilson - if and when they come back from China. Do they fit into our plans? Do we fit into their plans? We're not going to show our hand, but we don't dislike any of them. We think they're all good players.'' For now, Karl is concentrating on the only thing he can control - his current roster. Rookies Kenneth Faried (Morehead State) and Cory Higgins (Colorado) are having solid camps, while the team brought in forward DeMarre Carroll on Tuesday. ''Interesting seeing new guys - more responsibility and new opportunities and how they respond to it,'' Karl said. The Nuggets added more new faces Tuesday night when they announced a deal with Dallas that brings forward Corey Brewer and versatile swingman Rudy Fernandez to the Mile High City for a future second-round pick. ''We are excited to add two talented young wing players who have proven themselves in the NBA,'' said Masai Ujiri, the vice president of basketball operations for the Nuggets. ''I'm confident they will fit well with Coach Karl's style of play.'' Karl thinks chemistry and cohesion are just as important as star power. To consistently win doesn't necessarily entail bringing in a troupe of headliners. After Anthony was shipped out, Karl rotated in fresh bodies from a deep bench, a strategy that paid off. He's eager to find out if that approach can produce results again. ''None of you guys think we can. I'd like to prove you guys wrong,'' Karl said of prognosticators. ''I don't see anybody talking about 18-7 (from last year). I haven't gone back and checked the record, but I think it's against some pretty good basketball teams.'' That spurt last season definitely has the Nuggets trusting. And they don't mind being labeled underdogs. ''It takes out a little bit of pressure,'' Gallinari said. ''We were a really good team (last year) and we didn't have a superstar. We played really good basketball.'' Ty Lawson couldn't agree more. ''After the trade, they didn't expect anything from us. We surprised everybody with one of the best records after the trade,'' said Lawson, who spent the lockout playing in Lithuania. ''This year, they're going to sleep on us again. We're definitely going to surprise people.''
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