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NBA AM: Is Brian Shaw On The Hot Seat?

Despite a solid win versus the Cavs, the Nuggets have some issues brewing that may derail their season… Maintaining the fast start?

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The Nuggets And Faried:  A lot is being made about the Denver Nuggets’ start to the season and their decision to extend the contract of big man Kenneth Faried. A lot of the Faried speculation was born from an ESPN article from Kevin Arnovitz. The jist of the article is that the Nuggets felt “pressured” into retaining Faried, despite concerns about how he fit with the team and the culture new head coach Brian Shaw was trying to build.

So let’s start there. If you rewind to just two seasons ago, the Nuggets had the Executive of the Year in Masai Ujiri, and opted to let him leave for Toronto over what most around the situation say was simply his salary. There were no internal beefs with ownership or management; it was simply a case of being offered a substantially bigger paycheck in Toronto and the Nuggets being unwilling to match it.

The same sort of situation happened with then head coach George Karl. His contract was structured to give him several additional years as option years. If the Nuggets picked up his last year they would have locked in those additional years and the Nuggets were unwilling to do that. They tried to negotiate their way out of the option years and retain Karl for just one more season. Karl was unwilling to trade what would have been three more years for a lame duck season.

That gets us to where things are today.

The Nuggets hired Tim Connelly as their General Manager, a decision that was a little surprising. Connelly is a very good guy and a solid executive, but landing the Nuggets job was a bit of a stretch and most around the situation say his hiring was tied to cost, as Connelly is said to be one of the lowest paid executives in the league.

The Nuggets hired Shaw as their head coach, again with many saying it was tied to cost, as Shaw is said to have signed a three-year, $6 million deal with a team option for a fourth year. It’s believed his first year clocked in at just under $2 million, again making him one of the lowest paid head coaches in the league.

The Nuggets have downgraded in many regards, and that didn’t exactly inspire confidence from the Nuggets’ players.

Enter Faried.

There was a reason Faried was available to the Nuggets with the 22nd pick in 2011. Despite having a stellar career at Morehead State and absolutely crushing people in draft workouts, Faried was flagged by many teams as being an elite level athlete with tremendous potential, but a lot of teams were afraid of what Faried’s personality would be like in the NBA. Was he coachable was a common question.

Last season, the Nuggets had reached something of a boiling point with Faried, realizing that his immense talent was often overshadowed by his desire to do what he thought was the right thing, which was a problem with Karl; it was an even bigger problem with Shaw.

That’s where the trade rumors last season originated from. The Nuggets were not trying to sell off Faried as much as gauge his value. After the trade deadline, things sort of settled down a bit and Faried played the role he was asked. Then this summer he took part in Team USA and was a key factor in the US team bringing home the gold.

The Nuggets and Faried agreed to a long-term extension this summer, locking him in for the next four seasons. The problem with that long-term deal is the old Faried, the one that likes to do what he wants, has been validated and is surfacing more and more. That’s a problem.

Factor in that most of the Nuggets’ roster has lost faith in Shaw as their head coach, and that’s the key reason for the Nuggets’ dysfunction and dreadful start.

The Nuggets continue to evaluate the situation, but it seems more likely than not that a change at head coach is coming for the Nuggets and they really only have themselves to blame.

As for Faried and his future, there are still many that believe Faried can be reined in and made into the player the Nuggets want him to be, but there is no doubting that in his own mind he still believes he knows what’s best and that’s problematic, especially for the coaches trying to break him of bad habits.

A lot of the finger pointing in Denver is justified. They are not very functional as a team.

The Nuggets could go the trade route – they have some players like Ty Lawson and Timofey Mozgov that others teams would offer real assets for. They could try trading Faried, although his extension makes moving him problematic.

The way the trade rules work with a player with a pending extension is that Faried’s extension gets averaged in to what is currently owed him. Faried is owed $2.2 million this year, and has four-years and $50 million due him. That’s breaks down to an average of $10.44 million, which is what Faried’s current cap value is in trade. The issue for the Nuggets is all they can take back is his current year salary of $2.2 million; the acquiring teams would have to have the cap space to eat the balance, which severely limits who could obtain Faried now.

The Nuggets are clearly a team in flux. The likely answer is a change at head coach, but that’s not going to happen quickly, mainly because hiring the next coach is easier in the offseason. Top tier candidates may not be interested in taking over midseason, especially given the Nuggets’ state and how tough the West is.

The Nuggets are currently 3-7 on the season and averaging 101.5 points per game. If things don’t turn quickly, there is no doubt that Shaw’s seat will get increasingly warmer, especially if his locker room continues to turn on him. They did manage to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers last night; perhaps that’s the momentum builder they needed to get back on track.

Maintaining The Fast Start?: Which NBA teams that got off to a quick start will come back down to earth? Alex Kennedy, Steve Kyler, Jessica Camerato, Eric Pincus and Yannis Koutroupis weigh in.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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