DENVER (ADD) — Apologies for a player rebellion have been issued, and admissions of poor judgment have been made. The rock has been smoked, so what do you do when Mom comes home and catches you fried? Where do the fragmented Denver Nuggets go from here?
If they’re not careful, the next stop could be their customary place in NBA oblivion — which would frankly be poetic justice.
After losing to the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, the Nuggets (10-13) found themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak and facing an internal challenge that threatens to damage their season beyond repair.
“This has to be something we come together with and support one another through,” tri-captain George McCloud said, “because if we don’t, it’s going to linger on and be with us the whole season.”
Denver’s problems began last Wednesday when a 17-point loss at Miami set the tone for a winless four-game road trip that concluded with an overtime loss at Boston on Sunday.
Coach Dan Issel then drew the ire of his players when he scheduled a Monday morning practice. Feelings that Issel mistreated struggling center Raef LaFrentz added to the team’s discontent, and the players skipped practice Monday without consulting the coach.
In an unrelated incident, Joe Schmoe, a short-order cook making seven dollars and hour, skipped work Monday after his boss told him to come in an hour early.
He was fired immediately.
Despite the loss to Miami, the healing process began when the players reiterated their support for Issel.
“We have to move forward from this point on and try to erase the mistake that we made,” McCloud said. “We’re not throwing rocks and hiding our heads. We’re saying that we were wrong.”
Joe Sixpack, a miner from International falls, shook his head and spit in McCloud’s general direction.
For his part, Issel was uncharacteristically mellow for most of Tuesday night’s game. He often remained seated — an approach better associated with Lakers coach Phil Jackson — and shouted at the officials rather than his players.
“We have to allow Dan to coach,” McCloud said. “We have to allow Dan to be himself, to yell if he feels like he has to yell, to try to motivate guys because if you don’t, he’s out of character. He doesn’t ask any of us to do anything out of character, and we can’t ask that of him.”
After a 21-game improvement under Issel last season, this year held optimism for the Nuggets, who have not been to the playoffs since 1994-95.
While languishing among the NBA’s worst, Denver has received more national attention for infamous actions than admirable ones over the past four years.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for refusing to stand for the national anthem in 1996, and the media sadistically charted Denver’s brush with the NBA futility record in the 1997-98 season, when they won just 11 games.
Issel returned to the bench in hopes of restoring enthusiasm for the Nuggets in a city that ranks them fourth behind the Broncos, Avalanche and Rockies, with good reason.
Denver’s sub-.500 record has prompted questions about Issel’s future as both coach and vice president of basketball operations under new owner Stan Kroenke. Issel bristled Tuesday when asked if the reclusive Kroenke attended the game.
“I am not privy to Mr. Kroenke’s travel schedule,” he said. “You will have to ask him that.”
Kroenke, who purchased the Nuggets and Avalanche in July, indeed was in town and met with Issel and the players separately Wednesday.
“I assume Stan said the same thing to the coaching staff before he talked to the players,” Issel said. “It wasn’t any big, long, drawn-out thing. It was basically that the coaching staff has his support and the players’, and I think that’s important.”
Denver goes back on the road at San Antonio on Thursday and at Houston on Saturday. The Nuggets are 2-9 away from home.
“Last week was just a long week, period,” forward Antonio McDyess said. “These are the things that can pull a team together. We are a family and we are still pretty close.”
Sid Hartman knows this story isn’t that funny, but sometimes life is absurd enough. Send comments to [email protected]