Danilo Gallinari is ever the optimist.
Even though he’s spent the last two seasons battling injuries, missing the 2013-14 campaign entirely, Gallinari isn’t down. Not that he should be. He played well during FIBA Eurobasket, and the Denver Nuggets signed him to a two-year extension worth around $34 million over the offseason. Tack on his currently clean bill of health, and he has plenty of reasons to trumpet optimism all day and all night.
Does he have enough reasons to predict a playoff berth for the rebuilding Nuggets?
But it doesn’t matter.
He did so anyway—in a manner of speaking.
During an interview with Gazetta dello Sport, Gallo indicated that he thinks the Nuggets, members of the ferocious Western Conference, can contend for a postseason slot.
Here’s the transcription, courtesy of the folks at Denver Stiffs, who received it from one of their commenters:
: Q: What’s your real goal? You were telling me that starting the season as underdogs can be an advantage.
Gallinari: Yeah it can be an advantage. For me, it’s gonna be an advantage. Being underdogs, especially in the West, can really be an advantage. According to me, we can fight for the playoffs without a doubt, we have the chance to do it. We have to start the season in the right way; we have tough games at the beginning of the season, road games, while we’re playing a lot of home games in the second part of the schedule. So it’s important to have a good start, and try to have a positive W-L record despite playing away from home a lot.
Nothing like setting the bar astronomically high—as in, implausibly high.
The Nuggets aren’t going to make the playoffs. They’re not built for that. They have a rookie point guard at the helm in Emmanuel Mudiay. Sophomore Jusuf Nurkic barely has 1,000 minutes of playing time under his belt yet figures prominently into Denver’s immediate future. New head coach Mike Malone, a half-court-oriented sideline stalker, is tasked with tailoring his offense to a group that must run. There’s so much going on in Denver, so much that still needs to be figured out, yet won’t be figured out for at least the first quarter of the season.
More than that, the West is a bloodbath. The top-six teams, in no particular order, are already set in stone: Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. Barring major injuries, those are the West’s primary contenders.
That leaves two playoff spots available—one if you have the New Orleans Pelicans penciled in as the seventh-best squad. And in that case, there’s only one slot left. The Nuggets will have to edge out at least the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns for that No. 8 seed, and you might as well toss the flimsily built Dallas Mavericks into that fray as well.
The odds are stacked against Denver, a team that won just 30 games last season in a conference that demanded a minimum of 45 victories in order to sniff the playoffs. Unless the Nuggets are in for a repeat of 2012-13, when they unexpectedly won 57 tilts without a definitive superstar, they won’t be playing for a postseason appearance. They’ll be looking for more marginal signs of improvement at individual levels, perhaps taking solace in their ability to finish not in the top eight of the West, but inside the top 10.
As one of Denver’s old heads, Gallinari has every reason to remain overly optimistic. That type of mindset can be infectious…in a good way.
But, in the spirit of being realistic, Gallo and the Nuggets must also prepare for the more likely regular-season outcome: their third straight lottery appearance.