For three days in August, the Democratic National Convention met at the Pepsi Center under a theme of hope and change.
Two weeks after the DNC packed up and left town, Nuggets coach George Karl, a Barack Obama supporter, shares the same philosophy as he prepares for the upcoming NBA season.
After a summer of change, there remains hope.
"We have probably our most difficult challenge since I've been here," Karl said during an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on Friday, "but that's fun, too. If the chemistry goes the right way and the ball boun- ces the right way, we can be better than we've ever been."
After winning 50 games and finishing eighth in the Western Conference last season, the Nuggets traded starting center Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers in a salary-cutting move and watched reserve forward Eduardo Najera sign with the New Jersey Nets as a free agent.
The loss of his two best defensive players in a span of one week left Karl momentarily stunned. With nearly two months to process the information, the coach has had time to regain his optimism.
"Eddie and Marcus happened in about a seven-day period of time. I don't care how strong and tough you are, that was a big hit," he said. "As the summer's gone on, you realize you've still got first-class players."
Karl, entering his fifth season as Nuggets coach, still has three All-Stars in point guard Allen Iverson and forwards Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin.
He also has 20-something talent in forward Nene, who is trying to make a successful comeback from testicular cancer; swingman Linas Kleiza, who recently played for the Lithuanian Olympic team in Beijing; and shooting guard J.R. Smith, who offsets his erratic play with unlimited three-point range and remarkable athleticism.
"We've opened the window of responsibility up to four great young players - Nene, Melo, J.R. and L.K," Karl said. "I think good teams become great more often from within than they do from without."
A classic case of rationalization? Perhaps. But Karl also understands that owner Stan Kroenke was not going to continue living well above the NBA's luxury tax for a team that has been unable to win in the playoffs.
"You've got to sit back and understand that we are competitive people and we are not happy," Karl said.
"I still think Stan Kroenke is a great owner. He wants to win big, but he wants to get more financial responsibility into the contracts. I respect that, and I think sometimes a little bit less is better in sports. We've had maybe too much talent and the talent has gotten in our way at times."
Without Camby to anchor the interior, Karl plans to employ a more aggressive defensive style in an attempt to take advantage of his team's speed and athleticism.
Karl is hoping Anthony can build upon his versatile performance with the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, and his young star appears ready to take another step toward being a better all-around player.
"My teammates seen what I did this summer on the defensive end," Anthony said earlier this month. "With Marcus Camby gone . . . it's going to almost force us to come together and play defense as a whole and not just have to rely on one person."
If Anthony and Iverson set the tone, it will be easier for players such as Smith to fall in line.
Smith flirted with the idea of leaving the Nuggets as a restricted free agent this summer but ultimately returned to his comfort zone in Denver.
"There wasn't a doubt. I knew that I would end up in Denver," Smith said Friday. "It's a great fit for me, a great fit for the team and the city. It was a good deal on everybody's part."
Smith, Denver's leading three-point shooter each of the past two seasons, said he received interest from two Eastern Conference teams but the talks never became serious. He ultimately signed a three-year, incentive-laden contract that could be worth $15 million to $16 million.
Meanwhile, second-round draft pick Sonny Weems could finalize his contract with the Nuggets during the weekend. Weems, recovering from offseason hernia surgery, likely will sign for the rookie minimum of $442,114 for next season but is seeking three years of guaranteed money.