What will Kiki do for an encore?

Updated: July 1, 2004, 10:17 AM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
The Nuggets improved their win total from 17 in 2003 to 43 in 2004 by adding one top draft pick, a couple of good free-agent point guards, a healthy Marcus Camby and few nice role players.

The dramatic turnaround led to a rare Nuggets' playoff appearance and spontaneous eruptions of hope throughout the greater Denver area.

What will GM Kiki Vandeweghe do for an encore?

That's the question on everyone's mind these days. Making the playoffs was a good thing. But how far along is Kiki's team in its quest to become a championship contender?

There is no Carmelo Anthony coming to the team via the draft. Camby and several other top role players, such as Voshon Lenard, Jon Barry and Rodney White, are free agents. And to read media reports, Jeff Bzdelik's status as head coach changes by the day.

The Nuggets improbably made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth last year, and the pressure will be on to keep the momentum going.

Vandeweghe, however, prizes something else more than high-priced free agents.

"The flexibility is the most important thing," Vandeweghe told Insider on Wednesday. "If you have it, you're in much, much better shape. I want to keep the flexibility and still try to improve the team a little a bit at a time. You have to be very, very careful. One thing I won't do is put us back in the same situation we were when I got here -- long-term contracts, guys didn't want to be here, no picks. If the right guys aren't there for us, we'll save our money. It worked for us last year."

True enough. The Nuggets were looking at similar cap room last year, but in the end signed only Andre Miller and Earl Boykins. This year they have their eyes on one elite free agent, Kenyon Martin, and several second-tier guys, such as Manu Ginobili, Quentin Richardson and Mehmet Okur.

Vandeweghe knows there isn't an easy answer out there in free agency. There isn't a player on the market, with the possible exception of Kobe Bryant, who could push the Nuggets to the playoffs overnight. That's why the team is moving ahead cautiously.

"I'm just looking for good players that like our system and want to be here," Vandweghe said. "It's not about getting one guy paid. There isn't a last-piece-of-the-puzzle guy. Teams get caught up in band-aid players. Instant gratification doesn't work. It's an interesting place to be. With that said, we'll gamble with some stuff."

Can the Nuggets keep up the momentum, or will they fall back to earth this season? Here's a look at what to expect as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer