By Christopher Dempsey
Things would have been different had Danilo Gallinari not been injured.
Now two consecutive Nuggets head coaches can make that claim, with the season over and the veteran forward having not played a game in over a year.
When he coached the Nuggets, George Karl needed Gallinari in a first-round playoff series a year ago against Golden State. But Gallo couldn't play because of a knee injury. The Nuggets lost the series and Karl was fired.
Karl's successor, Brian Shaw, needed Gallinari this season. Without him, the Nuggets often didn't have enough scoring firepower and finished 36-46.
Shaw is going to get his man starting next season. Indications are that Gallinari will be ready for training camp. He sat out this season after needing a second ACL surgery in January. But he's running now. And jumping. And dunking.
"It felt great just to grab that rim," Gallinari said, smiling.
He's not doing anything too crazy, but he's ahead of schedule and said he will be ready when October arrives.
"It's going very good," he said. "The guys are trying to keep me calm, because I feel like I can do a lot of stuff. They are holding me back. Finally, I feel like I did the right thing with the right surgery."
Gallinari was the Nuggets' second-leading scorer in the 2012-13 season and one of their best 3-point shooters. They could have used him this season.
"Gallo would make a big difference," Shaw said. "I believe that for sure."
"His presence on the floor changes a lot of things for us," Shaw said. "I know Ty (Lawson) was frustrated at times not having another playmaker on the floor with him, and I think you add Gallo and that changes that."
Gallinari's summer schedule is set. He will be in Denver until June, then will go to Italy to continue his rehabilitation program. Nuggets strength coach Steve Hess will make the trip to Italy to work with him and Wilson Chandler, who is spending part of his summer there.
Gallinari will bounce back and forth between Denver and Italy most of the summer. He's not sure whether he will practice with the Italian national team. Doctors would like him to do that to help him prepare for Denver's training camp.
"When we talk about the schedule, I'll be ready for training camp," Gallinari said. "By the end of May, I'll be able to do most of the activities that I can possibly do. So in the summer I'll be able to practice a little bit with the national team just to get a feel."
Meanwhile, center JaVale McGee (stress fracture) is a few weeks from being cleared to play again. And guard Nate Robinson (ACL) is on schedule to be ready in October.
Gallo was the only Nugget who missed every game this season.
"Not a lot of people have gone through what I've been through," he said. "It was a tough process. But I think everything that happens, it happens for a reason. I'm mentally stronger than I was before."