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Published September 14, 2015
For the last 18 months, Danilo Gallinari has played far more tour guide than small forward.
A quick memo to all his family and friends planning any future visits from Italy: The Denver Nuggets standout is busy now because he's healthy again.
After three surgeries to fix his left knee and countless hours of rehab, Gallinari finally feels like he's back to his old knock-down-any-shot-on-the-court self again. Maybe even a smidge better.
Gallinari's not alone, either. J.J. Hickson's torn right ACL is on the mend. So is Nate Robinson's left ACL. And while JaVale McGee may not be quite fully healed from a left tibia stress fracture by opening night, he will be close.
With so many players about to return, second-year coach Brian Shaw said at media day Monday that he plans to push the pace. But he still wants his team to be able to execute in the half court.
"We just want to get out and run," said Shaw, whose team finished 36-46 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. "Play at an even faster pace."
The Nuggets certainly have the ball handler to push the tempo in Ty Lawson. His mission this season? Become a better leader.
That's why Lawson plans to head south to watch one of the best in the business lead a practice — Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos.
"I just want to see how he runs the team, and how he's a leader," Lawson said. "I want to go and pick his brain to see how he does it."
Shaw is counting on a big year — maybe an All-Star-caliber year — from Lawson. Same goes for Gallinari, who's playing again after blowing out his left knee against Dallas on April 4, 2013. So far, he's been cleared for two-on-two drills. That will soon be bumped up to five-on-five competition.
Gallinari's eager to get going after missing so much time. That way, the questions will be more about his play than his knee.
With all his recent down time, Gallinari showed friends all the attractions Denver has to offer. And with all his time spent in rehab facilities, he now has a new future ambition.
"I'm going to open a physical therapy center once I retire," he said, laughing. "Because I know knees very well."
Gallinari, the Italian sharp-shooter who joined the Nuggets in the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, averaged 16 points a game and hit 135 3-pointers in 2012-13. Shaw wouldn't mind seeing those numbers duplicated.
"I'm really looking forward to the depth this team will have with everybody healthy and available to play," Shaw said. "But we'll be pretty conservative with guys returning from injury."
Robinson said his knee is getting stronger each day. He plans on being ready for the start of the season. Same with Hickson, but he will have to wait five extra games after being suspended by the NBA for violating the terms of the anti-drug program.
"I have nobody to blame but myself," said Hickson, who missed the final 13 games after tearing his ACL.
McGee spent the offseason swimming, biking and working out to mend a leg injury that kept him out of all but five games last season. He said he's been cleared for most activity, but he's not back to five-on-five basketball yet.
"They don't want me to play this early, with how aggressive I play," he said. "I'm working hard, though. Definitely working hard."
The Nuggets were certainly busy in the offseason, reacquiring Arron Afflalo from Orlando in a draft-day deal.
Then there's Kenneth Faried, who helped the U.S. to a title at the Basketball World Cup on a team that was missing superstars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.
Faried is now soaring with confidence, even wearing his gold medal around his neck.
"Everybody that didn't believe in me, that said I was selling a pipe dream to yourself and to snap back to reality. Well, this is reality," Faried said. "I have this medal around my neck and I'm going to be proud of that. But I'm moving on. I'm ready for this season."