April 4th, 2013: The afternoon that fundamentally altered a franchise. In a matter of seconds the future of a General Manager, coach, player, and an entire organization was decided … though it wasn’t known at the time. 19,000 fans felt it. Everyone watching at home felt it. We just didn’t know it. Injury.
The moment Danilo Gallinari grabbed his knee in pain while driving the lane against the Dallas Mavericks that day is fundamental to the fate of the Denver Nuggets and even the Golden State Warriors, the Nuggets future playoff opponent. You see, Gallo had become the glue that held that team together. The key that allowed that 57 win team to be so dangerous. The versatility that Gallo gave George Karl’s last team in Denver made them absolutely deadly and FUN.
It all came crashing down that April afternoon.
There are two things that are absolutely true about The Rooster’s time in Denver since that fateful moment. He’s put up with a ton of crap, and his injuries have caused a ton of crap. The chaos of the 2013 summer, though a symptom of, was by no means started by the Gallo’s torn ACL. General Manager Masai Ujiri bolting for a big pay day in Toronto and the firing of George Karl certainly had nothing to do with Gallo. However the subsequent flameout by the 3rd seed Nuggets against the upstart and future dynamo Warriors certainly can be tied to the lack of Gallo’s presence on the court. If the Nuggets win that series who knows what would have happened?
But … it did happen. And Gallo’s fragile legs/knees ended up betraying him over and over. The story of Danilo Gallinari is one where you can’t mention how sneaky good and effective he was in Denver without saying that his ceiling was clipped by injuries at inopportune moments. You can’t mention how he carried two sub-par/then young Nuggets teams from the second half of 2014-15 to the end of the 2015-16 season without saying he only played 59 and 53 games respectively. It’s just … it’s just part of the story.
Post-ACL Gallinari has given some great moments. 47 points against the Mavericks in late 2015. Game winning shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. Who can forget his big steal against Stephan Curry and the 73 win Warriors? Yet, PRE-ACL Gallo had that “thing”. His second game as a Nuggets player against Portland in February 2011 Gallo put on a SHOW and single handedly took over the game.
Imagine THAT Gallo?
I first had a conversation with Gallo in 2014. He had just come off a successful first preseason game in Phoenix after his ACL injury and subsequent surgery(s) and was feeling pretty good (little did he know how much he would struggle that season). If Gallo doesn’t trust you he is extremely guarded. Prone to cliche’s and pablum in order to avoid answers, yet THIS day he was affable and willing to give someone who he had never spoken to a brief interview. I never gained his trust, but he did know me well enough to make fun of how short I am on many an occasion and tease me when he noticed I am getting thinner up top. Once Gallo gets to know you he WANTS to joke with you.
Undeniable that Gallo at the very least tried to carry this team. A dysfunctional team in 2015 with Brian Shaw should never have won 30 games, but once Gallo started finding his legs he began to find a way to carry a moribund team that lost it’s heart and hated it’s coaching staff. Yeah, there was some crap and not much of that can be blamed on the Rooster.
However Gallo wasn’t and couldn’t be a #1 option player, and it was never going to match his perceived talent. It makes you wonder if he didn’t destroy his right ACL what would have happened? How would he have developed? What would have HAPPENED to this team? There is no doubt in my mind, and many Nuggets fans minds that if Gallo doesn’t go down with 8 games left in the regular season that the Nuggets would have beaten the Warriors that year. After that? It pains me to wonder.
Truth be told Gallo has made the most of what he has been able to considering how his body has betrayed him over and over but it never was quite enough. The more time he spent in the training room the less time he could spend getting better. Sad fact of the matter is the Nuggets as a team were hurt by Gallo’s injuries. You can’t escape it.
Fast forward to this past season. The Danilo Gallinari who made a very happy go lucky appearance at Nuggets media day chatted with everyone. He and I spoke about wearing the rainbow skyline uni’s and honoring Dikembe Mutombo the first home game. In training camp Gallo’s mood became more distant. It was an troubling observation to watch someone who is quite humorous go rather cold. Despite it being Gallo’s most efficient year percentage wise since his rookie season, he would rarely stay for media availability after games. Gallo was in many ways a ghost this last season.
Who knows what caused Gallo to detach himself. Could’ve been a contract year issue? Who knows. It permeated the atmosphere, however, and to those of us who are at Pepsi Center every day it felt like Gallo was ready to move on. On July 3rd that feeling became a reality as the Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks put into motion a sign-and-trade deal that would move the Rooster to LA. Ending the biggest piece that the Nuggets got in the long-past Carmelo Anthony trade. Yet, despite that withdrawal Gallo was quite amazing in context of this Nuggets offense. Quite the paradox.
It’s a bit sad to be honest. I’ve said it before, but much like Antonio McDyess … Danilo Gallinari will likely be appreciated more in hindsight than he did when he was playing for the Nuggets. Considering his injuries, Gallo was a pretty damn good player for the Nuggets. Pre-ACL Gallo showed flashes, post-ACL Gallo has been good enough to get a 22 million dollar a year contract.
In the end, he did his job and served the Nuggets as well as he could. I get the feeling that in the future you’ll see Gallo roaming around Denver. He will be back … and maybe then we will all be ready to appreciate what he accomplished despite the injuries?