Kickin’ it with Kiz: Will angry Nuggets fans ever let the team retire the number of Carmelo Anthony?

How about this for the Nuggets’ all-time starting five: Fat Lever, David Thompson, Alex English, Carmelo Anthony and Dan Issel?

– Patrick, Denver

Kiz: In the prime of their careers, those five guys could beat anyone, including Steph Curry’s Warriors or Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Love the decision to hang the number of Lever in the Pepsi Center rafters. But I want to know: Will Denver ever forgive Melo and honor him the same way?

It’s wrong for you to push your liberal political agenda on these NFL nitwits, without telling them they are the ones who will pay the price in their next contracts, when television revenue is down. The players can’t even articulate what they are protesting! It’s like watching all the lemmings follow lead lemming Colin Kaepernick off a cliff. Here’s an idea: Why don’t you quit writing until social justice is achieved?

– Scott, certain he’s right

Kiz: I do applaud Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and Kaepernick for using their platform as NFL athletes to sell big ideas they hold near and dear to their hearts, rather than merely taking the easy money to endorse pizza or insurance. But, in 2016 and again this year, I have also urged Marshall to stand for the anthem, because I believe a protest waged during “The Star-Spangled Banner”  so offends many proud Americans that meaningful dialogue gets drowned out by all the angry yelling. Lemming? I’ve got no interest in following the crowd on the left or right, when they’re engaged in throwing rocks at each other.

Please stick to writing about sports, Kiz. The large argument about player protests was started by President Donald Trump. He, you and most right-wingers believe in the First Amendment only for positions you agree with. By the way, when sitting in the press box, do you put down your nachos and stand at attention during the national anthem?

Robert, certain I’m wrong

Kiz: OK, now I’m confused. Am I a bleeding-heart liberal, or a right-winger that munches nachos while nodding in agreement with Trump? C’mon, folks. Get your stories straight. Don’t we have enough fake news already?

The truth of the matter is men’s soccer in the United States needs a big-money benefactor to attract premier athletes, not the wimps and castoffs they get now. Let’s start off by eliminating small softies that can’t play football, basketball or baseball.

Drew, Denver

Kiz: This eat-more-red-meat theory might make some sense, except for the fact Lionel Messi is 5-foot-7 and weighs 160 pounds. Soccer is a skill as hard as hitting the curveball, and on a developmental level, the USA gets obsessed far too often with bigger, stronger and faster, when what we really need to work on is the foot technique that makes Messi a magician.

And today’s parting shot is a standing ovation for Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

Mr. Gonzalez has carried himself well through both difficult and glorious moments. Thanks for the maturity, professionalism and grace at a time when those things seem to have been devalued.

Ryan, hopes CarGo isn’t gone

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When push comes to shove, will Nuggets be tough enough to make the NBA playoffs?

The only shot that really mattered during the Nuggets preseason was a nasty shove Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook delivered to the chest of Denver center Nikola Jokic, who hit the floor and rolled like a 250-pound tumbleweed.

The referees called foul, hitting Crazy Russ with a flagrant one. “I flopped,” said Jokic, suggesting the joke was on Westbrook.

Here’s the serious question: There’s no doubt the Nuggets have the talent to make the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2013. But is Denver tough enough to stop getting pushed around by the bullies in the Western Conference?

“We don’t have the Bad Boys,” said Denver coach Michael Malone, whose father served as an assistant in Detroit from 1988-95, when Bill Laimbeer and the Pistons could transform a game into a steel-cage match faster than Dennis Rodman would worm his way under the skin of foes.

The mild-mannered Nuggets live in a tough neighborhood. The West is turf controlled by the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Thunder. Sometimes, it seems as if Denver would prefer to be invisible, quietly mind its own business, trying to sneak away with a postseason berth without anybody noticing.

It’s not that the Nuggets are soft. But nobody mistakes them for intimidating. Why did Denver barely miss the playoffs in the spring? Well, when push came to shove, the Nuggets backed down, losing 10 of 15 games decided by three points or less.

During the final seven days of the season, when a postseason berth slid from Denver’s grasp, the team was pushed aside in painful losses by Houston guard James Harden and Westbrook, during a heartbreaking 106-105 loss to Oklahoma City. Inferior talent was the No. 1 reason the Nuggets fell short. But lack of grit was also a factor.

The basketball narrative has changed in Denver because Josh Kroenke spent big in free agency to land 31-year-old Paul Millsap, who joins the Nuggets after four consecutive seasons as an all-star in Atlanta. Millsap was proud of Jokic for dusting himself off and refusing to be shaken emotionally Tuesday, when Westbrook tried to physically intimidate the young center during the opening two minutes of a preseason game.

“That’s the NBA. Only the mentally tough teams win games,” Millsap said. “Hopefully we’re one of those mentally tough teams that when things go tough, we’re still all right.”

Millsap is unflappable on the court. But he rarely growls. If the Nuggets want to run with the big dogs in the West, will they be respected by Draymond Green of the Warriors, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves and Westbrook, who all play with an edge?

Wilson Chandler is not going to get punked. He might be a nice guy and might be quiet, but he’s not going to let somebody cross that line. I think Gary Harris has that same thing in him, I think Jameer Nelson has that same thing, and I think a lot of our guys do,” Malone said.

“By no means do we have a guy that’s going to just start throwing elbows and getting reckless. But I think we have guys that have mental and physical toughness, and understand the importance of not allowing people to walk all over you. Because if they do it once, then they’re going to have you, and they’re going to put you in their pocket.”

Yes, the idea of an NBA enforcer is as dated as Rick Mahorn, who retired in 1999 and is now 59 years old. The Nuggets, however, struggle to play solid defense. And it’s more than the frequent inability of Harris to stop a quick guard from beating him off the dribble. This is a team without a mean bone in its body. Defense is attitude, and the Nuggets don’t have one.

The baddest man in the Denver locker room might be Will Barton, and he appears to weigh maybe 175 pounds, when soaked in sweat.

“Right now, I’m around 190. I’m not as skinny as people think I am,” said Barton, correcting me. “At the same time, I still am skinny and I’m not the biggest. But it’s about being tough. You don’t have to be the biggest and the baddest to believe in yourself. I back down from no one. And I fear no one.”

It will take more than scoring sprees by Jamal Murray and the sweet passes of Jokic for the Nuggets to make noise in the wild, wild West.

Denver will have to fight for respect.

Kiszla: Here is NFL’s chance to be better than Washington politicians in tackling anthem controversy

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib proudly stands during the national anthem. Why? “For the people who go to war for us,” Talib said Wednesday.

Teammate Brandon Marshall has taken a knee and raised a fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to Denver games, giving a voice to victims of police brutality.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his fellow NFL teams would be on firm legal ground to suspend or fire players that protest at the stadium. “Yes, a player could lose his job for a political protest,” said attorney Adam Schlatner, leader of the sports industry team at Cozen O’Connor in New York.

And President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter, trying to bully commissioner Roger Goodell to “finally demand that all players stand” out of respect for our country.

But here’s what smart people in pro football know: While anthem protests have contributed to declining television ratings, the players are the sport’s lifeblood. It’s impossible to dictate the terms of patriotism with athletes, strong and stubborn by nature.

When Broncos chief executive officer Joe Ellis and franchise owners gather next week in New York, hoping to move past the anthem controversy, mandating that players stand for the anthem would only give rise to the popularity of a new fight song in NFL locker rooms. It’s a song by YG and Nipsey Hussle, played this contentious week for all in the Cowboys locker room to hear by team captain Orlando Scandrick.

“I was listening to my music,” Scandrick explained to the Dallas media. “I like that YG song.” The lyrics denigrate and threaten Trump in a very direct and profane way, raising the emotional ante against a president that has referred to any player that dares to protest during the anthem as an SOB.

As far back as two weeks ago, Marshall asked me if it were true an NFL team could fire a player that refused to stand for the anthem. Jones has since made his own stance crystal clear on the issue, insisting no disrespect for the flag would be tolerated in Dallas. “Understand?” Jones said. “If we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.”

Schlatner, who focuses his practice on commercial litigation, said the law would likely side with players that stage a protest against poor working conditions, the perception of collusion against former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick or even threats made against their employment by Trump. On the other hand, Schlatner said teams could suspend or dismiss a player that stages a political demonstration, such as a protest against police brutality, on company time.

So, to answer Marshall’s question: He does place his job security as a linebacker in Denver at risk by making a political statement during the anthem, if the Broncos were so inclined to punish him.

Talib gave voice to active military members and veterans that take great offense to anthem protests, saying he doesn’t believe kneeling solves any problem. “Trump may make us go to war again, and then those guys are going to go to war for us again,” Talib said. “That’s why I’m standing. I appreciate everything those guys do.”

While the NBA has long fostered a relationship with its players that has encouraged them to speak out on social issues, dating back to the “I can’t breathe” T-shirt worn by Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in 2014 after the death of Eric Garner in a confrontation with a New York police officer, the NFL has a more troubling history of regarding its athletes as faceless, replaceable parts.

While Goodell has circulated a letter to all 32 teams stating he wants players to stand for the anthem, the commissioner insists the issue will be addressed with input from the players union.

You mean there might be a better answer to the anthem controversy than a Twitter tantrum? Politics might encourage passive aggression, with Vice President Mike Pence walking out on an Indianapolis Colts game where Peyton Manning was being honored, but football requires its participants to get down in the trenches with a foe.

A real leader tackles a problem head-on, face-to-face, seeking compromise that at least partially serves the end goal of both combative parties. Here is the NFL’s chance to be better than Washington politicians, who are too busy pointing fingers of blame to get anything done. By shining a light on social issues with the same power it uses to fight cancer, maybe league owners and players can bring some meaningful resolution to the anthem tiff. Talk it out. It’s what adults do.

As Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe recently said: “Don’t you think it would be great if the rest of the world would try that? Sit down and talk to each other. Figure it out.”