I watched the Steelers get 55 put on them today and thought about how that must punch every Steelers fan in the gut. For as long as I can remember, the Steelers have identified with their town: tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar guys who are willing to fight for every extra yard on offense and rally to stop even one yard on defense. That's how they play, and how they will ALWAYS play regardless of the head coach. Steelers football is a reflection of their town and its values, and there's no way the owners will allow that to change.
They may replace the architect, but the style will remain, and I wondered: is Nuggets basketball like that?
Denver hasn't won any NBA titles playing the way they do (unlike the Steelers and their fistful of rings) but Nuggets fans expect their basketball to be entertaining, high-flying, energetic and competitive. Through several different eras, the one thing that has remained in all their best teams is the above-the-rim, energetic style. Denver runs teams out of the gym when they come here, and in doing so consistently have one of the best home-court records in the entire league. Considering the several abominable teams that have seen the court for the Nuggets, that's very impressive.
Entire generations of fans since the 70s have grown up expecting the Nuggets to play a certain way, at a distinct pace and with a unique identity. Will the fanbase be patient with a change to a more grind-em-out style that may throw away a certain amount of home-court advantage in return for the promise of more road and playoff success?
Early returns are not good. The crowd was practically asleep - much like their team - in the Nuggets home opener. They woke up in the 4th quarter when the team started playing like the Nuggets of yore instead of the team that Brian Shaw is trying to build. In a town where basketball is third on the totem pole, though, how long will Shaw be able to preach patience with his system? The early instillation of that system is registering on the enjoyment scale somewhere between multiple visits to the DMV and being kicked in the crotch by an 8 year old throwing a tantrum.
Nuggets fans will probably be willing to wait for a winner over the course of this season, if the games are entertaining. Knowing we're building for the future can help soothe some of the growing pains - as long as the games aren't abominable. But nobody wants to watch terrible basketball from players ill-suited to the scheme, not when just last year the regular season was the best the town had ever seen (in a brutal conference, I might add).
How patient will fans be with a more grinding, clanging style? Less running, less activity, more reliance on less-effective means of scoring from players not able to take full advantage of the strengths of the system... could it get ugly with the fans? It's been 2 games and people are already screaming for changes, for Shaw to adapt his ideas to our city and players. Is that likely? Is it reasonable?
In the end, it won't matter. To go back to football, Josh McDaniels came into town and tried to make the Broncos into the Patriots West A proud fanbase felt their history should not be ignored in favor of some other organization's, and Josh antagonized enough people to make his margin for error slim. He failed, spectacularly, but did it to himself. He was given a lot of offensive weapons and threw them away because they did not fit what he wanted. And partly because he abandoned the history of the team he was not given much time to fix it.
This Nuggets team lost Iggy and a coupla backups from last year's tremendously promising squad. Should Shaw make allowances to accomodate the talent he has, and not the talent he wishes he had? If Gallo and Chandler come back healthy, how can we possibly be a losing squad? We absolutely would not be under Karl, and that may be the hardest thing for Shaw to overcome. Nuggets fans feel like they deserve a 50-win team, and can get one with a high-octane, running offense and scrambling D. They certainly deserve a winning team with the talent currently assembled. If Shaw can't provide that, he'll have to have some good excuses. "These guys can't play my way" is not a good excuse.
Because that means the solution is to trade Faried, and Ty, and most everything assembled to keep us a 50-win team after the departure of our superstar. George Karl did not prove he could win a title this way, but he proved we could stay really entertaining and competitive without a resident superstar. If Shaw can't, that's going to be a big problem since the odds of us getting another superstar or two in here to compete is low.
Winning a playoff series is nice, but if you can't GET to the playoffs (or better, get a favorable matchup and HCA) it doesn't matter if your style is more conducive to winning that seven game series. The 82 games of the regular season matter, and the conference isn't getting any easier. It's an interesting question whether fans would take fewer regular season wins and more boring games in order to win a series.
But Shaw is going to have to convince a fanbase that has only EVER seen playoff teams in one sort of mold that his new design is a viable one, worth sacrificing wins, style points, comfort and perhaps even favorite players in an attempt to succeed.
The Steelers will be re-dedicating themselves to finding "Steeler Football" again, I guarantee you. The Broncos kicked the guy who ignored their history to the curb in very short order. If the Nuggets Way has the same kind of pull with its fanbase, then Shaw is not going to get a long time to try things his way.
So I hope his way starts to show results soon, or that he can learn to work with what he has - because what he has should not look this abominable for very long.