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The Denver Nuggets and the dream of winning without a superstar

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When Carmelo Anthony left Denver in 2011 he ushered out a mentality and brought in a newer, more defiant attitude to the city of Denver. Can you win without a superstar? The dream began and seems to be unraveling before our eyes.

Pepsi Center
Pepsi Center
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony so burned the city of Denver that I don't believe we have recovered. In forcing his way out of town via trade and a shiny new extension it left Nuggets fans hurt, humiliated and feeling as if this team would never have a chance. Additionally the trade that sent Melo out of town took with him the favorite son Chauncey Billups, Denver native and local hero.

The summer before, Lebron James went to the Miami Heat ... scarring the city of Cleveland and Cavaliers fans and the public spectacle that ensued afterword showed the power of NBA superstars and how they can single handedly affect entire communities with their leaving (and eventual return). Melo scarred the city of Denver, but in his wake was an appealing team of players who not only genuinely seemed to like playing in the city, but also gave the city the proverbial middle finger to the man who cast us aside.

We arguably reached the apex of this dream in the 2012-13 season when the Nuggets were the darlings of NBA League Pass. Cool, yet unencumbered with superstar ego. A franchise record 57 wins and and a third seed in the playoffs. The city was behind the Nuggets like they were in the 2008-09 Western Conference Championship year. Appealing faces like Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, and yes even the Mole himself Andre Iguodala captured the city's imagination and hearts. When that all came crashing down in April of 2013 with both the ACL injury to Gallo and the subsequent first round loss to the Golden State Warriors the city was crestfallen.

There's no city in the NBA that is more discounted and dismissed than Denver. It's been that way since it's entry in the NBA in 1976. Back then, the Nuggets had their first (and only) true superstar in David Thompson and were undoubtedly the most talented ABA team to enter into the league. A year later Denver was in the Western Conference Finals and was upset by the Seattle Supersonics.. Eventually Alex English would be a star, or at least a hall of fame player in Denver but was snubbed (wrongly) by the people selecting the 50 greatest NBA players in 1998. The leading scorer of the 80's was passed over, largely, because myopic press reporters from the east coast never paid enough attention to him. This, even after English "starred" in the horrendously dumb movie Amazing Grace and Chuck.

It's been that way as long as I can remember. The Nuggets and Denver in general have been treated by the NBA as a city to ignore and that remains to this day. Hell, even in Denver where the Broncos reign supreme the Nuggets are second class citizens.

If you want to know why long time Nuggets fans fear the word "tank" its because from 1990 to 2003 the Nuggets posted ONE winning record, the glorious 1993-94 season of 8 over 1 fame. Think about that. One winning season in 13 years. Nuggets went 9 years between playoff seasons and fully tanked their roster THREE times. Imagine what Philly is doing and add 11 years to it. There you have the 90's Nuggets. All the while in those years the Nuggets were in search of that elusive superstar. Tanking to get THAT pick. The one that kind of came in 2003 produced a definite star in Melo ... but no superstar. There are those who advocate tanking who never went through that. Believe me when I say it wasn't fun. The teams weren't fun, and as my colleague Andy Feinstein says the only reason to go to McNichols Arena in those days was Rocky. That was it. Those scars run deep and if you never experienced it, well, I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

The city of Denver clung to that 2012-13 team and identified with it as that discounted NBA underdog that no one believed in, also that team was damn fun to watch. The vibes were tremendous and you could tell Pepsi Center was THE place to be. When it came crashing down it dealt an enormous blow to both the organization and the city. The reality began to sink in that yes, you DO need that elusive superstar to get anywhere in this league. They don't grow on trees folks, but they are still needed.

Yet, before we all cry ourselves to sleep over Denver's lot in life, let us look at the ray of hope.

I've said this over and over on twitter and occasionally in the comment section of various articles. The notion and implication that this roster is somehow mediocre and bereft of talent is both shortsighted and plain wrong. However the team has no margin for error. Since that superstar is not on the roster, the entire team needs to play constantly at a high level in order to pull out games. If you have a "team" you can't rely on that superstar to bail you out. You need to do it collectively.

Can the Nuggets do that? Yes, absolutely. They did it in 2012-13. They just need to be pushed in the right direction and given the ultimate guidance. Listen, the Nuggets ceiling isn't high based on their first six games (1-5) but there is no reason on heaven and earth that this team cannot at the very least be FUN. The city is waiting for that fun team again and right now the Nuggets are not fun to watch at all.

I'm rooting for this team. I will always do so because Nuggets fans are the most dedicated fans in Denver. We've been through more shit and had more of that same shit hurled at us from our own local media for decades. I want this team to look in the mirror and understand what it takes to be fun again. No more platitudes about winning curing everything. Bring back the entertainment value to Pepsi Center. Play like you love the game. People will come eventually when they see that it's worth it.

As for the rest, yes, you still need a superstar. That fact will never change. It doesn't mean that basketball can't be fun and an amazing experience. It can and will be again.

Does Brian Shaw have what it takes to make that happen? The time to start is now.