I used to write weekly fanposts called "Weekly Optimism" way back about 5 years ago when I was a commenter here on Denver Stiffs. People seemed to enjoy it, and I actually employed the fanpost series as a response to the rampant negativism that ran amuck on this site for what was to become a 53 win squad.
I wrote them - but I was never fully convinced of my own "optimism" insofar as I was fed up with the Eeyore like tone Stiffs sometimes develops. As Nate and Andrew can tell you, I'm probably the MOST cynical person involved with Denver Stiffs (due to my day job as an agent) and it spills over into my writing at times. I'm human. Yet, I've evolved a bit in the past few weeks, and on Monday night I began a full change of spirit. I owe it all to meeting a hero.
If we have learned anything this past year, other than sometimes basketball seasons don't go the way we want them to, is that the 1994 Nuggets team holds a special place in the hearts of thousands ... including yours truly. My journey back in examining that particular team has been fun, considering it's my favorite Nuggets squad. It distracted me from what has been (if we are honest) one of the most difficult Nuggets seasons since 2002-03.
On Monday, March 17th I met a personal hero of mine. I've told the tale repeatedly about how much a respected Phonz the player and quite frankly it was a dream. It came true as I met him prior to the Nuggets vs Clippers game where his famous team was celebrated. It was a nice cap on a change of mindset for me based on that incredible run the Nuggets made.
One thought occurred to me that, though that particular Nuggets team in 94 excited Denver and the region, their promise was curtailed by three incidents that they never recovered from. First, Phonz blows out his knee playing pick up basketball with Bryant Stith. Second, against the advice of Dan Issel, Bernie Bickerstaff brought in Dale Ellis ... who was an all around bad guy and destroyed the good vibes around the team. Third, Issel lost his power struggle with Bernie and resigned 34 games into the 1994-95 season. These three things sealed the fate of that particular Nuggets squad.
Yet, before that, the team was on a trajectory that few Nuggets teams had seen. Young talent was starting to begin it's peak and the team was, well, playing like a TEAM. This is what you want when you assemble a squad, any General Manager will tell you that. We really forget how young this Nuggets team is. With no Andre Miller on the roster there is no Nuggets player over 30 (although Nate Robinson is almost 30). I had to sit back and try to remember the last time there was a Nuggets squad with no player over the age of 30. I can't remember to be honest.
The oldest player on that 1994 Nuggets team was 27 (Reggie Williams).
Aside from this last season's front office turmoil, Brian Shaw's approach with this particular Nuggets team is similar to the way Issel approached the Nuggets when he became coach. It remains to be see if, in today's NBA, an inside out approach (whether fast or slow) can win in a league that is moving dramatically away from post offense centric teams. Teams like the Bulls, the Pacers and the Grizzlies are very much the outliers in a league that has increasingly become analytics dominated.
It remains to be seen.
This Nuggets team is incomplete. Two major pieces in Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee (for better or worse) have been out for the year. The "complete" team has yet to play on the court together. Add to that some potential moves during the draft (depending on where the Nuggets end up selecting) and you have something that is quite intriguing for the next season. This isn't the zero sum game that some (including myself) have portrayed it to be. The Nuggets team won 57 games last year and most of those players are still on the roster. Yes, you need a superstar in the NBA to win the championship ... but who knows what the future holds.
With people so hung up on salary and tanking to get draft picks, you forget that real development is happening right now. So maybe it's a choice between trusting the talent or thinking it's a bust. Maybe it really is a zero sum game for some, but no longer for me. This team has shown promise lately (despite even more injuries), and I'm starting to become a believer in the coach, who, I have to admit I've been highly skeptical of up until recently. Maybe he knows what he's doing?
If I was to give Brian Shaw one piece of advice, it would be this. Learn from that 1993-94 Nuggets team. Dan Issel has been around the Nuggets lately, pick his brain. Issel developed an extremely close relationship with Phonz and Dikembe Mutombo and forged a bond with that team that (rather dramatically) he couldn't in his later stint with the team (1998-2001). Issel was THE coach for that particular team because he connected with them. If Shaw can forge a similar bond with this version of the Nuggets, he will be all the better.
All in all I guess we learn from history. Maybe the Nuggets need to take a page from their own history and build a bond between organization/players/city that quite frankly we haven't seen since then. You get the city to follow you, and they will me more inclined to forgive your foibles and get behind you 100%. Can the Nugget buck the "tanking in the only way to get a championship" trend in the NBA? Or are they just outliers on a island to themselves right now? Time will tell.
All I know is I shook the hands of my hero. All is better in the world.