This week, I received a phone call from one of the two guys with whom I share Denver Nuggets season tickets informing me that - after over two decades of buying Nuggets tickets - he would not be renewing his tickets for the 2015-16 season. And while I certainly don't have access to a current census or survey of Nuggets season ticket holders, I can all but guarantee that my ticket-buying partner is just one of many giving up on our lottery dwelling Nuggets, either right now or soon into the future.
(For the record, another person with whom I share tickets is renewing and I'll be renewing along side him.)
Readers of this site represent the most educated class of Nuggets fans in the world when it comes to understanding the mechanics and machinations of how the NBA really works. They understand that the Nuggets didn't end up in their current disastrous state overnight. They understand that a confluence of errors and really bad luck resulted in the crummy 20-win record the team has to date this season. And they understand that in order to climb out of the giant mess they themselves created, that they must bottom out, get really lucky, really creative and then maybe, just maybe, they can return to NBA relevancy again in as soon as two or so seasons from now although it's more likely it could be four or five seasons from now. Our readers get all of that.
Unfortunately, the average Nuggets fan / ticket-buyer doesn't get any of that. They don't care about tanking, or trade exceptions, or luxury tax, or the right to swap first round draft picks, or protected lottery picks, or second round draft picks being stashed in Europe, etc. The average Nuggets fan just wants to watch winning basketball. Period. They'll fill up every seat in the Pepsi Center when the team is good and desert the building like rats from a sinking ship when the team is awful.
I know how ticket-buying fans think and behave because I talk to them directly on a routine basis. I know because I listen to the conversations around me while sitting through three out of every four Nuggets games this season (I should get a medal for that, by the way). I just know.
And it doesn't really matter what I think, because the numbers speak for themselves. Through 29 home games in 2014-15, the Nuggets rank fourth from the bottom in home attendance out of 30 NBA teams. Last season the Nuggets ranked 20th. The season before, the amazing 57-win 2012-13 campaign, the Nuggets ranked 15th. And when Chauncey Billups still played here in 2010, the team ranked 13th in home attendance.
Point being, if the 1992-93 season taught us anything it's that fans can be talked into and even embrace losing as long as a) the future direction of the team is clear, b) the team is comprised of young players who want to be in Denver and, c) the team plays hard, is relatively competitive and is exciting to watch. And while this might sound naive, I believe our current Nuggets can get there next season but they have to be willing to make some tough decisions.
First and foremost, while I hate to write this the Nuggets must strongly consider replacing head coach Brian Shaw. I was willing to accept a Shaw tenure through the remainder of the 2014-15 season but after witnessing the debacle that has been the last 21 games it has become clear that Shaw is not fit to be the Nuggets coach at this time with this team.
Second, in the wake of a Shaw departure the Nuggets should have assistant coach Melvin Hunt - a ball of purely positive energy if I've ever seen one - coach out the remainder of the season. This would send a simultaneously strong message to the fans and could-be free agent signings alike: we here in Denver don't tolerate a culture of laying down and losing. Moreover, a Hunt regime would put forth a better and more earnest effort on the court nightly which could deliver rewards from the basketball gods in the form of a top lottery selection (I know that sounds corny but hey, the Nuggets need all the luck they can get!).
Third, Hunt should bench all of the players that are allegedly "counting down to the end of the season" and play the youngsters Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne, Gary Harris and Erick Green plus newcomer Will Barton and veteran mensch Danilo Gallinari heavy minutes. Play four-on-five a la "Hoosiers" if you have to make a point. But again, the Nuggets organization should NOT tolerate a culture of laying down and losing. The ticket-paying fans deserve a good effort nightly and if half of these overpaid gazillionaire players are checked out, they can stay at home for the remainder of the season. We don't need 'em.
Fourth, use the off-season to unload most of the veteran players in place of youngsters who enthusiastically want to be here. That means saying goodbye to the likes of Ty Lawson, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson. Maybe Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried, too.
And finally, early in the off-season and prior to the 2015 NBA Draft the Nuggets must hire a coach who's willing to play fast and fun in Denver again. And that doesn't mean Paul Westhead. But I'd give strong consideration to Mike D'Antoni and the seven-seconds-or-less offense, or someone from former Nuggets coach George Karl's coaching tree. Remember that Terry Stotts, Dwane Casey and Scott Brooks - all former Karl coaching disciples - are having pretty damn good seasons with their respective franchises right now.
Losing is one thing. But how the Nuggets are losing is a different matter altogether. Now is the time for the Nuggets organization to do the right thing and get back to losing in a way that builds towards a much better future.