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Maintaining vision in the heat of battle

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If the Nuggets want to keep pace in the post season, there’s a skill they need to master.

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone yells at referees while facing Dallas in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 117-107. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) AP

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” -Steven Covey

The Denver Nuggets had a very interesting week last week with a spectacular blowout win against the New Orleans Pelicans, and a subsequent loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. They went on to beat the Sacramento Kings without Coach Mike Malone who was suspended for his actions in the Lakers game, and now they’re looking at an undetermined amount of time without Paul Millsap. So much can happen in such a short period of time.

If you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I like to look at basketball from a business perspective. The business of a team fascinates me, and the principles of team building, leadership, and competition are fairly universal in both the business and sports worlds.

As the Nuggets make their way through the 2017-2018 season I like to look at each week’s performance and draw conclusions about the direction the team is headed, and general observations about how they’re performing, and where they can improve.

This week, I want to focus specifically on Malone and Nikola Jokic’s ejection in the Lakers game.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a bit of a critic of Malone this season. I find his game decisions to pull players when they’re hot, tinker with the rotation like a mad scientist, and avoid taking prompt timeouts very frustrating. However, as of late the Nuggets are performing well so I will moderate my criticism, and focus in one one area the entire team can improve upon—starting with coach.

In any organization, it’s important for everyone to be united under a common vision. While the mission of an organization identifies who or what the company is, the vision defines what the company strives to be in the future.

Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic, of Serbia, gestures after hitting a key basket as he drops back on defense against the Milwaukee Bucks late in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 121-117. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) AP

While I’m not part of the Nuggets organization, I will guess that their mission is to exist as a team in the Western Conference of the NBA to include many financial and performance goals that go along with accomplishing that mission.

Based on interviews I’ve heard from Coach Malone and multiple players, the Nuggets’ vision is to be a playoff team this year, with a goal to grow their success in the post season as the years go by.

In the nearly 10 years that I’ve been working in the corporate world, I’ve learned so many things. However, the most important thing I’ve learned is how to focus. How to keep the main thing the main thing—or simply, how to maintain vision.

If you’re in sales, and the main thing for the month is to close 3 leads you’ve been chasing, the names of those 3 leads should be printed large in your office somewhere. Everyday when you wake up you should think to yourself, “What can I do today to move myself one step closer to closing that deal?” The main thing is to maintain a constant focus on the big picture.

If the Nuggets want to realize their vision of being a playoff team, then they are going to need to keep a constant focus on that vision. Sure, all of us will miss the mark from time to time, but maintaining sight of that big picture needs to be a skill the Nuggets perfect.

That’s exactly what didn’t happen when Coach Malone and Jokic were ejected in Sunday’s Lakers game.

If you missed it, about 6 minutes into the 1st quarter Jokic went for a put back lay in under the rim and was fouled multiple times before finally missing the shot and turning the ball over. It appeared to be an intentional overlook by the official. The fouls weren’t flagrant, but they were fouls nonetheless and Jokic didn’t get the call.

Coach Malone was upset, and rightfully so. It’s no secret that NBA officials don’t always make the most objective calls, and the Nuggets certainly aren’t on anyone’s list of superstars to protect. Jokic should’ve gotten the foul call, but he didn’t.

What happened next is a perfect example of not keeping the main thing the main thing. So let’s refocus on what the main thing in the Lakers game should have been— get a win to progress in the Western Conference standings improving your seed position for the playoffs, ultimately serving the larger vision of becoming a playoff team, and becoming more successful in the post season.

Now, before I make my critique, let me start by saying that it’s perfectly acceptable for Malone to be upset with the no call from the official. He had every right, and every responsibility to make his frustration known with the objective of making the official more aware next time.

However, making your frustration known and absolutely losing your mind are two very different things. Coach Malone stepped onto the court toward that official with every intention of getting thrown out of the game. He allowed himself to indulge in losing his temper. He had to be physically held back by his assistant coach, and you could read the words coming out of his mouth—it wasn’t pretty.

Jokic contributed to the jawing, and while he shouldn’t have been thrown out of the game, it’s easy to see how the official would feel publicly cornered and ganged-up on. The official made the decision to throw both Malone and Jokic out with about 90% of the game remaining.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of coaches strategically getting themselves thrown out of games in clutch moments when they need to get their team fired up to rally for a win. That strategy seems like a Hail Mary, but sometimes it’s just the fire a team needs to clench a game. However, that move is best made much later in the game. Six minutes in, it’s nothing more than a temper tantrum, and a complete loss of vision.

At that moment the Nuggets lost both their coach and their best player leaving the rest of the team to do the heavy lifting. Coach Malone set the bad example for Jokic, and the Nuggets’ two key leaders essentially abandoned their teammates. Again, Jokic shouldn’t have been ejected, but when you publicly back someone into a corner like that you can’t be surprised if they respond aggressively.

You see, Malone lost sight of the big picture. It wasn’t as if Jokic was flagrantly fouled resulting in an injury. It was a common foul, and the right thing to do would be to let the official know that the no call was an error (firmly if necessary), and promptly GET OVER IT. Losing sight of the vision resulted in letting the team down, and ultimately another loss on the season’s record. Being that the Nuggets are tied with Portland and Minnesota in the West, every single win counts.

The silver lining to this mistake, is that it’s very easy to refocus on the vision anytime you need to. The Nuggets want to become a sophisticated, winning organization, and getting there means laying aside temper tantrums in exchange for a steady focus on the objective at hand. Passion will always bring emotion, but success comes from channeling that emotion toward focus, and avoiding the temptation to indulge in a meltdown.

Over a month in, the Nuggets are performing well, and the expectations will only increase from here. I criticize because I truly believe they’re capable of greatness, and if everyone can stay focused on the vision I have no doubt they will get to where they want to be.