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Never too old to learn a lesson

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The Nuggets have proved me wrong as of late, and I couldn’t be happier.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I’m still learning the ropes in this whole NBA blogging world, and while I’m not new to watching and being an enthusiast of basketball, I’ll admit I still have a lot to learn—as I’m sure we all do. However, I learned something incredibly important this past week as it relates to my career, and also the Nuggets that I need to share.

My company threw their annual Holiday party last weekend, and each year multitudes of employees and clients come out to celebrate. Before the party, my team held a brief meeting to go over the year’s success. Awards were given, and we reflected on the things we did well over the course of the year. December 9th marked 8 12 years at the company for me, and the time has truly flown by.

As we talked in our meeting, I realized how much we’ve grown as a group over the years. In all honesty, when I started at the company I didn’t know I would be around for as long as I have been, but looking back I’m so grateful I persevered through personal and corporate challenges. In a weird way, my company feels like family. We’ve both seen each other at our worst, and we’ve remained committed to growing together and buckling down to get through problems as opposed to running when things get tough.

This will probably sound pretty cheesy, but I actually feel the same way about my time as a Nuggets fan, and I feel as though I just recently learned a major lesson. It seems like ages ago, but last year around this time we were all just beginning to see the value that Nikola Jokic brings to the Nuggets. The mid-way mark in December marks his coming out party, of sorts, and he was quickly thrust into a leadership role in the months that would follow with playoff hopes sitting fairly squarely on his shoulders.

Looking back, I can see where I was fairly certain that things would click rapidly for the Nuggets, and that we would see them in the playoffs just a few months after their young leader began to emerge. You see, this is where I departed from what I already know to be true about success. Perhaps it was childlike hope, but somehow I disregarded the practical picture of growth and assumed the Nuggets would embark on a straight line upward toward the goals they had set for themselves. This is NEVER how it works. (Let me refer to my own image that I shared many months ago.)

We all know that the next few months was a torturous roller coaster of success and failure, and another year missing the mark for the playoffs. That was a frustrating time for all of us, and the incredibly bizarre draft that followed really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then, just a few months later, Coach Mike Malone announced that he would be de-emphasizing centering the offense around Jokic, and I was officially fed up. It felt like they were departing from everything that made them successful the year before, and I was completely disillusioned.

I disregarded the fact that the Nuggets’ roster was new in a lot of ways, and that perhaps the new rotation would need time to adjust to one another. Jamal Murray would be the new starting point guard to play alongside Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler would start at the 3 in Danilo Gallinari’s absence, and Paul Millsap would replace Kenneth Faried. In light of so many changes how could I think that the exact same game plan would be a fit?

Then the season got underway, and the Nuggets struggled a little to gain their footing. This can be attributed to multiple things, including Jokic not facilitating as many plays as he did at the end of last season, but mostly it was just an adjustment period as the new rotation worked out the kinks of newness to get into their groove. Murray and Jokic struck a nice balance of touches, and Millsap began to come into his own leading the way on defense.

Just when things were starting to click, Millsap injured his hand rendering him unavailable for multiple months. I have to admit, I kind of threw up my hands a little on the inside. “It’s over,” I thought, “the Nuggets will totally miss the playoffs this year because they won’t be able to maintain with Millsap out.”

Well, I stand corrected. In fact, what has happened is quite the opposite. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Things are far from perfect. The Nuggets still struggle mightily on defense, and their bench leaves a lot to be desired among multiple other opportunities for improvement. However, we’ve seen several players step up in ways I didn’t expect.

Murray and Harris are performing incredibly well together, and while I still think Mudiay needs to move on, his contribution has also proved valuable as of late. Trey Lyles has stepped up in a big way, and I even think he may have earned himself a key role off the bench. Will Barton has been nothing short of impressive, and also much more consistent compared to last season. Mason Plumlee isn’t measuring up to what he should be so the Nuggets are struggling while they’re shorthanded, but I have to hand it to them—they’re really getting it together.

Now that Jokic is available again, along with Juancho Hernangomez who is working to recoup lost time, the Nuggets will have a solid 9-man rotation to work with once Millsap is back in action. In the meantime, the Nuggets are maintaining. And, even though they’re having to work extra hard to get wins we are seeing much more consistent effort from everyone.

What I learned this week is that even though you may have thought you learned an important lesson, it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions of things and lose sight of what you know to be true. You’ve never learned enough to stop learning, even if it’s the same lesson in a different form.

My hope is renewed in the Nuggets, and while conditions will never be ideal, I’m proud of the effort they’ve put in as they work to grow together to meet their goals. Things have come into focus for me a little, and I feel positive that the direction they’re headed is one that’s sustainable to be built upon as these young players grow. I do believe they’ll make the playoffs this year, and I believe we will see tremendous growth for them next season. One thing is for certain: I need to take my own advice, and focus on the long term vision for the team. The future is bright.