Playoffs are fast approaching and league drama is starting to heat up as teams work to maintain, or capture, their post-season position. It’s certainly been a tough week for Nuggets nation, and tensions are at an all time high for the season. In case you missed it, here are some highlights of the drama in this week’s installment of the Stiff List.
Jusuf Nurkic wishes the Nuggets a “happy summer”
By now you’ve probably heard that the Portland Trail Blazers stole the 8th playoff seed from the Nuggets this week. Adding insult to injury, the Nuggets then lost to Portland on Tuesday. Jusuf Nurkic, who was traded to Portland for Mason Plumlee in February, commented on his new team’s win by wishing the Nuggets a happy summer.
Now, it’s evident that Nurk isn’t the most mature guy around, but this really burns. I’m always a fan of taking the high road, and I really think this type of comment is unbecoming. Furthermore, it’s going to make him that much more of a target from Nuggets fans if (and when) he starts to face challenges. Congratulations to Nurkic on his recent success, but the fact that he’s playing well in Portland when he quit on Denver is a tough pill to swallow.
Devin Booker with 70 points
Some of you are going disagree with me here, but listen, Devin Booker’s 70 point game isn’t THAT cool. Let me tell you why. First, and foremost, the Boston Celtics had control of that game and held a very comfortable lead for the entire game. The Suns only had 3 players in double figures compared to the Celtics who had 5. That means the ball wasn’t moving on the Suns’ offense because Booker was taking most/all of the shots. Also, it wasn’t as though Booker was having an incredible night in terms of shooting percentage. He shot 52% from the field and 36% from three which is respectable, but nothing special. He did go 92% from the free throw line and was able to make 24 out of 26 attempts which is pretty fantastic, but again this means he had the ball most/all of the time.
Bottom line is the Suns didn’t really play team basketball in that game. They were more interested in putting on the Devin Booker show, and ended up losing the game. The team even posed for a picture with Booker after the game celebrating his 70 points. We’ve all seen incredible numbers on losing teams from Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins. If the star player of any team scores 70 and that team loses, there’s a problem.
LeBron James publicly calls out his teammates
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Denver Nuggets in epic fashion last week, and LeBron James was not happy with his team’s performance. Speaking to the media after the game, James called out his team’s toughness suggesting they didn’t play as physical as they should have. He was then asked how he felt about his own performance, and he explained that while he had opportunities to play better he always brings toughness to each game—ouch.
The Cavs have been struggling lately going just 5 &5 in the last 10 games, they’re currently on a two game losing streak, and just barely hanging on to the 1st seed in the East. Perhaps James’ comments have exposed a deeper problem in Cleveland. A leader who shirks personal accountability while publicly criticizing their team is no leader at all.
Too much heat on Mike Malone
As I mentioned earlier, tensions are incredibly high for Nuggets nation right now. The Nuggs just got (basically) knocked out of the playoff running by a team that’s sure to be a bitter rival for the foreseeable future, and players are calling out the coach to the media. While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the subject of how to coach and develop an NBA team, I do know a thing or two about building a successful organization and team structure.
From experience, I will tell you that part of being successful is navigating through setbacks and learning to do so without freaking out. In fact, setbacks can even be a sign of progress. Think back to when you were young and beginning to feel the physical pains of getting taller.
The moral of the story here is that we need to chill. This is only Malone’s second season coaching the Nuggets, and with such a young group of guys it’s going to take some time to get things moving in the right direction. Yes, they’re struggling with consistency, but we’ve all seen the incredible team they can be. As the players get more time in the league, with their coach, and with each other the inconsistency will begin to fade away.
Now, it’s possible that time will reveal that Malone isn’t the right fit, but it’s important for the Nuggets organization to give him and the players the opportunity to work through their challenges. Any successful business person will tell you that the path to success is not a straight upward line—it looks more like the picture below. If the Nuggets stay together and stay the course they will find the success they’ve been working so hard for.