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The strange case of Nuggets coverage in Denver

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If the Nuggets make the playoffs but no reporters cover it, did it happen?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Two things are true about the Denver Nuggets this coming season: they should be good, and most of Denver will hear very little about it until football season is over.

The Nuggets are an up-and-coming team. Debates about whether Nikola Jokic is better than Kristaps Porzingis rage, with Nuggets fans scoffing that some other team's bright young prospect is even in the same league as theirs. It's been a while since that happened. Jamal Murray is on the rumored short-list of young pieces the Cavs would accept for four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving - and a large segment of fans think Murray will be better in a year and would not do the deal. Meanwhile, Murray isn't even the best under-23 guard on the Nuggets' roster right now. That honor belongs to Gary Harris, who says little but studies hard and just keeps getting better.

Multiple young pieces including future All-Star Jokic, gathered from all over the globe, are now paired with some quality veterans and now perhaps the most under-rated All-Star of his generation in Paul Millsap. But instead of media types flooding to cover the team, they are fleeing it like rats on the Titanic.

Last year Chris Dempsey left the Denver Post for Altitude Sports, essentially becoming an embedded reporter for the team. Dempsey had been with the Post since 2003. The Post replaced him with the younger Nick Kosmider, but otherwise it seemed like business as usual.

Last week, Kosmider also left the Nuggets beat to focus on (of course) the Denver Broncos. His replacement? Currently no one.

The Nuggets are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a young team expected to make the playoffs, led by a budding superstar in Nikola Jokic who headed up the top-rated offense in the league with him in the starting lineup, and the Denver Post just sent their Nuggets beat writer onto the Broncos beat. Kosmider stated he would "still write hoops here and there" which brings up another question: would the Post run with only casual coverage of the Nuggets until after the NFL season is over for the Broncos? It seems possible. (A source with the Denver Post has said that they will have a full time beat reporter covering the Nuggets by the time training camp opens).

104.3 The Fan let most of its non-football personnel go and its on-air talent has been openly derisive of any interest in the Nuggets. An entire radio station went over to 24/7 Broncos coverage with the team co-owning that source. Altitude Radio, meanwhile, co-opted some of the talent around Denver (in addition to Chris Dempsey) and built the only legitimate all-sport radio network in Colorado. As a Kroenke-owned station that makes plenty of sense: its boss owns several of those sports teams. Mile High Sports has also remained dedicated to full-sports coverage (AM 1340 shoutout) but for other significant outlets to ignore several major sports is disappointing.

The Denver Broncos are eternally the kings of this town, so their coverage is understandable. Unfortunately, there's no way a majority-Nuggets station would drive traffic and their TV ratings reflect that issue. Altitude's cable Nielsen ratings were no great in 2015 according to the Post and continued to bottom out as of the first half of 2017, per the Sports Business Journal. While there are polls suggesting the majority of fans consider regional sports networks more important than any other non-broadcast channel, it doesn’t appear as though Altitude TV has been able to capitalize on that with the Nuggets over recent years.

The Nuggets were posting a 0.58 rating in February, cutting already harsh numbers by nearly 40% and ranking as the second-worst mark for any NBA team ahead of only the Nets in the first half of the 2016-17 season. How do the Nuggets hype this playoff-caliber team with little media attention and abominable viewership totals? It’s tough sledding, and something that may have to be done on the court rather than off it. If the Nuggets create a compelling on-court product word will leak out regardless of media apathy.

Attendance is normally a trailing indicator of team performance, so don’t be surprised if the Pepsi Center remains half-full for a while. The Nuggets start out with 5 of their first 7 games on the road this year, so home momentum may be late-blooming as well. Even so, the city of Denver is poised to have year-round sports relevance again with the Rockies having their best season in years and the Nuggets filling in the gaps around whatever mess the Broncos are making of their quarterback position.

And we’ll also be here making sure some of those media coverage gaps are filled. This season should be a playoffs-or-bust return for the Nuggets, with some electric play from one of the league’s top offenses. If other outlets aren’t interested that’s their loss - but that doesn’t mean fans have to miss out too.