Well Nuggets fans, the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally upon us with the Nuggets opening their preseason stint on the road against the Golden State Warriors tonight at 6:30 pm at Oracle Arena. It’s as good a time as any for the refurbished roster to cut their teeth on the defending champs to see how they measure up after few months of rest and training.
The Nuggets starting lineup is yet to be officially determined, and coach Mike Malone will likely experiment with a few different options before committing to any set list for the season. The staples will (probably) include Gary Harris at shooting guard, Wilson Chandler at small forward, Paul Millsap at power forward, and Nikola Jokic at center. Jameer Nelson, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray will likely cycle through the point guard position to determine the best fit with Jamal Murray as an option for both the 1 & 2 positions.
My fellow Denver Stiffs did a killer job covering Nuggets media day, and as I watched and listened to player interviews I began to think about all the incredible talent this team has in their portfolio. As Mason Plumlee said, on paper it’s all there—the Nuggets just have to put it together. Nikola Jokic is a phenomenon, and combining his talent with Paul Millsap will hopefully be the jolt the Nuggets need to make into the playoffs.
However, not everyone seems to share the same perspective. It only makes sense that competitive young athletes would battle for their spot on the starting lineup, but all of that energy needs to be tempered with what’s actually best for the team as a whole. And, it’s not easy to get on board when what you want doesn’t align with the direction your role is headed.
I recently visited the French Riviera, and had the pleasure of visiting Monaco while I was there. You may or may not know that American movie star Grace Kelly married Prince Albert Rainier III in 1956 leaving her family and acting career behind to take on duties as the Princess of Monaco. Princess Grace reportedly struggled mightily with the change, and even considered divorce, but chose to stay for the sake of her children.
It was only when she embraced her new role that she was able to successfully assist in brokering peace between Monaco and France during a time when France nearly took over ruler ship in Monaco as tensions over taxation were mounting. She gave up acting completely to put all her efforts into being the best leader she could be in her position, and to this day the people of Monaco love her dearly. In the church where she is buried, she’s the only member of the family with flowers on her grave.
I share this story to highlight a few key things the Nuggets need to straighten out before the season gets going, and I take my inspiration mainly from Kenneth Faried’s candid interview about his role on the team.
First, Faried described how Coach George Karl always made it clear what each player’s role on the team would be. With the off season roster changes there will naturally be a period of uncertainty as players work to earn their positions, but it’s the responsibility of Coach Mike Malone to clearly identify where each person fits in the big picture of the team. That clarity needs to come very early on in the season so that the team can get all their wheels rolling in the same direction and hopefully develop some momentum.
Faried described his excitement for the upcoming season stating that when he looks at the Nuggets he sees a team of guys who are ready to play. He then went on to give his opinion about the possibility of him coming off the bench.
I will put this out there for everybody to know. I’m not a bench player. I’ve been saying that for the longest. I’m a starter...I’m going to fight for my starting position, I’m not just going to lay down and let somebody take it, but if they give it to him (Millsap) I can’t control that...If this team doesn’t respect me enough to play me the minutes that I’m going to play or that I think I deserve to play then I understand that. There’s 29 others (teams) maybe I will go somewhere else.
While this passion is necessary for any athlete to be successful, this attitude is the type of thing that tears teams apart. Instead of working together toward the playoffs and a title, they work against each other with the goal of self promotion. I respect that Faried will fight for his minutes, and he absolutely should do that, but his attitude should be focused on doing what’s right for the team—no matter what that is.
Compare this with Mason Plumlee’s comments on officially signing a contract with the Nuggets.
I’m very excited about it, I’m very grateful. I shook hands with Stan (Kroenke) and thanked him. It’s a great opportunity, it’s a responsibility, it’s something that I look forward to...as long as I’m here.
Plumlee will also come off the bench for Jokic, and while he hasn’t been with the Nuggets organization for very long, he appears to have accepted his role and is excited to work as hard as he can to contribute his best while he’s in that role. It’s this type of cooperative maturity that creates an environment for teams to succeed fairly quickly.
As many players compete for different positions on the Nuggets this year, everyone will need to keep a sharp focus on the big picture. That is, what’s best for the organization as a whole. While it may be difficult to swallow pride and accept something that they don’t see as ideal, it may just be the thing the team needs to be on their road to a championship.
Before the Kevin Durant era, the Warriors would not have won a title without the contribution of Andre Iguodala off the bench. The same can be said of many different teams around the league who have relied on a strong bench to support the starting lineup.
Faried is a huge part of the Nuggets organization, and if he’s able to adjust to a new role he could be a foundational piece of their success moving forward. Time will tell if egos will get in the way of success, but if the team agrees to adopt the right attitude I believe they will make the playoffs this season with a real chance of making it past the first round. If they’re able to accomplish that together, the sky is the limit.