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A pivotal off season for the Nuggets

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The future hinges on this summer’s decisions.

At a conference recently, we were asked to think back and identify pivotal points where we made a personal change for the better or learned something profound that changed the way we approached our day to day lives.

These types of life-altering transitions don’t happen often so it’s easy to come up with a handful of things that have shaped who we are, and where we are now.

Perhaps it was a focus on diet and exercise that has allowed you to experience better health, or maybe it was an intentional effort to have work-life balance that brought joy to your family and decreased your stress levels.

Whatever it may be, we all have pivotal points in our lives that we (hopefully) look back on with gratitude toward ourselves for making the right decisions.

Watching the great LeBron James muscle his way into his 8th consecutive NBA Finals this week, I had the same thought about him. Sure, 8 times in the Finals may seem like no big deal, and when you’re The King it’s expected that you’ll rise above all odds to make it through.

But, as reigning champ Stephen Curry said when he was asked if a 4th Finals appearance still meant something he said, “Yes. Because it’s really hard.”

In the past, it can be argued that James relied on his own super team to help him achieve his championship goals and given that basketball is a team sport I don’t begrudge him for it. He was able to recruit and lead multiple teams to victory in very short periods of time as he grew in skill and maturity throughout his career.

At 33 years old, he’s coming up on the sunset years of his career, and it seemed as though he might be losing his grip this season. The Cavs got off to a very bumpy start to begin the year, and at the trade deadline in February, they practically turned over their entire roster in an effort to dissolve the team drama taking place.

Getting rid of the drama proved effective, but James was faced with the ominous task of taking a very green bench and turning them into a championship team. We all know that trust and leadership take time to build, and while James has done a fine job with the limited time he’s had with his new recruits, only so much can be done.

So, in kingly fashion, James has carried his team through the Eastern Conference playoffs this year showing everyone that it doesn’t matter who he has playing around him—he can get the job done. Much unlike Carmelo Anthony who always finds someone to blame his lack of success on, but I digress.

James has proven the doubters (present party included) wrong, and he’s pressing forward full-steam-ahead to take on the Warriors without fear.

So, why is this year any more special than the last 7?

Because, this year James really is charged with shouldering the lion’s share of the burden. He’s going up against the best team in the world who has a deep bench of shooters and defenders to pick from. He’s facing the challenge with a motley crew, and only a small number of experienced teammates to rely on when a championship mindset is the only thing that can sway a win.

Win or lose, this particular Finals will (in my opinion) shape the remainder of his career. I believe we will either see him rise to an entirely new level that none of us have ever seen before, or this will be the beginning of a steady decline for The King as he makes his way into retirement.

I feel similarly about where the Denver Nuggets are at this point in their growth process. The coming off season will prove pivotal for the team as they continue to take shape. If Denver can offload some salary space in the form of a Kenneth Faried trade and somehow find something to do with Darrell Arthur perhaps they will have the cash to keep Torrey Craig around—and they need Craig’s ability to defend. With the 14th pick in this year’s draft, they need to find another two-way player to bring in some talent that can hit the ground running on defense to help secure some more wins and capitalize on a playoff appearance.

If they somehow fail to make smart moves (and this is quite possible based on what we’ve seen in the past) in the offseason, the Nuggets could find themselves fighting to keep good players in Denver when they come of age for free agency.

It all comes down to what happens in the coming summer months. The Nuggets have the opportunity to be an incredible team, but there is little margin for error. For the first time in a few years they are on the brink of something truly special, and I hope to see them treat this pivotal time with the seriousness it needs to become something the team looks back on with fondness.