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Denver Nuggets Basketball: A Mile High

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The stars are aligning for a team that has long had trouble in that department

Just got it on t-shirt.

I had never been grounded until I was 14. The fact that I managed to get grounded for the entire summer showed how badly I mucked it up.

The school year was about to close out, and my mom had decided to take a weekend out of town. I was not the most popular kid, and wanted to do something about it. So I mentioned to a more popular friend that my house would be adult-free that weekend. I made about 80 new friends by Friday night.

96 hours later, my mom had come home early (I’m a spectacularly bad liar), and all of my partying compatriots had left me with a half-wrecked house, a lot of cleanup, and a summer stretch to think about my decision. When I got to school on Monday, it took about two hours to figure out that I had made exactly zero new friends. Spectacular. That night, I was bemoaning my poor thinking to my father, who had a life-changing piece of advice for me.

“Your life is going to get a whole lot happier when you make your own circle and stop trying to be a part of everybody else’s.”

He was right. Things were never the same after that.

Your Denver Nuggets were rarely on any superstar’s preferred destination list, with the team always reaching out to incorporate parts of someone else’s circle into their own, usually being politely acknowledged if not outright rebuffed. The list of stars who have chosen to sign in Denver is amazingly short compared to destinations that have things like glamour or beaches or tax breaks. Or glamour and beaches and tax breaks. Our flyover city may as well have been a bypass for all of the success the Nuggets typically had in attracting new friends to the party. Paul Millsap was arguably the biggest Nuggets signing since Kenyon Martin.

So, the Nuggets went out and (primarily) made a circle of their own, via the draft. A few years later, Mile High Basketball is exactly that. Local and national observers are noticing there’s a culture shift in Denver, and out of the blue, Denver seems to be getting to be a more and more attractive place to play. Stiffs chief Adam Mares had a really entertaining podcast on Monday, calling out the fact that very few NBA teams seem to be having much fun these days, while your Denver Nuggets are simply having a blast. Here are a few cross-sections of just how appealing it suddenly seems to be to be a part of Nuggets Nation.

One of the primary architects of that draft was recently re-signed Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly. Connelly was on Sports Radio 104.3 earlier this month, talking about where the team had been just a few years back:

“You know, we were in a really bad place a few years ago, and we wanted to be brutally honest (with ourselves). So we said, ‘let’s recalibrate and go with a certain type of guy.’ But your best-laid plans in sports still often go out the window as it’s such a fluid environment. So I’d be lying to you if I said I knew this was going to happen. Do this, and take this step, and your 41st pick is going to become an All-Star, and Monte Morris is going to play like the Sixth Man of the Year...

The only conscious decision on our part is to say: Let’s find self-motivated, basketball-loving guys who love to compete. Guys who can fit in culturally, both with their team and the city... That was how we built.”

Connelly went on to talk about how tough it has often been for the Nuggets to get into conversations with top-tier free agents:

“I’ll admit, I was ignorant as to what Denver was before I moved here, you know, I was bringing the parka and ready with my snowshoes. I didn’t know it was going to be 55 degrees four days a week in January and February.

I think what is neat right now about our team is also reflective of the city. The city has become one of the most vibrant cities in the country, you go anywhere, even New York or L.A., people find out you that you live in Denver they immediately say it’s great. I think it’s a young, vibrant city with a very strong, hardcore hoops fanbase, and we’re bringing them back out. Because frankly, we didn’t deserve them for several years.”

Now, just as Denver gets to be a “cooler” place, our team has had more success. I don’t know how you wouldn’t want to play with Nikola Jokic. He’s the anti-superstar. Hates attention, doesn’t care if scores. I think his (basketball) IQ is one of the top three in the NBA.

I think all of those things are kind of converging. We’ve had conversations in the past three years that we couldn’t have had four or five years ago. We have agents reach out to us, and say, “My guy really likes Denver.” This is the same agent I had trouble getting on the phone a few years ago, they didn’t want to hear from me or trade for my guy.”

Connelly spoke to how the long-term plans were starting to coalesce:

“We thought our best way to make it attractive and build it was through the draft. Now we have had a bunch of guys get here and love it.”

It shows, even in what the Nuggets players under the brightest lights have to say. Jokic recently spoke of his affinity for the idea of sticking around in Denver, saying his career arc could have the permanence of one of the all-time greats:

Isaiah Thomas also spoke of his recent experience in Denver after the Pepsi Center fans roared after his first made three:

“That was big. Even when I first came into the game, I didn’t expect a standing ovation like that, so... I thanks my fans first and foremost, but the fans of the Denver Nuggets, I mean... this organization and fanbase is amazing, and I’m glad to put on a Denver Nuggets uniform.”

Player after player will tell you of their affinity for the team and place alike. Even a guy who is absolutely not currently recruiting for another team has some admiration for the gent who is the Denver Nuggets head coach (quote at 2:45)

Speaking of, head coach Michael Malone has also made some longer term plans after inking a new contract of his own, and has often spoken of his affinity for what the Nuggets organization has built and his love of both the players and front office. Coach seems to love the place as well, from this 2016 quote:

“This may sound corny or weird, but where we live in Highlands Ranch is a beautiful development with these great trails. I love getting out there on my mountain bike, running, or hiking, and just getting away. The natural beauty out here is something I’m not used to where I’m from. You look out your door, and you see the Rocky Mountains, and it’s just amazing.”

A stunningly beautiful and booming place. A young, deep, selfless, happy, cohesive, and recently healthy basketball team that’s taking off like a rocket. A growing hardcore fan base. Locks on your front office, All-Star coach, All-Star center, and magma-hot core for the foreseeable future. Apparently folks now want to be a part of the circle that Denver has created. Mile High Basketball, indeed.

Poll

The Denver Nuggets have the brightest near-term future of any team in the league:

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Yes, and I’m primarily a Nuggets fan
    (283 votes)
  • 4%
    Yes, and I’m primarily a fan of another team
    (15 votes)
  • 5%
    No, and I’m a primarily a Nuggets fan
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    No, and I’m primarily a fan of another team
    (1 vote)
318 votes total Vote Now