clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

For Denver Nuggets fans this is uncharted territory

New, comments

We’re not quite sure what to do with our hands

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure what to make of this upcoming season. I’ve been rocking the gold and some shade of blue for over a quarter century. I can’t claim to know what it was like in Alex English’s heyday, or watching David Thompson skywalk on a nightly basis, but since the days of Deke, Phonz and Mahmoud I’ve been a die hard fan of this team. I feel like I’ve been privileged to run the whole gamut of emotions and expectations with this team. That is, until now.

Head over to the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas and you’ll find the Denver Nuggets at +1600 to win the NBA title, currently the 8th best odds to win it all according to the betting public at least (the Los Angeles Clippers are the current favorites at +350). Our friends overseas at Bovada also have the Nuggets slotted eighth, though they are slightly less bully on Denver at +1800 (Los Angeles Lakers top Bovada’s list at +300). For reference, last season Denver opened at +20,000. In fact you’ll have to go back a full decade to find a time when Denver was viewed more favorably by gamblers (+1500 in 2009/2010) and their mark at the Westgate is the fourth-highest since English hung up his Nuggets jersey. For many fans, dare I even say most fans, this is fairly uncharted territory.

Oh sure, we can point to the high hopes following the Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals run in ‘09 and say we all believed they were contenders to win it all. Let’s be honest though, that would be a bit of a lie. The Lakers were still at the height of the Kobe Bryant/Pau Gasol era. Despite choking against the Orlando Magic in the conference semifinals, the Boston Celtics still boasted a formidable big three, LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers were coming off of a 66 win season, and the San Antonio Spurs were still the Spurs. Homerism was high if you were walking into the Westgate confidently and laying down money on the Nuggets to win the title. This year though, that’s not the case.

For practically a decade it was ludicrous for fans of teams outside of Northern California to even contemplate that their non-LeBron-led squad had much of a shot to come away with the hardware. However, the mighty Golden State Warriors have fallen, done in by injuries and free agency. Their vanquishers, the Toronto Raptors, likewise look like they will take a step back as their champion rent-a-star Kawhi Leonard made for greener ($) pastures in Los Angeles. A myriad of other league-shaking transactions went down and what we’re left with is parity that hasn’t been seen since Michael Jordan took a gambling hiatus (probably didn’t lay down money on the Nuggets to win the Finals). Amidst all the chaos is a Nuggets team who will bring more continuity than any other club in the league this season.

Which brings me back to Deke, Phonz and Mahmoud (Dikembe Mutombo, Laphonso Ellis and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf for the kids). This current iteration of the Nuggets has always reminded me most of that team. Sure, Nikola Jokic could’t be more different in terms of playing style to Mutombo, and there’s not really a synonymous player on this team to Ellis, but the overall theme is there: young, talented, homegrown and making noise. Yet still it’s not quite the same. Fans in the early 90s were robbed of getting to see that young core rise to contender status due to a confluence of strange developments. Ellis broke his kneecap in a pick-up game during the offseason following the Nuggets historic 1994 playoff run. Two seasons later Denver traded Abdul-Rauf after he became embroiled in controversy for refusing to stand for the national anthem and shortly thereafter Mutombo left in an offseason that almost rivals this year’s for NBA roster fluidity. Two seasons is all it took to completely dismantle that promising core. The Nuggets’ championship aspirations never got off the launch pad. Barring a serious case of NuggLife, this current group should fare much better.

Part of that of course has to do with that new found parity in the league but more of it has to do with just how good this team can be. Jokic is a legitimate superstar in this league and the rarest kind. Not only is he a dominant force that every team can hope only to contain, he’s also completely selfless. That combination makes Jokic exactly the type of player all championship teams need: the one who raises all boats. Supported by established young sidekicks like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, able to lean on the veteran savvy and defensive prowess of Paul Millsap and soon to be bolstered by new additions to the rotation Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr, Jokic is the straw that stirs a drink stronger than when you tip your bartender an extra five spot. Are they the favorites? Of course not. Odds-on favorites are created in the betting world by public perception and no one on the Nuggets has the flashiness of LeBron and Anthony Davis or Kawhi and Paul George, but make no mistake this team is a championship contender.

Which leaves us Nuggets fans still trying to figure out just exactly what to do. NuggLife has been ingrained in us since that ‘94 core fell apart. It’s been a rite of passage, a battle cry of a downtrodden fanbase. It’s also not unlike my three year old: long overdue to be put to bed. So we will march into this unknown undoubtedly cautious for disaster to strike but more importantly with hopes and dreams that can’t be outright dismissed as crazy or drinking blue and yellow kool-aid. We’re about to embark on something very special, complete with the intoxication of new experiences otherwise foreign to our quarter-century routine. Hope and expectations are an intoxicating cocktail. I can’t think of a better group to share it with. It’s good to be back.