More than any other sport, being a fan of a basketball team is a lot like being in a relationship. Relevance in the NBA is predicated upon individual star power, so if your team has a star you tend to grow a lot more attached to him than you would for a football or baseball player. Don’t believe me? Just look at how Lebron James turned the entire city of Cleveland into a legion of jealous ex-wives when he bolted for South Beach. They burned his jersey, cursed his name and only granted him visitation rights a couple of times a season (and only because that was out of their control). Ultimately, the pain wasn’t alleviated until Lebron wanted to come back, and Cleveland was more than ready to get back together with him. Oklahoma City may say they’ll never forgive Kevin Durant, but I bet they would too if given the chance.
It sounds weird, I know, but let’s look at Denver’s last basketball marriage. Carmelo Anthony broke all of our hearts very much in the same manner, except instead of chasing a title like Lebron did, Melo just wanted to be another rich guy in New York. I was texting Kevin yesterday and we found ourselves talking about this very subject (no, there’s nothing strange about that!), then he summed up our seven-year relationship with Melo in two sentences: “It was just a marriage with one sided love. We are still recovering from that.”
If you used to follow the Nuggets but have largely ignored them for the past few years, that’s probably why in a nutshell. When Melo packed up all his shit and left in the dead of night, we carried on as best we could afterward. Even had a couple of pretty entertaining seasons while we tried to forget about him. But things bottomed out. The Nuggets faded back into irrelevance and we looked on in envy at all the other happy cities with their own superstars. There hasn’t been much hope that we would ever truly recover.
About a month ago, I predicted that this would be the year that the Denver Nuggets made it back to the playoffs. That despite their stacked division and the absence of a star, this would be the year that Michael Malone started to make good on the promise of his talented young roster.
About a quarter of the way through the season, you would probably look at the Nuggets’ 8-13 record and guffaw. “Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs, Jesse! Not when it comes to the Nuggets!”
I’ll admit, things haven’t started out as well as I’d hoped they would. Maybe I oversold the Nuggets’ chances or I’m just a supremely bad judge of the sort of components that comprise a winning basketball team (the latter could always be true). However, though the 2016-17 voyage has been rocky thus far for the hometown team, I believe that the flaws that are currently holding them down can be erased sooner rather than later. Let’s go over those and I’ll tell you why.
A few years ago, I bought NBA 2K13 and Kevin and I started an Association Mode with his brother-in-law Josh. We wanted to play as the Denver Nuggets, but even more importantly wanted to have a star player on the team. Unable to swing a trade in the game without the computer completely pilfering all of our talent, I simply changed the rosters so that James Harden was on the Nuggets (2K13 came out just after Harden was dealt to Houston and before the whole world found out that he doesn’t play defense). We embarked on an odyssey that saw our team claim four straight championships and establish a modern day dynasty. Alright, maybe we didn’t change the difficulty until year two or three, but that’s beside the point.
If all of that sounds rather corny, then it was the best kind of corny. When your favorite team doesn’t have a star or even a clue in real life, you know that you’re never going to see them hoist Larry O’Brien. You’re still intrigued by the drama of the playoffs and admire from afar when Lebron James finally gets Cleveland to the promised land, but it’s not your team basking in the champagne and the confetti. It’s just not the same. That’s why playing out the fantasy of the Nuggets actually being relevant in the landscape of the NBA was so satisfying. More than any of my teams, I want them to be the next one to break through that glass ceiling.
And I honestly can’t tell you why I care so much about the Nuggets. Sure, they’ve been around for 50 years but have never even advanced to the NBA Finals. Denver isn’t a particularly lucrative basketball market and the last time it had a star, Carmelo Anthony wanted to leave so bad he was willing to fade into obscurity with the Knicks just so he could get away. Most importantly, to say that I personally lack game is an understatement. The bricks that I put up when I’m foolish enough to take shots are an insult to actual bricks. Much like dating, there is often no rational reason for why you fall in love with a certain team. It just happens.
The point of all this is that the Nuggets start their 2016-17 season tonight and I’m here to make you a promise. Maybe I’m losing my mind (always a possibility) or maybe I have my blinders on, but here it is: I promise that the Nuggets will be back in the playoffs this season. Not only will they be back, but they’ll be well-equipped to be a real nuisance once they get there. You read that right. If you don’t think I’m a complete lunatic, hit the jump and I’ll explain.