Paul Millsap is a Game-Changer for the Nuggets

As a kid, if you ever had dinner with your extended family on Thanksgiving or Christmas, then you know the drill. Adults and teens get to sit at the big table, while you get relegated to the kids table with maybe a sibling and a couple of your cousins. Not that there’s anything wrong with the kids table. It’s about your height and you don’t have a clue what those adults are talking about anyway, but it’s clear that you aren’t deemed ready to move up until the adults say you are.

Going after NBA free agents is kind of like that. Some teams have no intention of pursuing top players on the market, but the ones that do and are unsuccessful learn a harsh lesson very quickly: until those players take an interest in your team and are ready to sit down with you, there’s no way you’re moving up from the kids table. That’s the reality of doing business in a league where the stars run the show. 

That’s been the Nuggets’ reality for basically their entire existence, and an obstacle they’ve spent the last few years trying like hell to overcome. During an offseason where superstars believe that their manifest destiny is out west and are joining forces left and right, the Nuggets simply could not hope to compete if they struck out in free agency.

Which is why signing Paul Millsap is arguably the biggest acquisition in franchise history.

Millsap’s arrival in Denver was a homecoming of sorts. As a kid who grew up in Montbello, it was like the prodigal son had finally returned. And during his introductory pressconference at his old school, Millsap said all the right things and looked genuinely excited to be back. But it was a quote from Tim Connolly that grabbed my attention.

At one point, Connolly looked at Millsap and said, “Thank you for taking the leap of faith.”

To me, that speaks volumes. Not just because Millsap picked the Nuggets as his next team, but how Connolly acknowledged the rarity of this whole situation. He may as well have said, “Thanks for letting me have a seat at the big table, Paul. And can you please pass the turkey?”

Millsap saw something in the Nuggets, and he was willing to bet the last years of his prime on the Nuggets not just surviving the bloodbath that is the Western Conference, but on thriving. That isn’t lost on anyone. Not on the Nuggets and certainly not on the rest of the league. If Millsap’s presence turns the Nuggets into a playoff team on the rise, it won’t be the last time they are invited to the big table. 

And there’s no question that he will improve the Nuggets. Yes, they are still flawed. Yes, there are enough power forwards on the roster for the entire Northwest Division. Hopefully Connolly isn’t so starstruck by Millsap that he forgets to finish consolidating the roster, but regardless, the pride of Montbello has made the upcoming season an increasingly exciting one for Nuggets fans. And with any luck, our days of being stuck at the kids table are coming to an end.

So thanks, Paul. And hey, would you please pass the stuffing?

How the Nuggets Can Beat the Warriors in Three Years

If we learned anything from the NBA Finals, other than the fact that the Warriors won the championship the minute that Kevin Durant signed on the dotted line, it’s that the way that teams are constructed has fundamentally changed. After years of Lebron James recruiting his all-star friends to South Beach and Cleveland, and then the Warriors following suit, it’s pretty obvious that the era of the superteam is not going away anytime soon.

The top players in the NBA know that they can’t hope to take down Golden State without a star-studded supporting cast. That gives guys like Chris Paul a lot of leverage when they hit free agency, because the team they choose to sign with will look a lot more attractive down the line to future free agents.

And that’s tricky for the Nuggets, because they’ve always had a difficult time convincing marquee players to break bread with them. While the rumored meeting with Paul this summer and the actual meeting with Dwyane Wade last summer is a sign that things could be changing on that front, there’s no way the Nuggets will ever sell any big time free agents on Denver, right? Building a superteam here is a pipe dream. Or is it…

I’ve been pestering Kevin lately with a variety of ways that the Nuggets can do just that. And while some paths are more viable than others, I enjoy presenting him with as many of them as possible. If you can’t text your friend in the middle of the workday about your next idea for turning the Nuggets into a superpower, then why have friends or run a blog with one of them?

And it turns out we have enough material for a column. Take a look at all my clever plots, followed by Kevin’s reactions.

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Time To Let the Nuggets Back Into Your Lives

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.

Until now.

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Depleted Nuggets Can’t Get Out of their Own Way

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.

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Nuggets Playing the Long Game After Flirting with Wade

The Nuggets’ courtship of disgruntled and declining superstar Dwyane Wade was curious, to say the least. Not only did Wade represent an odd fit into a crowded and youthful backcourt, but it was pretty obvious to everyone, including Kevin and I, that Wade never had any intention of taking what’s left of his knees to Denver. He simply used the Nuggets as leverage to land a better deal with the team he really wanted to go to, which most of us thought was the Heat but actually turned out to be the Bulls.

Just to make sure that there were no hard feelings, Wade did send out this tweet to show his gratitude for the Nuggets’ interest in him. “Sorry guys, but I only want to be friends with you.”

On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time that a top free agent even agreed to sit down with the Nuggets brass, much less entertain an offer from them. So should we be upset that D-Wade spurned us to play for his hometown team?

Eh, not really. Hit the jump and I’ll tell you why.

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Are the Nuggets Stuck in Basketball Purgatory?

Since I am living in Cleveland at the moment I decided to make a deal with Jesse. I’m jumping on the Cleveland Cavaliers bandwagon until either A. I move away from Cleveland or B. The Denver Nuggets make the playoffs. Since I’m only planning on staying in Cleveland for 2 years it looks like the former option will come first.

Why such a gloom analysis of a young Nuggets team? It’s simple really, the Nuggets have been stuck in purgatory. No, not the place where everyone hung out in season 6 of LOST (spoilers?) and not the place your Catholic Priest says dead babies go to. No, they are stuck in basketball purgatory which is the worst place to be in the NBA.

You see in basketball, unlike other some other sports, you are only as good as your best player (unless your team is coached by George Karl and your best player is Ty Lawson (!!) and you somehow manage to beat the franchise record for most wins in a season but even then your team decides to clean house and start over because…reasons??) Rarely does a team sustain success without a (or three) star player.

Don’t believe me? Why don’t we turn to the best player in the NBA over the last 13 seasons, LeBron James. For years this dude dragged some terrible basketball teams to the playoffs, one year he even dragged them to the Finals! Eventually he saw the rival Boston Celtics gather three superstars on their way to two Finals appearances. James decided this was a good idea and found himself some superstar teammates in Miami.

If the greatest player since Michael Jordan decides he needs more superstars in order to be successful in the NBA then it stands to reason that is the best path for any team right?

Now this is where it gets tricky. To get a superstar you have three options: hope your team either wins the NBA Draft Lottery, woos a superstar in free agency or trades for one.

And how do you win the Lottery? You play really, really bad and get a little lucky. Don’t want to tank? Well then you better hope you have a superstar on your roster in order to attract that other superstar to your team because he is not signing without one or two. Don’t have a superstar and you don’t want to tank? Well I hope you have accumulated a ton of assets. Even that’s probably not enough. You also need a superstar somewhere in the league that is upset with his current situation (like how Melo was upset that Denver wasn’t New York).

So there you have it. It’s easy right? If you don’t have at least one superstar, get one, and then get some more. And there are many avenues to do that right? It’s so simple. Except it’s not. Sometimes teams get stuck in the middle. They aren’t any good and have no shot at competing for a championship. But they also aren’t incredibly bad either. This middle ground is pretty infuriating as a basketball fan. You want your team to make moves to get better but those moves come with a lot of risk. You feel destined to forever be the team that easily miss the playoffs but not quite bad enough to have a real shot at the lottery. You start feeling jealous of teams that are tanking. You look at their 12 win season and you imagine what it must be like to have hope for your future. It’s a dark place really.

Which leads me to where the Nuggets have been the last few seasons. Purgatory. They haven’t been bad enough to tank a season (and were too stubborn to do so under Brian Shaw). They haven’t had a superstar built in to attract another to sign here. And while they’ve had some attractive assets thanks to the Melo trade there hasn’t been a good opportunity to trade for a superstar.

As we go into the offseason I can’t help but wonder, are the people in charge of the Nuggets ready to take this team to the next level? Or are they happy moving sideways in purgatory?

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Denver Sports Weekly Update with Pegboards: 2/20/15

Another week of Denver sports is in the books. Let’s look at the week gone by and the week ahead.

Denver Nuggets:

Despite the All-Star Break, the Nuggets were plenty busy. While no games were played the Nuggets had their hands full making trades.

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