For the first time in 47 years, the dusty old cow town at the gateway to the Rocky Mountains has an NBA Championship. Not only did the Nuggets roll through the west for most of the season, they got an assist by the national media who continued to downplay their relevance and provide Michael Malone plenty of the 'chip on the shoulder' ammunition to motivate his players.
After rolling through Minnesota, winning a knuckle fight with the Suns, sweeping the Lakers, and nearly sweeping the Heat on their way to the first championship as a franchise, they have turned the heads of the NBA world and front offices by how different their approach was on their way to a title.
Every owner and general manager has been asking themselves for a few weeks now, is our fanbase patient enough to wait six or seven years for an incredibly optimistic window to open as now has in Denver? Or should we acquire as much star power as possible and don't be afraid to hit the reset button every year or two if it doesn't work?
One of the lines that still reverberates through my head, right before Lisa Salters would get booed by the home crowd for admitting she hadn't seen a Nuggets game in 10 years, was commenting to one player during an interview about how 'incredibly under contract' everybody was going into next season. It is a remarkable place to be as a franchise. You have Nikola Jokic (28) under contract through at least 2027, Jamal Murray (26) under contract through 2025, Michael Porter Jr. (24) under contract through 2027, Aaron Gordon (27) under contract through 2026, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (30) under contract with an option through 2025, and everyone else except Bruce Brown still very much under contract for years to come.
When was the last time a team one a championship and all of the starting players were under contract for at least the next two years? It happens, but its rare. Like Golden State Warriors dynasty of last decade rare - not to mention the age of this Nuggets team is so young that their easily could be a four or five year window open for the Nuggets to be championship favorites. Vegas thinks so as well. The experts in the desert and NBA computer picks models all have Denver as the heavy favorite to repeat next year.
Yes the west has gotten tougher with Beal to the suns, but the last time Kevin Durant won a title was in 2018 with a Golden State juggernaut that Phoenix just isn't. Plus by next season, that run will have been 6 years in the past with a disaster of a stop in Brooklyn along the way.
But look at the difference in philosophy between Denver's approach and Phoenix. Denver has decided to draft well, wait five years for player to mature and develop, keep continuity at the coaching position for at least six or eight years, and have such a patient mindset that a dynasty window is likely wide open for Denver. Michael Malone waited all of nine seconds in the Finals trophy presentation to plant that seed.
Phoenix gets a new owner, ships away half their depth for an over the hill player in Durant who had a dozen or so games to gel with teammates before the playoffs. The suns then get blasted in the second round of the playoffs and decides it's the coaches fault, fire him, and then double down on the strategy all over by trading away depth like Shamet to bring in one more key piece.
In a hypothetical 2024 Western Conference Finals, a Suns/Nuggets matchup would probably be fairly even amongst the starters, with Murray and Booker trading blows, Jokic getting better and Durant getting worse, Beal and Michael Porter Jr also offsetting. But then at the end of the first quarter the bench takes over, and Phoenix has shipped every semblance of talent to the four corners of the earth to get their big three, while the likes of an up-and-coming Christian Braun, and experienced Jeff Green, and half a dozen solid bench players of the Nuggets build margin.
It's hard to say the Phoenix model works. They tried it in 2021 and failed and unless a generational talent such as Lebron or Jordan in their prime is steering the ship, it makes for flashy headlines, lots of points, and face-palms in late May or early June as another playoff run ends without a trophy.
Denver is built to last. They draft well, develop well, and now have a fantastic window wide open. Why? The same philosophy that brought the Rams a Super Bowl in 2022, the Avalanche a Stanley Cup in 2022, and the Nuggets a Championship in 2023. Steady handed, patient ownership of Stan and Josh Kroenke.
Sean McVay has been with the Rams since 2017 and won it all in 2022, Jared Bednar was hired in 2016 by the Avalanche and won it all in 2022, and Michael Malone was hired in 2015 by the Nuggets and won it all in 2023. Now that is a patient owner. An owner who sets vision, allows his coaches to build identity, acquires pieces, and let's it all crescendo without hitting the reset button jerkily every two or three seasons.
It's unfortunate Stan Kroenke is exercising as much patience in the Altitude TV dispute as he has with his coaches and teams, meaning it could be another year of two championship contenting teams the Denver market isn't even able to watch. But who knows, maybe Stan will win that battle of patience as well and completely flip the regional sports television model to the benefit of the fans and the owners. Only time will tell.