A bit of caution before we delve into the point of this column:
Lasting power in the NBA, or any major professional sports league for that matter, is fickle. Injuries happen. Players disappoint. Eyes wander. Owners are forced to sell. Handguns are brandished on Instagram Live. Not too long ago, we were pondering the potential dynasties of the Grizzlies, Suns and Sixers. Now we’re asking if they should break it up.
With that being said, the Nuggets, undoubtedly bound for the franchise’s first NBA Finals after handing LeBron an insurmountable 3-0 series deficit, deserve our attention. Not just for the 2023 title, but as the team to beat for the next three seasons.
Nikola Jokic, at 28 years old and devoid of any major injuries in his career (playing low to the ground has the benefit of saving ligaments), is already the second best player in the NBA, below only Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is signed until 2028.
Three other starters – Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon – are under contract through at least the next two seasons. Denver’s Core 4 is all between 24 and 28 years old, their physical prime.
The fifth starter and probably least important in the lineup – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – is locked up through next season. He’s 30.
Add in a top level head coach with stability, Michael Malone, and you have the ingredients for continued success. Malone, a Queens native, is already the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NBA after Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr. He has support from the important people – Jokic and owner Stan Kroenke – and an eye for offensive innovation.
Stability is important on the sideline. Counter the Nuggets to their equivalent in the East — the Celtics, who have a rookie head coach, two cornerstone players approaching free agency and a deficit in the conference finals — and you can see why Denver’s situation is probably the league’s most enviable.
They’re set up for sustainability. It’s also a lesson in patience since a more impulsive front office might’ve forced changes after last year’s elimination in the opening round.
Instead, the franchise kept course. Murray and Porter Jr. got healthy. Gordon settled into his role. Jokic leveled up. Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown became astute acquisitions for GM Calvin Booth.
Now the Nuggets, the top seed in the West, is one win from the Finals and prepped for beyond. The irony is their rallying cry for the playoffs is about being overlooked, as Malone regurgitated after the Game 2 win.
“You win Game 1 of the playoffs and all everybody talked about was the Lakers,” the coach said. “Let’s be honest. That was the national narrative, ‘Hey, the Lakers are fine. They’re down 1-0, but they figured something out.’ No one talked Nikola just had a historic performance. The narrative wasn’t about the Nuggets, the narrative wasn’t about Nikola. The narrative was about the Lakers and their adjustments. So you put that in your pipe, you smoke it, and you come back and you know what? We’re gonna go up 2-0.”
There’s something to Malone’s comment. The media naturally gravitates to the Lakers. They’re the NBA’s marquee franchise and employ its marquee star.
Until this run, the Nuggets were a small-market underachiever in the playoffs. Now we can see the path to multiple championships.
Source: Berkshire mont