I talked about it ad-nauseam before the season began, into the season and up to the playoffs. I spoke about it at length on my podcast and even in guest spots on radio shows. In private with people in the NBA I commiserated about it.

What Calvin Booth, Tommy Balcetis and the newly aligned Denver Nuggets management were attempting to do was unprecedented in NBA History. To back-fill a full third of your roster with first and second year players — while still having an in-his-prime Superstar — immediately after you won an NBA title was groundbreaking, audacious and a-historical. It flew in the face of every precedent set in 75 years of the league. The Nuggets were attempting to become the one’s who set the new mold.

The conditions set by an NBA who is bound and determined to manufacture parity into the league with each subsequent Collective Bargaining Agreement meant a different approach needed to happen. Depress your chances for a repeat title to develop “older drafted players” and youth so that you can grab another title in one to two years time down the road. Flatten the curve so you get more glory down the line. Become a San Antonio-esque ‘sort of’ dynasty of occasional titles, not two/three in a row like the 90’s Chicago Bulls, the 00’s Los Angeles Lakers or even the 2010’s Golden State Warriors.

Maybe the CBA has all but guaranteed the time of dynasties is over? Maybe we are missing the forest for the trees and the Nuggets running up against the exhaustion wall against the Minnesota Timberwolves was just part of that new reality? However, as this season played out it became more and more clear the Nuggets approach was going to butt up against several realities you can’t test in a lab or run a simulation for.

Human nature, competitiveness, a difference in mentality and burn out combining to give the Denver Nuggets the worst of all worlds


Anyone who has spent even a moment’s time around Nuggets Head Coach Michael Malone could tell you there are some truisms about him: Hot headed, stubborn, extremely competitive and very emotional. Many of these were on dramatic display in the second half of Sunday’s Game Seven and even after the game. It’s exactly zero of these traits that would lead one to believe that he would be on board with sacrificing win totals in order to develop a very youthful back end of the roster.

There is a case to be made that seeding matters less now in that we are in the league mandated parity era. One only has to look at the Western Conference Finals with the three seeded Timberwolves and the five seed Dallas Mavericks. In this way Calvin Booth could have been correct in his approach to this season because NFL style parity is beginning to creep it’s way into the NBA.

On the other hand it was head scratchingly naive to expect someone like Malone, who Booth has spent about 6 years around, to suddenly not be … well … HIM. I don’t know of many coaches who just won a championship that are comfortable with taking a step back and have the patience to develop rookies. Old rookies are still rookies. Christian Braun received increased minutes through his rookie year because he played well AND he was surrounded by veterans off the bench like Bruce Brown and Jeff Green. When you increase the balance of youth to roster you lose that safety net and some coaches end up relying on their starters even more.

It’s not about who was on the roster insomuch as it was the proportion. The veteran to youth quotient increased in the favor of youth this year as Booth signed three drafted players to guaranteed deals (Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, Hunter Tyson) along with second year players Braun, Petyon Watson and Colin Gillespie (two way deal). Six of the 18 roster spots were devoted to first and second year players. The team replaced two veterans with three rookies, essentially (plus Justin Holiday).

I’m certain — psychologically and caving to human nature — Malone looked at the roster as the year progressed and thought that he couldn’t rely on the rookies and young guys (Watson’s minutes decreased and wasn’t able to crack the rotation at all against the Timberwolves despite an ok series versus the Lakers). Rather than sacrifice wins he chose to play the starters more and more down the stretch and into the playoffs. Culminating in an exhausted Nuggets blowing a 20 point lead in the second half in Game Seven when they lost all energy. Resting Jokic a bit while you had a 20 point lead might have been a good thing to do.

Booth, it seems, made a titanic mistake of investment in Zeke Nnaji who was given $8 million per year to keep the bench warm. A massive misinvestment that contributed to front court exhaustion by game seven. Nnaji just never contributed in a way that was ever impactful outside of a handful of games in the NBA doldrums of December and January. You can’t be devoting money to someone who won’t contribute … ‘asset management’ be damned.

Much of this has, inevitably, led to conversation about the alignment of Booth and Malone visa vie expectations versus development. Even Kevin O’Connor wrote another missive about it. There is one factor that got completely lost in this entire debate that must be accounted for is very simple and upon reflection shocking it hasn’t been the first thing discussed. The effect on Nikola Jokic, your superstar, and how far can the Nuggets afford to kick the can down the line?


It didn’t go unnoticed by me that Nikola Jokic was very complimentary of former Team President Tim Connelly and what he has built with the Timberwolves. To be frank it’s always been known that Jokic was close with Connelly, the man who drafted him and painstakingly built most of the team that won the Championship last season that Booth added the finishing touches to. He reiterated that praise after game seven.

He very specifically mentioned that the Wolves were “built to beat us.” Now, I don’t believe that Nikola Jokic is a message sending type of person but there’s some real truth to what Jokic said. Connelly, who knows this roster better than anyone outside the Nuggets in the league, built the Wolves roster with the Nuggets in mind. Countering Jokic as much as it’s possible to do while building a great defensive team with one great offensive player in Anthony Edwards.

Maybe the Nuggets should be paying more attention to what Nikola Jokic thinks they need rather than having philosophical slap fights about development versus winning that appears to be going on between Booth and Malone. There is ONE person in the Nuggets organization who’s sway and opinion matters over all else and that is the superstar that you shouldn’t take for granted in Jokic. He is telling you the Wolves are built to beat the Nuggets. So maybe heeding his words is the way to go?

A realignment needs to happen within the Denver Nuggets and it’s not between Malone and Booth. The alignment needs to be with Nikola Jokic, period. Everything needs to be laser focused on maximizing JOKIC. Not investment in your pet picks. Not trying to exhaust your players into getting that higher seed or winning an extra few games. You have your superstar go out and maximize around HIM. You have entire organizational philosophies centered around beating Jokic and your team. This aint about you, this is about Jokic.

Maximize him before you burn him out. The clock starts now. Don’t waste any more years of Jokic’s prime.