Looking across the NBA landscape over the past decade, there are teams that have been consistently good and there are teams that have been consistently bad. None, however, have been as excruciatingly mediocre as the Denver Nuggets.
On the surface, their average number of wins per seasons (47) since 2003 appears impressive, but those who have followed the Nuggets know that this team consistently overachieved over that time span, especially since the departure of Carmelo Anthony. This was in no small part due to the coaching of George Karl, who was unfairly scapegoated following their ninth first-round exit in 10 years after the 2012-13 season.
Sure, there is reason to be excited for this upcoming year. The Nuggets boast one of the deepest teams in the league. Brian Shaw is entering his second season and the players appear to have bought into his system. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are two of the more exciting players in the entire league, and Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee are all returning from significant injuries. Rookie Gary Harris is widely considered to be one of the biggest steals in the draft, and he showed everyone why in the Summer League.
Despite all of these positives, realistically this team will be fighting for a No. 8 seed in the overloaded Western Conference, and even that would be considered a successful season.
Let’s assume for a moment that the Nuggets do somehow sneak into the playoffs. Let’s even assume that they somehow scratch and claw their way to a first-round victory against a heavily favored opponent. Is there really any reason for this fanbase to be overly optimistic about this team’s future?
Lawson, arguably the team’s best player, has reached his ceiling. Faried appears to be improving with each passing day, but his game is severely limited on the offensive end. The remainder of the roster is certainly deep, but it’s deep with completely mediocre talent. At what point is Tim Connelly faced with the tough decision to blow this team up, a la Philadelphia 76ers, and rebuild from the ground up?
I think that decision will come sooner than most Nuggets fans are prepared to accept. The Nuggets have not been a destination for free agents, really ever. Given their ability to finish in the middle to upper half of their conference every season, their chances at landing a franchise player through the draft are about as good as my wife giving me a get out of jail free card with Scarlett Johansson.
Really, what other choice do the Nuggets have if they ever truly want to contend for an NBA championship?
It may be painful for this fanbase to accept, given how accustomed it has become to consistent yet completely underwhelming success, but it’s time to brace ourselves for a rocky period of bad basketball.
I see no other choice for this franchise. I, for one, am bracing myself for a return to the late 90s, early 2000s, and I encourage Nuggets Nation to do the same.