Yesterday my wonderful colleague Jeremy detailed the Nuggets 2011-12 season outlook in a post titled, How Good Can the Denver Nuggets Be? In it he expressed his concern over how this year’s team would play without a “chip” on its shoulder, without enough good defensive players in addition to how the Nuggets would be affected by losing Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler to the Chinese Basketball Association. In the end Jeremy stated, “For Nuggets fans who could not stomach the thought of rebuilding, you got your wish. They will be a playoff team for the foreseeable future, but I fear that is all they will be.” Though this may be true, I’m here to tell you why that may not be such a bad thing after all.
Long-tenured Nuggets fans need to stop living in the past. I’ve echoed this sentiment many times since my arrival here and Roundball Mining Co. I understand the history of this franchise and the years of ineptitude featuring horrible nightmares that became reality when players like Raef LaFrentz, Tony Battie, Nikoloz Tskitishvili were selected ahead of Amare Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer, Luis Scola, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Rashard Lewis and Tracy McGrady. But the thing that perplexes me is why, after all these years of botched draft picks, Nuggets fans still actually want to revisit this place of misery just for the chance of maybe, if you’re really lucky, landing a top pick in a historical draft class.
Have Nuggets fans forgotten how many years of pain and anguish they had to endure before thankfully landing Carmelo Anthony in 2003?
Prior to Melo’s arrival in the early part of the past decade, the Denver Nuggets hadn’t had a winning season in 10 years. Ten years!!! That was all supposed to be “rebuilding,” am I right? That was supposed to be the quick, “suck for a few years in order to land the next Tim Duncan then we’ll be poised to win a title” plan, correct? Well what happened? What took so long? More importantly, where were all of you when this “rebuilding” was going on? I’m sure each and every one of you rushed home from work weaving in and out of traffic so that you could catch the Nuggets losing by double-digits on a nightly basis. I know every year that ushered in another sub-30-win season brought countless, treasured moments of joy and happiness into your lives. I’m sure that, come November and during the holidays, you couldn’t wait to drop a couple hundred dollars on Nuggets merchandise that you could proudly wear out in public in honor of your favorite losing basketball team.
Losing sucks. Nobody likes it, nobody aims for it in professional sports. In fact, if you do, I wouldn’t even call you a sports fan. I don’t care if you’re this year’s version of the Indianapolis Colts and you’ve got a chance to land what’s perceived to be the best quarterback since, ironically the one on your own roster, in Peyton Manning. If you’re hoping to lose, then you’re going against the very essence of what sports are about. If you want to lose, you should just pack up your stuff, move to Vegas and settle down for a life of monotonous slot-pulling, deserted casino-wondering, green clear-cup alcohol-drinking loneliness.
Me, I like to win. I’ve enjoyed this past seven years in Nuggets history and I don’t think I necessarily want to relinquish this glory simply because Carmelo Anthony went and got all “Mr. Big City” on us. No, I’m ready to continue winning. And you should be too. Because thankfully, for the first time in Denver Nuggets’ existence, we have a front office that can deliver us excellence year in and year out. And the very thought of tanking it, is a slap in their face.
Last summer when Masai Ujiri joined the Nuggets he walked into a living room with a geyser spouting through the roof. Most people would have panicked. They would have run to the phone, called the plumper and sat on their porch despondent and terrified of all the water damage. But Masai was, and still is, a different breed. When he walked into a jet stream of perilous force he took matters into his own hands. Of course, he knew at some point he’d have to call the plumber, but he immediately rushed to his tool kit, gathered up his necessary materials needed to stop the leak and got down to work reducing its potency. He couldn’t stop the flooding entirely and for a while things continued to get wet. But in the end he chose to do something about it and instead of having to “rebuild” an entire house because the damage was so bad, he was able to salvage most of his possessions and in the process somehow convinced insurance to give him the funds neccesary to remodel his entire living room.
That’s the type of guy Masai Ujiri is, and it’s an insult to him, his values and beliefs to expect him not to do his job and let Carmelo Anthony, the Creative Arts Agency goons and that geyser of his get the best of him. We should be thankful a million times over to have a general manager of his clout running this team, on our side, as we watch him pull one amazing maneuver after another. Now, after multiple different “fixes” Masai has again put us in a position to succeed, and most importantly, he did it when all the odds were against him, when there was virtually no sign of hope.
What Masai Ujiri has essentially done over the past calender year is erase countless seasons of futility we would have suffered through the “rebuilding” process and it baffles me how anybody could not be incredibly thankful for this shortcut. Instead of having to lose in order to get a top pick in the draft, Masai has allowed us to win and still retain this possibility. That is something only the very best general managers in sports are capable of doing. Because of his shrewd business complex, the Nuggets now have enough pieces to put together a trade for that “superstar” everyone seems so googly-eyed over.
But perhaps the one aspect of rebuilding people seem to consistently undervalue time and time again, is luck. Jeremy, of all people, knows this best as he put together an excellent piece not too long ago that expanded on the intricacies of fortune its omnipotent control over the NBA. It’s a single ping pong ball, knee injury or group of collegiate athletes that each year, more than anything, determines the success of a franchise. And while one lucky team perennially gets that coveted bounce, snap or crop, a dozen or so other teams pony up for yet another long year of “rebuilding” in hopes of being that one special team 365 days later.
This year it’s Anthony Davis. Oooohhh, Anthony Davis. Long, athletic, a near-7-footer, defensive-minded — he’s it. He’s what it’s all about, right? He’s what Nuggets fans who want to rebuild are salivating over, regardless of how miniscule our chances really are of landing him. But that’s alright because you guys are the Vegas types. Unfavorable odds are what you live for.
But boy do I have some news for you. I-I-I don’t know how to say this, but… that Anthony Davis guy… the one you want to dedicate years of frustration and failure for… he’s actually not what you think. You see, that’s kind of the problem, the whole antithesis of this entire “rebuilding” plan. He’s not the next Tim Duncan nor Hakeem Olajuwon. I mean, I hate to break your hearts and everything, but he’s actually more like the next Marcus Camby or Tyson Chandler. But hey! He’s still gonna be a member of the Denver Nuggets and primary cornerstone of the franchise forever right? Right!? RIGHT!?!?!
Well, we’re rebuilding, remember? So by now, Nene’s gone. Who’s to say what ever ended up with Afflalo. That guy is a winner and he doesn’t want to stick around for the rebuilding processes. OK, but at least we have Marcus Camby locked down for the foreseeable future. I mean, he’s not exactly the guy we all thought he would be but we’ll surely win a title with him down the road anyways. But… by the time he’s challenging for an All-Star spot who knows what will have happened to Ty and Danilo Gallinari!?! Those guys also like to win and I wouldn’t be surprised if they exercised their qualifying offer in order to become an unrestricted free agent and rid themselves of this losing mentality for good. Then where would be? Right back to square one?!? Rebuilding AGAIN?!? I guess people don’t really want to stick around during this whole rebuilding stint do they? Whether it be fans, players owners or whoever else. Because when it doesn’t work, when this dream scenario of intentionally losing to secure the next Kobe Bryant doesn’t actually work out the way you intended, it’s kind of a disaster. The type of disaster that can lose you a franchise forever…
Back to reality, and speaking of Kobe Bryant, did you know he was actually selected 13th overall instead of going top five? But that’s not even the real kicker. The funny thing is, on draft day, he didn’t want to go to a franchise with a losing culture so instead forced a trade to a different franchise with a history of winning, one that possessed assets that enabled it to move up in the draft and trade for him. Those two teams who exchanged that infamous draft-day deal were the Los Angeles Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets.
So I ask you Nuggets fans: Who do you want to be? Do you want to be the Charlotte Hornets, a team that’s no longer even in it’s original location and was forced to move because it chose to “rebuild” one year too many, or would rather be the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with stalactites made of championship banners and stones on their fingers carved out of excellence?
Look, we’re obviously not ever going to bet he Lakers, but you understand the parallel I’m making about building a winning culture and capitalizing on it by trading up in the draft if necessary to secure that next great shooting guard or power forward. The point is, losing intentionally for one year is the recipe for losing perpetually. Building a franchise entrenched with success only further increases your chances of continuing that success forever. Don’t blame Masai Ujiri for doing his job. Don’t hold the fact that he wants to succeed against him. Anthony Davis isn’t going to win a a championship for you, but Jeremy Lamb — currently projected to be a mid-lottery pick — definitely could if surrounded by a talented squad like the Nuggets. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to lose in order to win. And though everyone’s goal is to one day win a championship, realistically very few teams ever actually reach this pantheon of greatness. What sports are really about is consistency and maintaining a winning mentality, after year, after year. Sure, we’ll likely have a few seasons where we finish as a five-seed, but I promise you that if we continue pushing forward striving for perfection we’ll eventually maximize the return on our assets and reach that beloved goal of winning a championship that we all collectively dream about.
If you’re still not convinced, Vegas is calling.