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Has Nuggets Ownership Shifted the NBA Model?

A Patient Owner Goes a Long Way

For the first time in 47 years, the dusty old cow town at the foot of the Rockies has an NBA Championship. The Nuggets ownership and front office built a team that rolled through the west for most of the season. They also got an assist by the national media who continued to downplay their relevance.  This provided Coach Michael Malone plenty of the ‘chip on the shoulder’ ammunition to motivate his players.

After rolling through Minnesota, winning a bloody knuckle fight with the Suns, sweeping the Lakers, and nearly sweeping the Heat in route to their first championship, the Nuggets have front offices around the league intrigued by the different route they took to Finals champs than many others in the last 20 years. Every owner and GM has been asking themselves for a few weeks now, is our fan base patient enough to wait seven years for a championship window? Or should we continue to acquire as much star power as possible? And if it doesn’t work hit the reset button every few years.

Under Contract

One of the lines of the NBA Finals still reverberates through my head. It came right before Lisa Salters got booed by the home crowd. When was the last time an announcer got booed? Salters admitted earlier she hadn’t seen a Nuggets game in 10 years, fitting she was on the same broadcast team as Mark Jackson. Salters was commenting in a player interview how ‘incredibly under contract’ everybody is going into next season. It’s a remarkable place to be as a franchise. The Nuggets 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 the other major role players except Bruce Brown still very much under contract for years to come.

When is the last time a championship team the starters under contract for at least the next two years? It happens, but it’s rare. Like Golden State Warriors dynasty of last decade rare. Not to mention the Nuggets are so young a four or five year window is now open. Vegas thinks so as well. The experts in the desert and several NBA Computer Picks models all have Denver as heavy favorite to repeat next year.

How Will the Beal Trade Age?

Yes the west has gotten tougher with Bradley Beal to the suns. But keep in mind Kevin Durant last won a title in 2018 with a Golden State juggernaut Phoenix just isn’t. By next season, Durant’s run will be 6 years in the past with a disaster stop in Brooklyn along the way.

Look at the difference in philosophy between Denver’s approach and Phoenix’s. Denver has decided to draft well, wait up to five years for players to mature and develop, and add a piece when necessary. Meanwhile they’ve kept continuity at the coaching position for eight years and exercise such patience that a dynasty window is wide open for Denver. Michael Malone waited all of nine seconds during the Finals trophy presentation to plant that seed.

Phoenix conversely gets a new owner, ships away half their depth for an arguably over the hill player in Durant who had a mere dozen games to gel with teammates before the playoffs. The Suns proceeded to get blasted in the second round and decide it’s the coach’s fault. They proceed to fire Monty Williams, and double down on the strategy all over again by trading away depth like Landry Shamet to bring in one more key piece.

2024 Western Conference Finals Preview

How do the best NBA handicappers see the west next year? In a hypothetical 2024 Western Conference Finals, a Suns/Nuggets match up would likely be fairly even amongst the starters. Assume Murray and Devin Booker trade blows, Jokic gets the better of Durant, and Beal and Porter Jr. offset. But as the benches takes over, every semblance of talent Phoenix has is gone. Meanwhile the likes of an up-and-coming Christian Braun, and half a dozen other solid bench players on the Nuggets probably build margin.

It’s hard to say the Phoenix model works unless a generational talent such as Lebron James or Michael Jordan in their prime is steering the ship. The star power model does make for flashy headlines, points, and ticket sales. But it might not be the future after what the Nuggets and Bucks have shown recently.

Has Nuggets Ownership Built a Team to Last?

Denver seems built to last. They draft well, develop well, and now have a fantastic championship 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.

The Rams hired Sean McVay in 2017 and won it all in 2022. The Avalanche hired Jared Bednar in 2016 and won it all in 2022. And the Nuggets hired Michael Malone in 2015 and won it all in 2023. Now that is a patient owner. An owner who sets the vision and allows his coaches to build identity. An owner who has subtly placed all of his professional franchises at the top of their respective leagues according to experts. One who slowly acquires pieces and let’s it all crescendo without hitting the reset button every two or three seasons after adversity.

It’s unfortunate Stan Kroenke is exercising as much patience in the Altitude TV dispute.  For two seasons now the majority of the Denver market hasn’t been able to see the games locally. Probably the reason he heard boos during the Finals trophy presentation. But who knows, maybe Kroenke will win a battle of patience in the regional TV market as well. The optimum would be to flip the TV model to the benefit of the fans and the owners. Only time will tell. In the meantime, it’s hard to say Denver doesn’t have a great opportunity ahead. One well-renowned AI Sports Betting model has Denver as a favorite to repeat next year. All are built from patient Nuggets ownership who have shown a successful model across three major sports.

How has the Offseason Treated the Nuggets?

Only time will tell, but Calvin Booth has made a few low-key moves this offseason to bolster another Nuggets title run. First, a frenzy of trades before and early on in the draft landed the Nuggets with three rookies, Julian Strawther from Gonzaga, Jalen Pickett from Penn State, and Hunter Tyson from Clemson. Several experts are very high on Tyson especially coming out of the draft. So far, things are looking good. Hunter Tyson specifically has put up solid numbers early on in summer league, including averaging nearly 22 points and six rebounds on 58% shooting.

The Nuggets also signed guard Justin Holiday to add some depth, but the impact of losing Bruce Brown and Jeff Green is to be determined. Expect Christian Braun to have an expanded role in the 2024 campaign. Braun got significant playing minutes in the playoffs and Finals, and helped provide a spark and energy to Denver to put them into the win column. Several models have Braun not only replacing Brown in minutes, but possibly having an expanded role. Don’t expect Braun to start with a healthy starting five, but off the bench he is certainly a weapon.

Denver is tracking to repeat, and making a series of subtle moves and acquisitions during the offseason to position themselves for a second title. Time and injuries will tell, but Denver has the best player on the planet in Jokic, the best starting five on the planet, and is well positioned to repeat in the 2023-2024 season.