A great team is only as strong as its weakest link. At least that’s the consensus among every motivational coach I’ve ever heard. But for the sake of this space, it’s true for NBA contenders as well. I’ll examine the weak spots in some of the most iron-clad lineups in the NBA entering the 2023 season from upper-echelon teams stuck with recycled players playing vital roles to cardboard cutout coaches.
To be honest, the Denver Nuggets have fewer holes than The Pentagon. The weakest part of this team is their monotony. Their pursuit of a repeat NBA title begins next week on their home floor against the Los Angeles Lakers. A championship banner will be raised and then eyes will be squarely focused on the future. I’m more concerned that they’ll be ignored again. During the playoffs, Denver took issue with how little they were covered by the national media. The Nuggets are a hoophead’s dream. I personally think they’re great, but there’s a whole wide world out there who cares about the dramaturgical aspect of the league.
The Nikola Jokić-Joel Embiid tensions have cooled and it’s now unlikely that they’ll meet in an NBA Finals next summer. However, the possibility of internal drama abounds. Eventually, continued success leads to credit, which leads to incentives both commercially and financially, and the intrusive thoughts begin to win. Once they tap into those emotions, the Nuggets work their way into the national zeitgeist. Let’s break down how it could happen.
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Jokić is playing up his stoicism and apathy again. It’s only the second week of training camp and Jokić is obsessed with his horsies. Do the Dallas Mavericks have the early running lead in the Jokić 2027 sweepstakes?
Maybe Jokić is a lost cause. He’s too established now to enter a Tragic Johnson stage of his career and blame Malone for playoff setbacks. The time for that was in 2022. Jokić doesn’t even speak to the media in more than four syllables. Does he even know who Shams Charania is? He’s so interesting that columnists waxed poetically about his drawers. My best-case scenario is that his growing penchant for kickball violations gets out of hand until it becomes the NBA equivalent of Philadelphia’s Tush Push.
Murray and Jokić share the ball willingly and have never had to endure a “who’s taking the last shot?” debate. There’s a slither of hope that Murray starts dating a Jenner, focuses more on his brand, and begins chucking uncharacteristically bad shots in an effort to qualify for an All-NBA team by getting his numbers up.
Murray and Aaron Gordon aren’t up for contract extensions until 2025. The second title chase in 2024 is that sweet spot in team chemistry where everyone is content, but also up for the challenge of proving they can do it again. Next season is where egos begin to inflate and the luxury repeater tax begins to eat away at everyone’s nerves. Can the Nuggets afford to re-up with a forward whose value is partially related to his bounce as he encroaches on his 30th birthday? On Maslow’s Basketball Hierarchy of Needs, Gordon might be expendable. But I’m not waiting a whole year.
The only method to shake this team up is to gin up drama from general manager Calvin Booth. The Ringer’s hoophead Kevin O’Connor got the previously milquetoast Booth to accidentally fire shots at Bones Hyland, who hasn’t been a Nugget since the trade deadline, and got too real about Michael Porter Jr. Loose lips sink ships and Booth seems eager to be seen as a player evaluation genius, going as far as to tell O’Connor that he believes the Nuggets can win three or four titles. He’s shown faith in his draft capabilities at the expense of surrounding his starters with veteran depth. That wound up lacerating the Warriors and hastened Bob Myers’ demise. It’s a tougher shot than Luke aiming for the thermal exhaust port, but there’s an opening there.
Denver pretends to be frustrated as the ghost in the NBA’s media machine whom few see or speak about, but they don’t want to play the game. That’s too bad. They didn’t make a monster trade this offseason like Phoenix or Milwaukee, nor did they thrust themselves into trade discussions all summer like Miami. Maybe they realize they’ve fallen behind and Booth starts throwing names around in texts to Woj. They don’t even have to execute a trade, but throw a little chum in the water.
There’s not even a controversial figure around the organization. At least the Warriors have given us a decade of Draymond Green abusing officials, “involuntarily” kicking defenders, and trying to get away with whatever he possibly could. Could Calvin Booth shake things up by trading for Pat Beverley?
The Lakers are no strangers to internal and external distractions are the closest thing to a nuisance. The Nuggets live rent-free in the Lakers’ minds, which is actually a lucky break for two reasons. For one, because the cost of living in Los Angeles is out of hand, and secondly this isn’t really a rivalry. Once again, the Nuggets are so uninteresting to casuals that there’s been a concerted effort by the lamestream sports media to insert L.A. into Denver’s moment in the sun.
The roots of this verbal hostilities date back to Conference Finals when every Lakers adjustment after a loss was portrayed as a brilliant move. Denver felt some type of way about getting squeezed out of the attention economy and it showed. Michael Malone was introduced at Denver’s championship parade as the Lakers daddy, even though they’d just beaten the Miami Heat in the Finals.
The Lakers took notice. Darvin Ham responded by saying, “God bless his soul,” Ham said. “This s— ain’t over. God bless his soul.”LeBron announced he was irked on IG. When asked about it this month, Malone feigned ignorance instead of egging it on. I hate when a juicy storyline gets snuffed out so abruptly. The Denver Nuggets must have been assigned the writer’s of some artsy fartsy Best Picture nominee where the plot is a slow painful burn before the average viewer receives a payoff.
This ostensible rivalry should end just like Winning Time did, with Los Angeles getting humbled. The Lakers got swept better than most teams do. But LeBron is a year older, and unless Anthony Davis turns into Karl-Anthony Towns behind the arc as well, they are merely a pebble rattling around in the Nuggets gears.
Denver can learn a little something from the Philadelphia 76ers. The NBA’s messiest team decided to spend their training camp at Colorado State’s Moby Arena. A team that has trademarked the public implosion, sought wisdom from an iconic earthbender who slings dirt with the best of them. Philly brought in none other than messy maestro Deion Sanders to speak to their team during training camp and all he did was spill tea by calling Embiid out for sitting out a late-season clash with Jokić. Why hasn’t Denver tapped into the Deion scandal cottage industry?!!!
He should be courtside for as many home games as possible, waving towels around, showing recruits the type of access he can give them, dapping up players, and stealing more TV time from a seat (or suite) than Taylor Swift or Drake.