Since I am living in Cleveland at the moment I decided to make a deal with Jesse. I’m jumping on the Cleveland Cavaliers bandwagon until either A. I move away from Cleveland or B. The Denver Nuggets make the playoffs. Since I’m only planning on staying in Cleveland for 2 years it looks like the former option will come first.
Why such a gloom analysis of a young Nuggets team? It’s simple really, the Nuggets have been stuck in purgatory. No, not the place where everyone hung out in season 6 of LOST (spoilers?) and not the place your Catholic Priest says dead babies go to. No, they are stuck in basketball purgatory which is the worst place to be in the NBA.
You see in basketball, unlike other some other sports, you are only as good as your best player (unless your team is coached by George Karl and your best player is Ty Lawson (!!) and you somehow manage to beat the franchise record for most wins in a season but even then your team decides to clean house and start over because…reasons??) Rarely does a team sustain success without a (or three) star player.
Don’t believe me? Why don’t we turn to the best player in the NBA over the last 13 seasons, LeBron James. For years this dude dragged some terrible basketball teams to the playoffs, one year he even dragged them to the Finals! Eventually he saw the rival Boston Celtics gather three superstars on their way to two Finals appearances. James decided this was a good idea and found himself some superstar teammates in Miami.
If the greatest player since Michael Jordan decides he needs more superstars in order to be successful in the NBA then it stands to reason that is the best path for any team right?
Now this is where it gets tricky. To get a superstar you have three options: hope your team either wins the NBA Draft Lottery, woos a superstar in free agency or trades for one.
And how do you win the Lottery? You play really, really bad and get a little lucky. Don’t want to tank? Well then you better hope you have a superstar on your roster in order to attract that other superstar to your team because he is not signing without one or two. Don’t have a superstar and you don’t want to tank? Well I hope you have accumulated a ton of assets. Even that’s probably not enough. You also need a superstar somewhere in the league that is upset with his current situation (like how Melo was upset that Denver wasn’t New York).
So there you have it. It’s easy right? If you don’t have at least one superstar, get one, and then get some more. And there are many avenues to do that right? It’s so simple. Except it’s not. Sometimes teams get stuck in the middle. They aren’t any good and have no shot at competing for a championship. But they also aren’t incredibly bad either. This middle ground is pretty infuriating as a basketball fan. You want your team to make moves to get better but those moves come with a lot of risk. You feel destined to forever be the team that easily miss the playoffs but not quite bad enough to have a real shot at the lottery. You start feeling jealous of teams that are tanking. You look at their 12 win season and you imagine what it must be like to have hope for your future. It’s a dark place really.
Which leads me to where the Nuggets have been the last few seasons. Purgatory. They haven’t been bad enough to tank a season (and were too stubborn to do so under Brian Shaw). They haven’t had a superstar built in to attract another to sign here. And while they’ve had some attractive assets thanks to the Melo trade there hasn’t been a good opportunity to trade for a superstar.
As we go into the offseason I can’t help but wonder, are the people in charge of the Nuggets ready to take this team to the next level? Or are they happy moving sideways in purgatory?