30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Nuggets primed to defend 1st championship

Losing valuable reserve Bruce Brown hurts, but Denver remains stacked and has Nikola Jokic at the helm.

Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the Nuggets enter this season in unfamiliar territory as defending NBA champions.

Key additions

  • G-F Julian Strawther (draft), F Hunter Tyson (draft)

Key subtractions

  • F Bruce Brown, F Jeff Green, C Thomas Bryant

Last season

The first NBA championship in Nuggets history was secured when Nikola Jokic delivered another Kia NBA MVP-level performance — for a third straight year, though he didn’t win the award this time — and had help from a supporting cast that was finally healthy. 

Jamal Murray was stellar in the playoffs after missing more than a season with a knee injury, averaging 26.1 points per game. Michael Porter Jr. shot 41.4% on 3-pointers in the regular season after overcoming back issues. They joined Jokic and Aaron Gordon, the team’s best defensive player, to form a nucleus that wouldn’t be denied.

They also had help from key newcomers Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown as well as from others who chipped in with timely efforts. This came as a sigh of relief in Denver and, had the Nuggets been this healthy the previous few seasons, who knows?

The constant was Jokic, who once again made a strong case for being the best player on the planet. He was too skillful, too clever and ultimately too determined not to let this opportunity slip by him. Well, a third straight MVP did escape him. But the Finals MVP trophy was a rewarding consolation prize.

Summer summary

The champagne was still wet when Nuggets coach Michael Malone, riding the mountain high, told fans gathered for the championship parade that “Brucie B” wasn’t going anywhere.

That was wishful thinking. Or more to the point, that was the alcohol talking. The Nuggets, handcuffed by the salary cap, couldn’t blow Brown away with an extension. So it was just a matter of where, not if, Brown would land after skipping town with ring in hand to get his bag. 

Just two summers ago, the free agent money dried up around the league and Brown was an odd man out. The best he could do was mid-level type money, and players in those situations frequently sign short-term deals with a contending team. That’s precisely what Brown did in 2022, a two-year contract with the second year as an option, and bet on himself.

He won big, both figuratively and literally. He was an important piece of a championship team, opted out of his deal and took the Indiana Pacers’ millions. It worked out well for him. 

It worked out also for the Nuggets, because this team is still in fine shape and doesn’t require any significant upgrades. Besides, players such as Christian Braun are ready to compete for a meatier role in 2023-24. The Nuggets did re-sign Reggie Jackson to keep a veteran guard in the rotation, but that was the extent of their moves outside of the Draft.

Speaking of that, they added a pair who’ll likely be put through the player development pipeline in Strawther and Tyson. Strawther had a solid career at Gonzaga and brings some of the elements that Brown provided. Tyson, a physical 6-foot-8 big, had a solid Summer League showing and could at some point push for minutes if his the success translates to the regular season. 

At some point the Nuggets will need to extend Murray, but otherwise this team had no serious issues that needed addressing this summer. 

Look, when you’re the defending champions, the offseason is mostly spent in peace while your competitors are busy making moves to chase you. The Nuggets couldn’t keep Brown. But they’re hardly down.

Up next: Phoenix Suns | Previously: Minnesota Timberwolves

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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