Denver Nuggets look to build on success and initial postseason experience
The Denver Nuggets just enjoyed their most successful season in a decade when they made it to a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals. For a team that has prioritized building things in a slow, steady manner and mainly through the draft, having such a successful season bodes well for the team’s young core.
Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are all under 25 years old, while other important rotation players such as Monte Morris and Malik Beasley are both 22 years old. Furthermore, Denver will have Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt vying for rotation minutes next season, and both players are just 20 years old.
"Next year is going to be even better,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “This year was a waking up and coming out party for a lot of guys, so next year will be better for sure.”
This current Nuggets squad was mainly put together through the draft. The core of Jokić, Murray and Harris were all drafted by Denver or acquired in a draft-night trade. Supporting players like Morris and Beasley were also drafted by the Nuggets. Over the years, Denver added several key players through trades and free-agency signings, which allowed the Nuggets to build the current team that won 54 games this past season.
Those trades and signings were all part of the process for the Nuggets’ front office. “We’ve been planning pretty methodically, not trying to skip steps,” said Josh Kroenke, Vice Chairman of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. “That was one of our goals, to be in this position.”
Kroenke continued: “I think we’re in strong footing, even if we don’t make any major moves…I think you’re going to see a top-tier free agent or someone who is looking to switch teams, start to pay attention to the Nuggets. I think we have compelling stories to tell for anybody who wants to chase a title over the next five to six years. I think that’s really exciting because I’m not sure we’ve been in that position before.”
As the Nuggets prepare to build on the 2018-19 campaign, internal growth will continue to be the main focus. With 11 players under contract for next season, Denver will return the majority, if not the entirety of their rotation from the past season, and that continuity should help the team grow together.
"I'm very optimistic,” Porter Jr. said. “This franchise has a lot of years to be a really good franchise, so it's cool to see the young guys growing and hopefully I can grow with them."
As a result of the young talent on the roster, there are very few holes in the rotation that need to be filled with external resources.
“The easy answer is always let's go get player x,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “The challenge sometimes is let's build one of our own players into that player, and we've had countless examples of that, which I think is a testament to the culture we have, a work culture.”
There will likely be a few moving pieces throughout the offseason as there typically is, but what’s clear is that the Nuggets are unified as they work to take the next step as a championship contender. From ownership down to the coaching staff, the Nuggets understand that patience and a consistent vision got them to this point.
“I think continuity is what we’ve hung our hat on,” Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said. “Ownership has been unbelievably patient with all of us. Without that patience, we couldn’t have that slow build to where we are now. If we would have skipped steps, we wouldn’t have set ourselves up for what I hope will be sustained period of success and a real special team.”
While Denver enjoyed more success during the 2018-19 season than it has in any campaign since 2008-09, there isn’t a feeling of complacency hanging over the team. For many, this past season was just the first step in a long process.
“We answered a lot of questions people had about us, but we only strengthened the belief we have in each other,” Malone said. “Our work is not done. We have a lot of work to do and it starts this offseason into next year. We're not satisfied, and that's the best part about it. Not one player, one coach, one member of the front office or ownership is satisfied with the year. We're excited, we're happy, but not satisfied."