Denver Nuggets embracing NBA title aspirations
What a difference a year makes.
Entering last season’s Media Day, the Nuggets were focused on putting heartbreak behind them and ending a five-year postseason drought. On Monday, it was clear the expectations are a lot higher for this campaign.
"A championship should be our goal,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said in his press conference. “Our goal should not be to get back to the Western Conference semifinals. Our goal should not be to just get to the Finals because you'd be selling yourself short. Yes, it's a lofty goal. But I want our guys to have a championship mentality.”
The trickle-down effect of Malone’s comments appeared to be evident in the Nuggets locker room as several players spoke confidently about bringing the Larry O'Brien trophy to the Mile High City.
“Why couldn’t we [win the title],” Gary Harris said. “That’s our mentality. With the way the NBA is, I feel like everything is up for grabs right now.”
The 25-year-old Harris, the longest-tenured Nuggets, entering his sixth season, has been in Denver since the start of the team’s rebuild that eventually saw Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap join him and help form its core. He’s seen the team go from winning 30 games his rookie year to tying the second-highest win total in franchise history last season with 54 victories.
“Playoffs that was the most fun any of us had had,” Harris said. “So, it’s like we want to get back to the playoffs. We’re not satisfied [with what we did last season].”
After years of being out of the playoff picture, Harris appreciates the Nuggets having some pressure this season.
“You want to have expectations,” Harris said. “We want to expect to go far. We want people to expect us to be a good team. We’re not trying to shy away from anything.”
He added, “We have a team that caught a lot of people by surprise last season. People thought we could be good but didn’t really know [about us]. We know we can be there. We’re not shying away from that. We’re going to compete and battle and go against the best of them.”
Harris wasn’t the only Nugget who was bullish on the team’s chances this season.
Malik Beasley, Harris’s backup at shooting guard, also agreed.
“[There are] championship expectations,” Beasley said. “We had a lot of experience last year, two Game 7s and we’re all young. That was huge for us to be thrown into the fire. Each year, we improve every year. So, having the same team, having the same core is a blessing. I think we’re going to run away with that.”
Although there is plenty of excitement over the team’s chances, some players took more of a measured approach in discussing how far the Nuggets can go this season.
“We won’t be surprising anyone,” Will Barton said. “We have to accept and embrace that challenge now that we’re respected as a good team, a dangerous team in the league. So, we have to be ready to take team’s best shots from the beginning.”
But overall, based on Monday’s sentiments, the Nuggets are happy to project some confidence heading into the season. The normally-reserved Paul Millsap is looking forward to this campaign. After playing on several playoff teams throughout his 14-year career, he believes this group could be on the verge of something special this year.
“This year, I’ve got a stacked team. I’ve got a lot of young guys who are ready for this moment,” Millsap said. “So that gives me confidence and gives me an edge over the last few teams that I played for…I think we can overcome any of those situations [other contending teams].”
Millsap then said, “I think as far as talent-wise [this is the best team I’ve played on], for sure.”