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Call them Joker and the Misfits.
Rather than a championship contender on the rise, the Nuggets look more like a roster of mismatched parts. While center Nikola Jokic is playing like a legit MVP candidate, Denver is wasting his efforts. Too often, Joker’s teammates not only appear out of sync but as if they don’t particularly enjoy coming to work.
After yet another game in which the Nuggets played as if late for bedtime, a discouraging 125-112 loss to Milwaukee on Monday night dropped Denver to a totally unacceptable 5-6 home record and far closer to out of the playoff bracket than atop the Western Conference standings.
Where does this team need to improve?
“Everywhere,” said point guard Jamal Murray, not one to mince words.
More than 30% into a season impacted by the coronavirus, the Nuggets are contenders for nothing except being the NBA’s biggest flop of 2021.
Know what’s sad?
The Lakers celebrated a championship by bolstering their roster, the Bucks went all-in to win a ring with Giannis Antetokounmpo and teams from Utah to Phoenix got better. Upon finishing their run to the conference finals, the Nuggets decided they were tired, sat on the sofa and rationalized the trade price for guard Jrue Holiday was too high and nothing could be done about forward Jerami Grant bolting to Detroit in free agency.
Well, that’s a bunch of loser’s mentality hooey.
In pro sports, if you don’t spend every waking hour in an effort to get better, you’re not only losing ground but begging to get your butt kicked.
Anybody checked the NBA standings lately? No matter how many triple-doubles are in Jokic’s bag of tricks, he won’t be the MVP if Denver runs back in the pack with muttly Sacramento and Memphis, rather than alongside with LeBron, Kawhi and the top dogs from Los Angeles.
With a hurting Murray is obviously not the player he was in the NBA bubble, it’s mystifying why coach Michael Malone grinds so hard on a team that has obviously taken a step backwards. Rather than accepting the growing pains of forward Michael Porter Jr., teammates now seem as disdainful of his mistakes as Malone was last season. Might that be an example of the tone being set at the top?
Yes, the Nuggets are dealing with legit problems. The offseason was over in a heartbeat and pro athletes deal with the same COVID-19 fatigue making us all a little stir crazy. Nagging injuries make any semblance of a consistent playing rotation nearly impossible and it takes time to integrate new personnel into Malone’s way of doing things.
Heck, blame Comcast for the team’s mediocre 12-11 record, if it makes you feel better. I lack the power to settle a ridiculous television dispute. But right now, the Nuggets are not worth paying a premium price to ruin your nights in front of the tube.
When Denver is out of sorts, Malone leans on his favorite gripe. “We’ve lost three in a row because we haven’t defended anybody,” he groused after the loss to Milwaukee.
I genuinely love Malone and his no-nonsense, get-moving-or-get-out-of-the-way attitude. But could it be the core players in the locker room have begun to tune him out in his sixth season with the team?
It was my distinct impression while visiting the NBA bubble during the opening round of the playoffs that the Nuggets wanted to go home. They were down 3-2 in a best-of-seven series against Utah when the league shut down in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake.
I’m convinced the pause allowed the team to reassess its attitude, especially when Murray used his outrage about social injustice to play like a man possessed. Had there been no NBA walkout, the Nuggets could’ve easily been eliminated by Utah and entered this season at a crossroads, instead of gliding along with the mistaken belief they were ready to win rings.
As currently constructed, the Nuggets are never going to win a championship. Denver needs to add another major piece to contend.
The NBA trade deadline in this quirky season is six weeks away. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly better be prepared to wheel and deal.
The big target that should be in Connelly’s scope? Washington guard Bradley Beal, averaging a league-leading 33 points for a Wizards team going nowhere and in need of a major reboot.
Neither Beal nor the Wizards have demonstrated any real desire to divorce. Connelly, however, has strong ties to the franchise, which tried to steal him from the Nuggets in 2019.
My proposed trade: Gary Harris, PJ Dozier, RJ Hampton, Bol Bol and, most important of all, three unprotected first-round draft choices in exchange for Beal.
If the Wizards would prefer Porter to the draft picks, Denver would be foolish not to consider reconfiguring the trade to Washington’s liking.
The Nuggets have two choices: Go get Beal. Or wait until next year (again).