The Nuggets' proof of concept for patience in the NBA
Most franchises would have made a major structural change at some point leading up to this. Denver stuck with its core and its coach without getting stale.
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Nikola Jokic is in Year 8 in the NBA. He famously won two MVPs, and is the first two-time MVP in memory for whom there seemed to be no internal pressure or frustration over any playoff shortcomings despite never having been to the NBA Finals. Any consternation or criticism of Jokic’s dearth of deep playoff runs with the exception of the bubble trip to the Western Conference Finals was offered only in critiques of winning a third straight MVP award this season. In other words, the critiques weren’t exactly offered in good faith. No one really seemed bothered, in Denver or elsewhere, that Jokic had reached Year 8, won two MVPs and didn’t have a visit to the Finals. There was obviously good reason behind that, but good reason rarely stops the narrative train of skepticism in the NBA.
Michael Malone is coaching his eighth season for the Denver Nuggets. Here is a complete list of current NBA head coaches with more seniority at their jobs than Malone has in Denver, along with the length of their tenure and their number of championships won:
Gregg Popovich (26 years, 5 championships)
Erik Spoelstra (15 years, 2 championships and counting)
Steve Kerr (9 years, 4 championships)
Before this season, Malone had a 21-27 playoff coaching record with the Nuggets. There was obviously good reason behind that, but good reason rarely stops the narrative train of skepticism in the NBA. Most head coaches get fired by now as franchisees or front office executives look for every lever of change to maximize the roster they are paying or that they’ve built. In the NBA, failure begets blame, not reflection. Blame begets personnel change. Usually.
But not in Denver, where reason has won out and patience is thriving.
Beyond Jokic’s basketball divinity, that’s the story of the 2022-23 Denver Nuggets, who are headed to the NBA Finals after outlasting the L.A. Lakers in Game 4 to pull off the sweep in the WCF.
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