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The Nuggets Get It

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The eighth seed in the NBA is a dead end game, especially in the Western Conference. Shooting for it means you’re out of the draft lottery, losing any hope of moving up towards a talented class of rookies. You’re also destined for a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of Golden State or San Antonio. There’s no real hope here, per se.

Yet, here are the Denver Nuggets, going for it. The six team race for the seed has narrowed to two, as the 33-35 Nuggets sit two games up on feisty Portland in the loss column, with Dallas and Minnesota holding on by a thread. By strength of schedule, this will likely come down to two Pacific Northwest franchises — a Blazers team who finally found their big man in Jusuf Nurkic, and a Nuggets team who’ve finally found an identity.

It seems like forever since the Nuggets have been relevant, or even remotely interesting for that matter. Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York in 2011, and that enormous trade was really the last time a national audience discussed basketball in Denver.

They haven’t had a household name since, with guys like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried as their ticket sellers. They had a brief flirtation with success thanks to George Karl and some unknown GM named Masai Ujiri in the 57-win 2012-13 season — but they quickly fell from heights, as so many Karl teams do. Other than that shining moment, it’s been a wash in Mile High City.

 

Understanding the Opportunity

Ujiri’s successor Tim Connelly, though, is no longer sitting on his thumbs. He and Denver’s management understand what’s needed to win in the NBA, and they’ve got a roster and salary malleable enough to acquire a superstar. Denver’s $83.4 million in committed salary this year is the third-lowest in the NBA, and they have just $34 million committed for 2018-19. Their young core talent of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Emmanuel Mudiay aren’t off their rookie deals until 2019-2020. Only Philadelphia and Sacramento have less money committed long-term.

The Nuggets may be the best team situated money-wise to get a max deal and make a run next season, and they know it. They get their situation. Their unique mix of good young players, expiring assets, and salary cap space is something other NBA organizations would salivate for.

So they’ve shopped around. Last summer, they almost pulled off the heist of the decade: coaxing Dwyane Wade away from Miami by offering him a stunning $52 million for two years. It was higher than his ask, and apparently tempted him enough to sit down for a meeting. While Wade eventually chose his hometown, free agency meetings tend to follow in suit, and it’s not a small deal that a generational talent nearly chose a market like Denver.

Then, at the trade deadline, Connelly tried again. According to reports, he offered the house, furniture, and the shingles for DeMarcus Cousins — willing to part with everyone except Murray and Jokic. When the Kings stuck on Murray’s inclusion, the deal fell apart. Still, such a trade wouldn’t have been without short-term risk for the Nuggets. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari would have been included for salary reasons, both significant factors in the Nuggets’ playoff hunt. A Cousins swap may have resulted in the flux state we see in New Orleans today, as both sides figure each other out. The next two years, though? That Cousins-Jokic potential was enough for Connelly to swing for the fences.

It’s fairly obvious that the Nuggets are happy where they are, but are playing for home court seeding in 2018-19. The biggest reason behind this is their secret weapon — they knew about him before the world did — Nikola Jokic.

 

The Breakout of Jokic

Jokic has gone from unknown to superstar in three months flat. Unlike last summer, when Wade was being sold on a developing roster, the Nuggets are now in a position to sell free agents on Jokic and Jokic alone.

The second year centre is averaging 16.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. His stats don’t speak to his attractive nature of play, though, as he’s quickly become one of the best passing big men in the league — especially in transition.

His passing has helped the Nuggets become the league’s fifth best offense, playing the fourth-highest pace of teams in playoff seeding. They move the ball well, have multiple ball-handlers, and shooters all over the place — even Jokic himself.

While there’s still growth and reliability needed for the big man, he’s a unique selling factor in today’s NBA. Incoming talent recognizes his selfless nature, knowing that they can come in and work seamlessly. This isn’t a bullheaded centre. Jokic plays with a unique joy, one that’s made him beloved by those who watch the Nuggets play.

With Jokic in hand, and a general manager in Tim Connelly who understands his team’s window, the Nuggets are on the right path to taking the next step. A first-round playoff series would provide valuable internal development, and set them up nicely for a big acquisition this summer.

 

John is a sports writer hailing from the flat part of Canada. He's an editor and podcast host at SB Nation's Raptors HQ, with other sports work published in The Classical. As a freelance reporter, he's covered sports at every level in Winnipeg: from the NHL's Jets and CFL's Blue Bombers, to CIS basketball and hockey at both major universities. In his spare time, John writes too seriously about music and posts good-to-okay photography on Instagram.

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Featured Article

Ride The Wave

Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.

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Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.

Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.

This wasn’t the future we saw for the King.

On the heels of a night filled with one of his greatest achievements ever, the Lakers as a team walked away with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A night that began on a high note went out on one that was equivalent to sour candy. Furthermore, a frustrated team left an arena, hopped on social media, and found a bevy of congrats for their star player, while enduring the storm that came with another Lakers loss.

It seems that James’ stardom has reached a tipping point, one that makes him a GM one moment, the King of the league the next, and finally the biggest point of contention within the locker room. The most notable thing is that it is clearly wearing him down. Chris Martin let us know that “nobody one said it was easy”, but you’ve got to ask yourself, does it have to be so hard?

The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.

The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

Year 15 of a legacy…

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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