For now, the Denver Nuggets can enjoy their champagne baths. They can bask in the after parties. They can soak in the civic love during the championship parade on Thursday through the streets of downtown Denver.
Eventually, though, they will have to confront a question that soon follows every NBA championship team. Can they repeat?
Some embrace the task, such as when former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley famously guaranteed his team would defend its title at the 1987 championship parade. Some struggle with the challenge, including the 55 out of 75 teams that failed to win consecutive championships in NBA Finals history.
Will the Denver Nuggets fall into that category in the 2023-24 NBA season? Or can they join the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors as the lone teams to defend their NBA title?
No doubt, the answer to that question partly hinges on what happens after free agency begins on June 30. More clarity could emerge following the NBA’s trade deadline next season, too. It’s hard to consider a team a championship contender definitively when it remains unclear what the rest of the landscape looks like. Philosophically, though, the Nuggets hardly seem like a one-year championship wonder. They just opened their title window and appear equipped to collect a few more before it shuts.
Denver Nuggets’ formula for repeated success
The Nuggets have the NBA’s best center that is still in his prime (Nikola Jokic). They have a healthy, young point guard that likely will make his first All-Star appearance next season (Jamal Murray). They have one of the best NBA coaches (Michael Malone). And they have an accomplished general manager that has struck a healthy balance on the roster with maintaining continuity while improving on the margins (Calvin Booth).
The Nuggets already have a solid interior defender (Aaron Gordon), a dependable wing player (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and an emerging young combo guard (Christian Braun). They have another wing player who told the Denver Post he wants to stay with either accepting his $6.6 million player option or negotiating a new team-friendly deal (Bruce Brown). Though Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, Thomas Bryant and Reggie Jackson all will become free agents, they also may feel inclined to stay on team-friendly deals with a chance to experience more championship euphoria. Denver also has the flexibility to pursue other options, while using the team’s recent title win as leverage to sign other free agents on relative discounts.
Not only do the Nuggets field a roster that boasts both star power and depth. The organization stayed patient for Jokic and Murray to grow. Denver stayed loyal to Malone, who turned three consecutive losing seasons into a five-year playoff stint. The Nuggets continuously showed discipline with adding new pieces to build around Jokic and Murray.
No doubt, Denver’s recent title success started with Jokic’s triple-double performances and Murray showing a better and healthier version of himself before tearing the ACL in his left knee toward the end of the 2020-21 campaign. Yet, the Nuggets’ continuity and depth also helped Denver relieve pressure off of their main stars, while also fulfilling positional needs. With the Nuggets experiencing zero conflicts over personality differences and roles, they have the perfect blend needed to repeat.
It won’t seem inevitable Denver will win the NBA title, similar to how it seemed for Golden State after acquiring Kevin Durant to play with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (2016-19). The Nuggets will also face serious competition, too.
Plenty of competition awaits next season
The Boston Celtics will likely improve internally with both their stars (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown) and their young head coach (Joe Mazzulla) after failing to return to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year. The Milwaukee Bucks will likely retool under first-year head coach Adrian Griffin and a healthier Giannis Antetokounmpo after the top-seeded Bucks lost in the first round to Miami. The Warriors will try to build better around Curry, Thompson and Green. The Lakers may try to build on the continuity that ensured them the third best-record after the trade deadline. The Los Angeles Clippers expect to finally have a fully healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. All of those teams will also have more time than the Nuggets to rest and heal their bodies this offseason.
Therefore, it seems premature to envision the Nuggets as the NBA’s next dynasty. Only the Celtics (1956-66), Lakers (1952-54, 2000-02) and Bulls (1991-93; 1996-98) have ever three-peated. Nonetheless, those other teams have their own question marks. The Clippers have never proven they can stay healthy. The Lakers may experience more fatigue with LeBron James entering his 21st NBA season. The Bucks may face learning curves under Griffin. The Celtics may continue to play below their potential. The Warriors may not find the right pieces around their three core players.
As for the Nuggets? Barring a dramatic free-agent signing or trade with another team, the Nuggets should stay as the favorites to win the NBA championship next season. They likely will want to celebrate their first NBA title in franchise history for a little longer. Maybe even all summer. Given how the Nuggets stayed consistent and on edge all season, don’t expect them to nurse a championship hangover. Instead, they’ll appear eager to taste champagne again.