It was the ghosts of the Denver Nuggets Past, Present and Future in the NBA Finals. The series was full of redemption, remorse and anxiety over how long the Golden State Warriors can be great.
The Denver Nuggets were well connected to the NBA Finals for a team that missed the playoffs entirely. In a year where the finals felt predetermined from the moment the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant to match LeBron James’ Cavaliers, it might be easy to discount everything that happened in the NBA this year. However, I’m still thinking about the 2016-17 season through a lens focused on the Denver Nuggets.
A better Nuggets team with a bright future brought that old feeling of hope to Denver. I have to admit that at the beginning of March, I was feeling pretty good about the Nuggets future. After watching what the Warriors did, I’m a little less hopeful. Barring injuries, discord or boredom, how do the Warriors fall in the next few years?
So instead of worrying about my anxiety over the future, I decided to focus on the degrees of separation the Nuggets faced from the NBA finals. It’s like when someone from my high school (Denver School of the Arts) won a Tony Award. Suddenly, the whole school was acting like they won a Tony Award. The same goes for the Nuggets. The connections they had to the NBA Finals made it feel a little like they too were in the NBA Finals.
No one outside of Denver was thinking about the Nuggets in the NBA Finals. Actually, I may have been the only person thinking about the Nuggets at all.
The vague Nuggets connections were everywhere. Remember in 2003 when the Cavs and Nuggets had the same odds to get LeBron? Remember how the Nuggets-Warriors 2013 playoff series altered the course of the Nuggets?
Of course, four former Nuggets played in the Finals. Andre Iguodala “betrayed” the Nuggets on his way to the Warriors where he became the Finals MVP. Dahntay Jones, who was actually in the starting line-up for the Nuggets during their 2009 Western Conference Finals run, reminded us of the old Thuggets by being the tough guy and getting a technical foul from the bench. Of course, Jones only ever started for the Nuggets because J.R. Smith wasn’t mature enough to start.
Let’s get to the biggest question that’s confused me all year, how do we live in a universe where J.R. Smith and LeBron James are real friends?
This scenario seemed impossible when J.R. played here from 2006-2010. In Denver, he had legal troubles. He was in that “brawl” alongside Melo against the Knicks. He constantly hit the reset button each summer, only to spiral out of control.
That J.R. Smith is friends with the era defining LeBron James? The LeBron James who has matured into the smartest basketball person around and averaged a triple double in the finals?
It’s inconceivable. But if social media posts are any indication, LeBron hangs out with J.R. Smith. LeBron has let J.R. join the grownups table.
There was a great article proclaiming that Game 5, which the Cavalier’s lost, should be remembered as the J.R. Smith game. We saw vintage J.R.—the one we saw flashes of in Denver. He always had the talent to be the NBA’s best long-range scorer, if only he had the maturity. Now he’s an NBA Champion, LeBron’s friend and a factor in the NBA Finals.
Denver was also the place Javale McGee first showed his potential. According to Kevin Durant, Javale McGee not only found ways to contribute to Golden State, but he held the team together. The boyish personality that was lovable when the Nuggets were winning in 2012-13, held the NBA Champions together. I’m happy for Javale.
In the closing minutes of Game 5, when everything the Cavs did was met by a louder response from the Warriors, I started thinking about the Nuggets again. Specifically, I thought of how many times I watched a first round Game 3 in Denver where Carmelo Anthony couldn’t overcome his opponent.
Melo was not in the Finals. He has never been in the Finals and probably never will be. Now, when looking at the monstrosity that is the Golden State Warriors, I think Denver and Melo are still in the same boat. Overmatched, haunted by our past decisions and looking for a move that will change our course in the NBA.
This post originally appeared on 5280 Sports Network, now a part of Mile High Sports