Spurs blueprint for Nuggets success is a blueprint for Nuggets to achieve sustainable success


The NBA’s present (Nikola Jokic), and its future (Victor Wembanyama). Tuesday night’s spectacular collision of two worlds. To understand how the Nuggets are able to repeat as champions we must look back at the past.

And the San Antonio Spurs, who methodically won four NBA titles from 1999 to 2007.

The Nuggets paraded down to the city after winning the championship and the euphoria that followed was intoxicating. It was hard to blame the coaches and players for wanting to stay in that moment forever. They did something never accomplished — not by Alex English, not by Dan Issel, not by David Thompson, not by Doug Moe — in franchise history and ended a 47-year drought in the process.

The Nuggets had a much larger vision in their offices at Ball Arena. In the text messages and conversations, they were thinking about something far more important. They didn’t want to be the next Dexys Midnight Runners in basketball, a lovable one hit wonder. They wanted sustainable success. They wanted to be just like San Antonio. They did not express it publicly, but you could call it a mantra.

“It is very important and something that I believe in.” Calvin Booth, Nuggets General Manager, explained that as a front-office we understand the importance to study historical patterns and what has worked. “The Spurs set the standard.”

When executives talk about replicating championship teams, I scoff. It is difficult on so many levels. It’s easy to say. Can you do it? It is not necessary to squint to see that the Nuggets and Spurs are similar.

Start with the stars. They are the centers of the universe. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, who was the greatest power forward in history. He was as selfless and a monk. He rarely spoke, except to complain to the referees.

The Nuggets have Jokic who will be awarded his third MVP in a month. Jokic has changed the Nuggets’ game. He is the most selfless great our state has seen. He cares about winning, making the right play, involving teammates and not caring about who gets credit or how things are done.

Whitney Houston sings a song with a basketball held by Jokic.

Gregg Popovich, the legendary Spurs boss, called himself “a basketball savant”.

It continues to the coaches. Popovich guided Spurs teams speckled with talent — most notably Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — and rooted in fundamentals. He is well-known for being a grump who does not tolerate fools. When I asked about the Nuggets and Spurs comparisons he responded without hesitation, praising Denver Coach Michael Malone.

We all know basketball. It’s easy. It’s all about the players. You need to have really good players. You also need to put together a group. Mike has gotten the team to focus on their wins and losses. Popovich added that Nikola was a great player at the base just like Timmy. “And the team passes it. They have all put aside their differences. They play for one another.”

It is easy to understand. Repeating is not easy, especially when you’ve been in the spotlight. The pull of Me over we is strong.

The front office, and Malone in particular, have created a culture that encourages accountability and a desire to play for something greater than themselves. This was not a coincidence. The Spurs dynasty provided a blueprint — even if they never actually repeated as champions themselves.

“It’s something we all strive for.” It’s the way they did it. Playing the right way. The beautiful game,” Malone stated. “They won’t lead the game in ISOs” (isolation play). They will lead the league in passing and assists. You have the talent of the next generation in Nikola Jokic, and Tim Duncan. The similarities do not stop at the floor. It’s the way they are embarrassed when people pay attention. They just want to spend time with their family and friends. If people compare us to the Spurs from old, that’s an (evil) compliment.”

Red tape has made it harder to follow in Spurs’ footsteps. The collective bargaining act works against dynasties and creates stiff penalties for big-spending teams. It prevented Nuggets from keeping Bruce Brown, a free agent.

The Nuggets are in a good position for a long-term run, as their best players, including the ice cold shooter Jamal Murray and the evolving Michael Porter Jr., are still under contract.

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