The Denver Nuggets are NBA champions, they really did it, the guys who are like 500 miles east of Salt Lake, the dudes who were down 3-1 to the Jazz in the bubble. Those guys hoisted a trophy on Monday night, they have a parade on Thursday, and no matter what happens in the next 20 years of Nuggets basketball, they have a championship. I didn’t expect it to sting like it does, I felt envious of a team that at some point seemed so similar to the Jazz (at least the Jazz of old). Foreign center who was picked late and was overlooked (I should never compare Rudy to Nikola but bear with me), a hyper-athletic combo guard that exceeds in the playoffs, a bevy of rotation players that shoot the 3 well, and a likable coach who gets the most out of every player. Instead of going to a parade tomorrow, our peak hit over a year ago when Rudy’s drop defense got roasted by another playoff guard, when Donovan shot us into games and out of games all in the same breath, and when Quin Snyder got out coached by Jason freaking Kidd… dang. While that hurts I’m not here to dwell on the past, I highlight these things because I felt intense jealousy watching the Nuggets win a chip, the type of jealousy that made me rewatch Lauri Markkanen highlights, just to feel something.
That jealousy led me to some thinking, not the sad type of down bad thinking, it made me think what do the Jazz need to do to be where the Nuggets are? I don’t know all the answers but I identified a couple of things the Jazz can learn and do to push us towards the direction of a championship.
#1 DRAFT A FOREIGN PLAYER THAT TURNS INTO A 2X MVP AND NEVER WANTS TO LEAVE UTAH
The first one isn’t too hard, all we need is pick #41 and a Taco Bell commercial. Jokes aside, there’s something to be said about foreign players in today’s NBA. A small market like Utah would be wise to find someone who plans to stay in Utah for multiple years, that will probably be a foreign player. More important than staying is being an MVP-caliber player, Nikola Jokic is one of the best players the NBA has ever seen, his playoff run was absurd and unmatched, we might not need that level of player. But a top 10 player who’s an obvious ball dominant #1 is necessary, whether we get that through the draft or free agency or Walker Kessler finds a power-up mushroom in Cottonwood Canyon. All that matters is we have that guy, it’s not an easy task but a championship won’t happen without it.
Nikola Jokic got drafted during a Taco Bell commercial 8 years ago today pic.twitter.com/9H1vjSIXM4— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) June 26, 2022
#2 PRIORITIZE STRENGTH AND LENGTH
It didn’t go unnoticed with me that Denver was significantly taller and longer than almost every matchup they had this postseason, it’s not going unnoticed that Denver’s point guard (Jamal Murray) out-rebounded 6’7” Jimmy Butler 3 out of 5 finals games. The key to Denver’s defense is they got long and strong, they muddied up passing lanes and they out-rebounded on their way to a championship.
#3 BUILD FROM THE DRAFT
3 out of 5 starters for Denver were drafted, Christian Braun was drafted this year and he played significant minutes off the bench. The signings of KCP and Bruce Brown were borderline genius, the trade for Aaron Gordon was an absolute steal. But at the end of the day the Nuggets’ core was drafted, it allowed them time to gel and build into what they are today, 8+ years of chemistry has finally paid off. As the new CBA goes into effect this might be the only way to build a championship team, at least a team that’ll be able to contend for multiple championships. The Jazz have proven to be really good at drafting, they’ll need to take it to another level if they’re wanting to put together a core worthy of a championship.
#4 ELITE COACHING
Will Hardy is an elite coach, is he the level of Denver’s Mike Malone? I think he really is, I’m not worried about our coaching for as long as he’s in Utah. Patience was required when Denver continued to stick with their coach over the last 8 years, in NBA years 8 is an eternity. We’re seeing coaches fired after 1 or 2 years now, the Jazz may need to practice patience when it comes to Will, he’s absolutely the guy for the job. No need to get cute
#5 EMBRACE ADVERSITY AND WORK HARD
This Nugget team was unflappable, undeterred, and unbothered. They didn’t care when times got hard, if they were down 10 it didn’t matter, if the opposing team went on a 10-point run they didn’t flinch. All good teams have this quality, they play the next possession the same as they would regardless of the score. This can refer to in-game play as well as long term, Jamal Murray tore his ACL on April 12th of 2021, hard work and perseverance were required from everyone involved to get back to the level they played at this playoffs. (There’s a moral about all of our lives to be caught in here, whatever our ACL tear might be)
The Jazz are better off now than we were a year ago, the plans are in place and good things are happening. It’s not impossible that we get to a championship level, it’ll require patience and good moves from the owner down to the last guy on the bench. I can’t wait until it’s someone else feeling jealous while we plan where we’re gonna park for our championship parade.