It also would appear as if it is inevitable that Denver is going to limp into the playoffs with a seventh or eighth seed and get bounced by the far superior Dallas Mavericks or Phoenix Suns in the first round. Please do not take my real talk for lack of faith, but if you honestly evaluate this team at this very moment you have to admit the Nuggets are basically just a mirror of their former selves. So in all actuality, the only difference that I can see at this point is that the Nuggets found a way to acquire a future Hall of Famer, but haven’t yet found a way to shake the mediocrity that has mired this franchise since its inception. So what gives might you ask? Well, I’ll tell you what gives, and I have summoned the help of one of the best guards in NBA history to help me.
I have just finished reading Walt Frazier’s book, The Game Within the Game, and a lot of the points he makes through personal anecdotes and analogies about the finer points of the game are being missed by the Nuggets. For starters, Frazier writes a whole chapter titled, Trust. The best point Frazier makes in that chapter is that in the quest for a championship you must trust yourself and you must trust your teammates. As of right now, the Nuggets play with not a single ounce of trust in anything. They can’t trust that guys like Yakhouba Diawara and DerMarr Johnson are not going launch three-pointers with half the shot clock still remaining and they certainly do not trust one another on defense. The trust breakdown is rooted in the inability for guys on this team to make the right play at the right time for themselves and for the team. More often than not it seems like the Nuggets are all about the “me” instead of the “we” and I think that it boils down to trust more than anything thing else.
The next chapter of Frazier’s book that I think is most directly applicable to the Nuggets is titled, Teamwork and Defense: The Hallmarks of Champions. It is in this chapter that Frazier states, “Everyone likes to score. Everyone wants the ball. Everyone has an ego. I guess part of my ego trip was making everyone else’s egos feel good. Because a great player who is playing the game within the game has to sacrifice sometimes. Sometimes you have to put the needs of other people in front of your own. And, in basketball, if you’re talking about sacrifice, you’re talking about defense.”
And in the last and concluding chapter there is one quote that I think summarizes everything that the Denver Nugget lack, and gives great advice for how to right their mistakes. Frazier wisely states, “Winning the game within game is about making your teammates better. It’s about accentuating team play. It’s about fine-tuning your timing. It’s about approaching the game from a psychological and intuitive standpoint as well as a physical one. It’s about making sacrifices and, at times, muting your individual game to increase the team’s balance and flow. The step-back three pointer and the tomahawk dunk have their place in the game within the game, but only if those shots don’t detract from the fluidity and rhythm of the team game. It’s about vision and movement, keeping your head up and seeing the floor so you can make good passes or catch bad ones. It’s about never standing still unless you’re setting a pick.”
I think that we can all see ways that the last paragraph applies to the Nuggets and how what isn’t being applied is keeping them in the same old funk that has come to be expected. If the Nuggets are going to make a real attempt to rise above what has been known historically of this franchise they are going to all make the sacrifices, develop the trust, and the team concepts that are missing right now. Otherwise, Yakhouba just becomes this year’s Greg Buckner, Martin is this year’s Nene, and Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony just become the next great players in the long list of many who are not able to bring their individual greatness together for a collective purpose greater than their own accolades. I think that the missing ingredients are trust, sacrifice, and the willingness to make each other better. Do the Nuggets have what it takes to stir the pot and make this season a dish we can all enjoy? Nobody knows, but without the necessary ingredients, the seasoning and the spice if you will, it is going to be another unsavory finish to the regular season and bitter ending in the playoffs at the pace the Nuggets are cooking at now.