Alex English, David Thompson, Dikembe Mutombo, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and now, Nikola Jokic. While I won’t say that’s necessarily a group of names that belongs to NBA royalty, they are Nuggets legends nonetheless and now, the Joker will be among them. Perhaps better. Perhaps much better. And the organization knows it. While not official, a report from Shams Charania of Yahoo.com and reposted by denverstiffs.com tells us that the Nuggets have declined their team option on Jokic, making him a restricted free agent. Once that process plays out both sides are likely to settle on a 5 year deal worth $146.5 Million. And why not? He’s been getting better every season with 2017/18 numbers reaching star status: 18.5 ppg, 10.7 boards, 6.1 assists, a fg % of 49.9 and 85% from the free throw line. He’s 23 and judging by his last half a dozen games, games that were essentially all must wins, he shows no signs of slowing down. What we saw in those final regular season games was a player that elevated his game in order to help his team advance to the playoffs. And they were a few bad plays in OT against Minnesota, in game 82 of 82, from doing just that.
Once this deal goes through, Denver will have their next Mello. Their next star that should not only lift his teammates into post season play for years to come, but also act as a beacon for other big name free agents down the road; much like how they were able to bring in Paul Millsap.
SIDE NOTE: It’s interesting how things work out, isn’t it? Jusuf Nurkic, now with Portland, was suppose to be the star big man for Denver. He showed a lot of potential early but inconsistencies ultimately lead to a riff between him, Malone and the organization. But it was the pleasantly surprising play of the second round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Nikola Jokic, that gave Denver the confidence to move on from the Bosnian Beast. Once the Joker asserted himself as the starting center, he never looked back.
Now with a handful of talent around him; Garry Harris, Jamal Murray and Millsap, the Nuggets are, for the most part, building from the ground up. Much like Golden State did (before Durant) with Curry, Thompson and Green. In the day and age of the super team and circus that is off-season recruiting, The Nuggets are hoping to show the NBA and its fans that a team can win by growing a solid team organically, through the draft and picking up helpful pieces (Millsap) along the way. Locking up Harris last year and now Jokic shows us all that this team knows what they have in their young talent and that they are banking on this group to take them back to the playoffs and hopefully beyond.
So, can Nikola Jokic be the greatest Nugget ever? I say…EASILY. This franchise is so thirsty for success, real success. I know Alex English was great and Mutombo produced one of the most iconic images not only in Nuggets history but in the NBA’s. But Denver needs to be able to say the word “CHAMPIONSHIP” and not get laughed at harder than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond: (ENJOY…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqK3LH2yFlY )
Can Jokic and company help us feel comfortable discussing big things…for the first time since a 57 win season or when Melo and Billups took the Nuggets to the western conference finals? It’s time for Denver to get out of limbo. It’s time for them to not be ok with being ok. It’s time to think about greatness and with Jokic in it for the long haul, that time is quickly approaching.