If you’re not winning, you are losing.

———-


We’re lighter, we’re faster, and if that don’t work, we’re nastier.

– Carroll Shelby

So hard to pick between the two. If you are not a gearhead of any sort and Mr. Shelby’s name doesn’t ring bells, you have probably still heard his name associated with a car or seven over the years, names like Shelby Cobra, Shelby Mustang, Shelby GT, and the GT40.

You’ve never heard of the GT40? It’s the car that Shelby and Ford took to the 24 Hours of Le Mans after tooling and retooling and re-retooling followed by fine tuning after fine tuning. They didn’t even win the first year that Shelby, a previous winner as a driver, took them there. But once they got all the pieces in tune, all the ducks in a row, the GT40 won Le Mans, one of the world’s most prestigious and impressive races, four times in a row. The wins were designed to shove it in the faces of multi-time winning Ferarri, who had told Henry Ford II to take his recent purchase offer of the company and stuff it into his rumble seat.

Wait, Ford? Ferrari? Like in the movie Ford v Ferrari? One and the same. If you’ve seen the movie or are just a nerd about such things, you’re familiar with at least most of that story already. If not, as many people aren’t, it is very much a tale of persistence and perseverance winning the day. And winning the day. And winning… well, you get the point. Matt Damon and Christian Bale told the tale awfully well.

When former Denver Nuggets exec Tim Connelly understandably left Colorado for a set-up-for-a-lifetime offer, there was a great deal of handwringing from the Nuggets faithful, and me amongst them. Connelly had not only overseen a renaissance in Denver basketball in terms of the talent he brought in the door, but was also an overseer of the team dynamic, an all-for-one, one-for-all inclusion very rare in such rarified air.

From the perspective of many, Connelly was the architect of all that had gone right with the Nuggets. He’d hit on player after player in draft after draft, including nailing the most improbable MVP in NBA history, Nikola Jokic. With his departure, had the Nuggets just lost their Carroll Shelby? If there’s a lesson the NBA keeps teaching time and again, it’s that it takes more than an MVP, even one of Nikola Jokic’s caliber, to win a Championship. The guy who had continually been able to raise them ‘one more level’ was now gone. What might that do to all of the other parts in this magnificent machine?

To their credit, the Nuggets were immediately ready to answer that question, and were excited about a new top man inside the organization. Calvin Booth has slid seamlessly into the role, and with a plan very much in mind. Because of his extensive time at the top levels of the organization, his plan is one that plays to both the Nuggets needs and strengths. Though Connelly’s shoes were certainly hard to fill, the Nuggets seem to have a plan that very much mirrors the one the team preaches in the locker room and on the floor. Were you ready with a next man up, and can you fill those holes by committee? You don’t replace a Tim Connelly with a single guy any more than you do a Jamal Murray.

When it comes to losing Connelly as one of the league’s most deft draftors, Denver looks to be fortunate, in that Booth is also recognized as one of the most gifted talent evaluators in the league, DNVR’s Harrison Wind had an incredible piece this week detailing how the league sees Booth, how Booth sees the league, and some valuable one-on-one insights from the man himself. Calvin has witnessed the league from every angle, and seems incredibly calm, ready, and prepared in being given the keys to this racecar that is being asked to endure a trek as arduous as Le Mans.

With the last pieces to a Championship firmly in mind, Booth bet solidly on defense for the Nuggets this offseason, seeing that yet again the Finals had two top-five defenses running up against one another. Booth rightly understands that having an engine in this beast like Nikola Jokic means that you will always have an offense if your other guys aren’t terrible on that side of the ball. GM Booth has taken a fast-running offense that had an oft-porous defense, and changed it to an armored beast that somehow might have even more offensive horsepower. It makes you think of…

No… No… Maybe not quite like that. But Booth has certainly reinforced the pieces around the team to play perfectly into the strengths of a coach like Michael Malone, who endured a fair bit of laughter on the way in the door and over his first few seasons, saying a team like the Denver Nuggets would be a defensive-minded presence while he was in charge.

After a ton of patience and dedication, Malone has everyone from Jokic to the equipment manager bought in on the need for defense for this team to reach their goals, pushing the squad to a top ten showing more than once. In the season to come, Booth might have just filled Malone’s utility belt with the most flexible and powerful defense he’s had since he arrived in Denver. Suddenly, a top-five D does not seem out of the question for the Nuggets, depending on the maturation of a couple of players and the ability of the rest of the squad to commit and gel.

Filling in the bulk of rest of the gaps around Connelly’s departure is none other than the engine of the machine himself, Nikola Jokic. Jokic doesn’t only make the Nuggets one of the top offenses in the league by stepping out on the floor, but is as much or more a part of the Nuggets cultural shift towards effort, sacrifice, and camaraderie as anyone on the team. Malone certainly walks and talks that all as well, but having a generational talent like Jokic ready to embrace every facet of the organization makes Nuggets Nation as special a place off the floor as it is on it. For the org and for the fanbase, the Joker is the heart and soul of this era of Nuggets basketball.

While one of the primary architects of the path to this point will be sadly missing for the rest of the race, word on the street is that the Denver Nuggets seem to still have one of the hottest cars on the track coming into 2022-23, and don’t seem to be missing a beat on their way to exactly what they need. This team looks very much built win. To paraphrase Mr Shelby… They’re lighter, they’re faster, and they sure look a whole lot nastier.



Author

Mike Olson is a weekly columnist for DNVR. The Colorado State University alum was born and raised in Fort Collins and has been writing about Denver sports for the last eight years. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he has an unhealthy addiction to In-n-Out Burgers and a healthy aversion to the Lakers.

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