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How lofty are the Nuggets' goals this season? Torrey Craig is thinking championship

Harrison Wind Avatar
September 30, 2019

The changes at the top of the Western Conference that took place this offseason have Torrey Craig dreaming big.

“We definitely think a championship could be a possibility,” Craig told DNVR. “Last year we were one shot away, one game away from the Western Conference Finals where we would have matched up with Golden State. Obviously, they don’t have Kevin Durant this year which is good for us. We feel like we missed out on an opportunity last year.”

One game away.

Missed opportunities.

That all sounds familiar. Let’s go on a quick trip down memory lane.

April 11, 2018. Game 82 in Minnesota. The Nuggets and Timberwolves trade blows for 48 minutes plus an overtime period before Minnesota ultimately prevails and gets its first trip to the playoffs in 13 seasons. Denver starts its summer vacation early.

The Nuggets didn’t hide their disappointment that night. Few words were exchanged in the visitor’s locker room postgame at Target Center as players sat in full uniform, their feet chilling in buckets of ice water nursing the wounds that come with a long 82-game season.

But the Nuggets channeled their frustration from that night into an offseason that many around the team credited for Denver’s rapid ascension up the Western Conference ranks before a storybook season ended in the Western Conference semifinals.

Perhaps last year’s Game 7 loss to the Trail Blazers has the Nuggets motivated to a similar degree entering this season.

But a championship? The Larry O-B?

“The West is wide open for anyone,” Craig said. “Usually there’s been a favorite to win it but now it’s fair game for everyone. It’s up for grabs.”

In case you missed the restoration project that many of the top West contenders underwent this summer, here’s a quick recap.

Durant left the Warriors after three-straight Finals appearances for the Nets. Still, Golden State has Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson (who’s likely to miss more than half the season due to a torn ACL), and D’Angelo Russell. The Rockets swapped Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook and still look like top contenders in the West. For the record, I like Houston’s prospects this season.

The Jazz waved goodbye to Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors but welcomed in Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis. The Clippers added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to an already talented roster and lost just Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in the process.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can still carry Portland to the playoffs but there’s some uncertainty in Rip City with Hassan Whiteside set to step in for Jusuf Nurkic who’s out for the first several months of the season. Moe Harkless and Al Farouq Aminu’s departures leave big holes at Portland’s forward positions as well.

Instead of mirroring their fellow Western Conference foes, Denver doubled down on its continuity and chemistry this summer. The Nuggets will return 92% of their roster this season, tops in the league by a significant margin.

They won’t be playing the name game at Media Day.

“Chemistry is one of the most important elements on a team,” said Craig. “If you don’t have chemistry, you don’t gel, you don’t get the shots you expect to get. I think we already know who our go-to guys are, where shots are coming from, who’s going to get what shots, and how each other play.”

But it’s not as if the Nuggets have sacrificed talent for continuity. Denver has that too.

The Nuggets return every rotation member from last season’s 54-win team. Nikola Jokic is coming off an MVP-caliber season and along with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, all member’s of Denver’s potential big three are still trending upward towards their respective ceilings.

Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee will fill in the gaps around those three while Michael Porter Jr., who those privy to the competitive closed-door scrimmages throughout the summer will tell you has been impressive all offseason, is the ultimate wildcard.

Jerami Grant is Denver’s one newcomer but someone the Nuggets had their eye on this summer as a role player who could fit both their system and culture. Grant won’t play the near 33 minutes per game that he averaged last year in Oklahoma City but is expected to be a significant factor for Denver off the bench this season.

At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and quick feet that can stay in front of dynamic wings from LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard, Grant packs the defensive versatility on the wing that the Nuggets haven’t had in years.

Jerami’s the perfect piece for us,” Craig said. “He’s a four-man that can play the five and three. He can switch, play defense, block shots, rebound, push the ball and run in transition. He covers every aspect of what our team is about and how we play. He fits in perfectly.”

Summer camp in Denver, Colorado is over. The Nuggets mixed in Spikeball at practice last week and on their last Friday of the offseason crossed Auraria Parkway and tossed around the pigskin in between hill runs and sprints at nearby Metro State University. (If anyone has a name for the version of tag the Nuggets played which the team teased on their social media accounts let me know.)

The Nuggets’ self-belief is high, but the pressure, the expectations, the highs and lows that come with an NBA season, it’s all about to get very real.

Media Day is Monday and Michael Malone will deliver his annual preseason address that night at a team dinner before training camp opens Tuesday in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center.

What will Malone’s message to his players be?

Don’t be surprised if it has something to do with the lofty goal that Craig and many of his teammates share.

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