Draft day brings excitement to virtually every professional franchise. It could be the Denver Broncos drafting SEC standout Shane Ray or the Colorado Rockies tabbing a handful of wet-behind-the-ears high schoolers to build for the future. Regardless, new draft picks always bring new optimism. Sometimes they bring hope of an immediate impact and a turnaround for the franchise. Most times, that’s false hope.

We don’t yet know what kind of true impact Emmanuel Mudiay will make on the Denver Nuggets after the team selected him with the seventh pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft. By all accounts, the Nuggets got a great bounce. A consensus top four talent, the fact that Mudiay fell into Denver’s lap looks like a gift. It sure appears like several teams drafting in front of Denver (Hello New York!) simply whiffed.

Yet when we step back and table our excitement for a moment, take a deep breath and return to a normal frame of mind, we come to a simple conclusion: Mudiay isn’t going to transform the Nuggets into title contenders any more than Gary Harris or Jusuf Nurkic or Evan Fournier or Kenneth Faried did. And while it would have been awesome to see Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell in Nuggets gear, landing one of the top guys in this draft (which they may have actually done) still isn’t going to be enough. Drafting Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even enough. Bringing malcontent DeMarcus Cousins here is REALLY not the answer.

Sorry, but new head coach Michael Malone is not the answer, either. Neither is Tim Connelly or Pete D’Alessandro. Neither was George Karl or Masai Ujiri or Mark Warkentien or Rex Chapman or Kiki Vandeweghe or Dan Issel or any of the other coaches or front office types that have come and gone through the revolving door at Pepsi Center since 2000. There has always – even in the great year of 2009 – been something missing.

When it comes to making the Denver Nuggets a CHAMPIONSHIP contender, no single draft pick, no single free agent signing, and not even a future Hall of Fame coach is truly the answer. Sustained success at the professional level begins at the very top with a “win-first” philosophy. Of course these are businesses, and of course they need to be financially sound and make a profit. But if profit is the most important part of the equation, then real winning simply doesn’t happen. Organizations that win championships value winning over profit. To date, that’s not been the case with the Denver Nuggets organization. The bottom line has always been the bottom line. Ownership hasn’t shown a willingness to go all-in to win. The list of poor basketball decisions – some money driven – made during the Stan Kroenke regime far outweighs the list of good basketball decisions.

The most telling – and frightening – statement about the Nuggets came from ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Goodman right after the club hired Malone on June 15.

“Denver is not in a position to command a big time head coach,” Goodman said on national TV. “Frankly, they don’t have the roster; they don’t have the money, so they had to go with a guy like Michael Malone.”

He’s saying the Denver HAD to settle for a middle of the road coaching hire. Huh? “They don’t have the money?” Really? Last time I checked, Mr. Kroenke, the owner of Pepsi Center, the Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Rapids, the Colorado Mammoth, Arsenal Soccer club in England, the St. Louis Rams AND, yes, the Denver Nuggets, could afford to purchase a small third-world nation should he chose to. Kroenke (net worth $6.3 billion) HAS the money. Therefore, what Goodman SHOULD have said is Denver WON’T spend the money. That would be accurate. And THAT’S the actual problem.

If we go back in time to the start of the “Salary Cap Era” in professional sports, which began with the NBA instituting a cap for the 1985 season, you’ll see that the number of organizations that have won multiple championships in the three major sports with a cap (excluding Major League Baseball) is longer (21) than the list of teams that have won a single title (16). Stellar organizations win championships. I challenge anyone to name me ONE franchise that’s won a major professional sports championship with an ownership that has a “profit first” mindset. Remember when 20th Century Fox purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers from long-time owners the O’Malley family in 1998? Dodger fans were giddy because their new owners had deeper pockets than ever before. Turned out that while those pockets may have been deep, the owners’ arms were short. When you have to answer to shareholders, the needs of a few coaches and players becomes secondary. The Dodgers were never a championship contender under Fox, which sold the team again in 2004.

The local example makes it more obvious. The Broncos under owner Pat Bowlen have made winning the top priority and worried about the finances second (and still done pretty well at the bank.) It’s not a coincidence that the club’s two Super Bowl wins were aided by some, um, “maneuvering” around the league’s new salary cap restrictions (NFL put in a cap in 1994.) During an era when letting a tiny bit of air out of a football is grounds for a suspension, if the Broncos did their version of “creative financing” today, it would cost them much more than the $2 million in fines they had to pay for (let’s be honest) cheating more than a decade ago. They cheated back then so they could spend MORE money on players so they could win the Super Bowl. That’s more than just “sparing no expense.” That’s wanting to win at ALL costs.

On the other hand, the Nuggets under the Kroenkes have gone out of their way to avoid contact with the NBA luxury tax threshold while keeping their payroll among the lower half of the league. They’ve chosen profit over winning.

So how do we make the Denver Nuggets a NBA title contender? For starters, the profit-first ownership needs to take a long look at how the Denver Broncos do things and begin to follow that path. Change the philosophy. The owners should not be involved AT ALL in basketball decision-making. AT ALL. Silent Stanley (and Josh) needs to stay silent behind the scenes and in front of microphones. Be there when the checks need to be written and signed, and then get out of the way (like Bowlen has.) At that point, add a basketball man like Chauncey Billups (who remains the lone credible ambassador for professional basketball in Denver) and put him 100% in charge of basketball operations. Given an open checkbook, Chauncey alone could lure top-tier free agents to Denver and build a consistent title contender.

The NBA may be a “player’s league,” as some like to say, but it still takes an organizational mindset that puts building a winning team first – before making huge profits – to win championships. Success in professional sports MUST trickle down from the very top. Here in Denver, we’ve seen that first hand.