PSA: The Denver Nuggets are still the champions of the world.

That title doesn’t go away until a new champion is crowned, even if it feels like the rest of the NBA is itching to move on. The championship parade turns into the NBA Draft, which turns into free agency, which turns into summer league. The Nuggets, and Nuggets fans, may want to enjoy the off time for a little bit and bask in the glory of an epic season. The rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way though. That’s the beauty and the horror of time: it just keeps chugging along.

While you were also drinking champagne and celebrating for the fellas, Victor Wembanyama was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns traded for Bradley Beal. The Los Angeles Lakers signed Gabe Vincent. The Boston Celtics traded for Kristaps Porzingis. The Suns signed Eric Gordon. The Memphis Grizzlies traded for Marcus Smart. The Lakers retained Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves. The Suns signed Keita Bates-Diop. The Golden State Warriors traded Jordan Poole for Chris Paul. The Lakers signed Jaxson Hayes. The Suns signed Bol Bol.

You get the idea. Contenders are loading up to go after the Nuggets.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, will look a bit different next season. Bruce Brown was always unlikely to come back, despite Michael Malone’s best efforts. Brown signed with the Indiana Pacers for two years, $45 million, a deal that the Nuggets simply couldn’t come close to matching dollar for dollar. Brown played a whopping 2,810 minutes for the Nuggets between the regular season and the playoffs last year. His versatility is something the Nuggets will struggle to replicate, though the skills that he brings to the table (perimeter defense, ball handling, physicality) are replaceable on their own. Denver will find a way. The newly re-signed Reggie Jackson, Jalen Pickett, Christian Braun, Julian Strawther, and Peyton Watson will fill in those skills in a form or fashion.

Jeff Green was also lost to the Houston Rockets, a young team looking to bring in veteran leadership for a price. Green will provide that for the Rockets in a similar way to what he did for the Nuggets. Still, the actual on-court role that Green filled (1,400 minutes of floor spacing, cutting, team defense, and athletic transition dunks) is something Denver can replace. Vlatko Čančar was the more effective regular season backup forward, and between Čančar, Watson, Zeke Nnaji, and even Hunter Tyson, the Nuggets will be okay without Green.

It’s fair to say the Denver Nuggets didn’t get better this off-season. Being as limited financially as they were, the Nuggets had limited options in replacing their own free agents. Drafting the trio of Strawther, Pickett, and Tyson was a bet on Denver’s culture and player development, bringing older rookies up to speed sooner rather than later. It’s extremely unlikely that any of Denver’s drafted players start significant games for the Nuggets, but that’s not why they were selected.

No, the players that will determine Denver’s championship hopes this year are the starters, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji. The aforementioned Jackson will play his role, as will Čančar and even DeAndre Jordan when needed. But it’s Denver’s young guys, the 22-year-old Braun, the 20-year-old Watson, and the 22-year-old Nnaji, who will hope to affect Denver’s bench ceiling in a positive light. That’s another bet on youth and development, but a far more realistic one than expecting rookies to immediately contribute.

Is that enough, though? Is it enough to remain status quo in a league that is constantly changing? Sure, the referenced off-season moves made by other teams were mostly spoken tongue-firmly-in-cheek, but it’s fair to wonder if those teams got better while Denver got worse. The Suns and the Lakers had good off-seasons working with limited resources, albeit not that limited as free agent destinations for minimum contract opportunities. There are other teams who made good moves, and there are still some other shoes to drop. James Harden may end up on the Los Angeles Clippers for whatever that’s worth. Damian Lillard might become a member of the Miami Heat, a team that just made it to the NBA Finals for the second time in four years.

The league continues to evolve, but it seems that Denver’s rivals aren’t worrying about finding a stopper for Nikola Jokić. The Suns’ most notable big man addition was Drew Eubanks, who once outscored Jokić in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers that the Nuggets won by 32 points. The Lakers’ most notable big man addition was the aforementioned Jaxson Hayes, who has had some strong games against the Nuggets but never while guarding Jokić. The Minnesota Timberwolves will always be in a solid position with Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns bracketing Jokić, but that always leaves other players free to operate, namely Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., each of whom are getting better and better.

No, there are several teams in the Western Conference that got worse in a matchup against the Denver Nuggets. The Golden State Warriors got smaller and slower. The Dallas Mavericks big man options are Dwight Powell, Richaun Holmes, JaVale McGee, and rookie Dereck Lively II. The Memphis Grizzlies are a bit more interesting with Jaren Jackson Jr. and their young big man core continuing to improve, but Jokić has always had success against Steven Adams throughout his career. The Sacramento Kings remain the same with Domantas Sabonis. The Los Angeles Clippers still have Ivica Zubac, who is good defensively but not good enough. Many of the younger teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs simply aren’t ready yet.

There just aren’t a lot of teams that can slow down Denver’s bread and butter, and that’s what will keep Denver at the top of the standings at the end of the day, pending reasonable health. (Knocks on every piece of wood in the immediate vicinity.)

The questions will of course come down to the playoffs. Will Denver’s young bench players like Braun, Watson, and Nnaji be better after another 82 games of seasoning? Are they ready to step up in the gaps left behind? The shoes they’re stepping into are sizable, but certainly not impossible. Jokić is a cheat code when he’s out there and will guide his teammates along that learning curve. When Jokić is off the floor, it will be up to Murray, Porter, and Aaron Gordon (among others) to step up as leaders and fill in the gaps. That’s what’s great about championship experience for a 26-year-old Murray, a 25-year-old Porter, and a 27-year-old Gordon: those guys know what it takes to win now and have been tested on the biggest stage. They know what it takes to win and will be better, more seasoned players for it.

Until the playoffs, the matchups against most teams will remain consistent with last year: win the Jokić minutes and survive the minutes he sits out. Perhaps Denver’s -10.4 net rating from last regular season will be better this time around. I’m willing to bet that it will be, even if the Nuggets don’t look fantastic with their superstar on the sidelines. As long as Jokić is out there, the Nuggets will win games. It’s a tale as old as…well, five years ago.

The Nuggets will be okay. They’re not going to lose more regular season games due to the free agency departures of Brown and Green. The playoffs are their own entity, and wondering whether the Suns with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal or the Los Angeles Lakers with Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Rui Hachimura can match up with them is fair.

In the end? Those teams still have to stop Jokić and Murray, so good luck with that.