Winning and culture. It’s the chicken or the egg argument of the sports world. Does winning create culture, or does a culture have to be established before an organization can start to win consistently?

Perhaps the more pressing question for the Denver Nuggets: Does it even matter if you have neither? Because that’s the position the Nuggets – they of the 20-36 record after 110-82 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Monday – are in today. The Nuggets aren’t winning, and they don’t seem to have a direction for the future.

The Nuggets have been listless on the court for most of the season and in particular over the past month. Head coach Brian Shaw has wondered out-loud whether or not his team is losing on purpose. There doesn’t seem to be any agreement between Shaw and the locker room, and – critically – there’s no veteran who can act as a mediator between the team and their embattled head coach. The Nuggets either ignore, can’t, or don’t care about following Shaw’s instructions, and there’s nobody in the locker room mature enough to guide the way.

Here’s what Shaw had to say after the Nets game when asked by Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post whether the team had any  veterans that were trying to get everyone to come together.

“If we do than it doesn’t really happen a lot in my presence,” said Shaw. “I don’t know what they do when I’m not in the actual locker room. But I’d like to see that more.”

That’s a big problem. In the NBA, locker room dynamics matter more than in any other sport. It’s a small group of guys, and even if they don’t always like each other, there has to be a willingness to work together on and off the court. Anyone who’s watched the Nuggets offense this season can tell there’s no cohesion – the team looks like they’ve never met each other at times.

And ultimately, that’s the biggest negative that came from ending the George Karl era. For better or worse, Karl was the face of the Nuggets after Carmelo Anthony left. His style and personality gave Denver an identity. Shaw, general manager Tim Connelly, and team president Josh Kroenke have been unable to put their stamp on the team in the time since then.

The process might have started at the trade deadline, when the Nuggets finally got out from under 7-foot anchor JaVale McGee and shipped the unhappy Arron Afflalo off to Portland. But the Nuggets didn’t exactly sell the farm last Thursday, and even shipped off a (protected) first-round pick to Philadelphia in order to get rid of McGee.

Think of the trade deadline as the first few baby steps before a full-on sprint (or sell off) that could happen during this year’s upcoming draft. You don’t make it well known that you’re listening to trade rumors on your best player public if you want to keep him, though it might be time for him to move on anyways.

If the Nuggets really are choosing Shaw over the players they have now, it’s an indication that the locker room is a lost cause. The Nuggets are made up of a solid collection of people, but not one that can apparently come together and play well – at least, not anymore. It’d be better, in the long run, to move anyone and everyone who’s unhappy with the situation, because the last thing the Nuggets want is rookies Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris growing up and learning how to play lazy basketball in a toxic atmosphere.

Chemistry and culture matters in the NBA, but talent trumps all. Right now the Nuggets are lacking in both. It’s too late for this roster to have an attitude adjustment, and there’s no leader for the franchise to look up to. A clean slate would be best for everyone involved.

It’s time for the Nuggets to build an identity from the ground floor. That means knocking down the rest of what Karl and Masai Ujiri built, something they should have done from the get-go.

Zach Marburger is a staff writer for Mile High Sports. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @BurchBurger.

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