Regression is the name of the game for Nuggets so far in 2021

oFeb 16, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone covers his face as he bends over after Denver was called for a foul during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-2021 season has been anything but a smooth ride for the Denver Nuggets. Littered with ups and downs, the current season is starting to feel more and more like a transition year for the team, as opposed to one with legitimate championship aspirations.

I’ve attended every single Denver Nuggets’ home game and have finagled my way around the internet to catch them on the road, thanks in part to the braves souls who provide the people with options that our local market cannot.

This season is over and done with. Forget the Western Conference Finals, hell forget the semifinals at this point. Nearly 40% of the way through the season, and the only word to describe the Nuggets is regression.

There is no other way to slice it. Outside of Nikola Jokic, every aspect of the team has regressed in some fashion this season, as the Nuggets are far-off from the team that managed to reach the Western Conference Finals over the summer.

It’s rather disappointing as the Nuggets’ bubble run is starting to look more and more like the team captured lightning in a bottle as opposed to progressing as a unit. Ok, enough about the past. The honeymoon stage is over. This team has been hot garbage this season and is in the process of wasting the single greatest season from an individual player in franchise history.

What gives?

There is a clear disconnect between Jokic and the rest of the roster. While Jokic continues to try and push the club forward, his teammates have been unable to shoulder the load required to take this team to the upper-echelon of the Western Conference.

It’s frustrating but not surprising when you look at the complexion of the team and the moves, or lack thereof, that occurred during the offseason to gear this team up to run it back to the Conference Finals.

I also had a front-row seat for the disastrous 2019 season for the Colorado Rockies, and this Nuggets season is starting to feel a little bit like that.

Remember, the Rockies had managed to make the postseason in back-to-back years leading into the 2019 season; however, that offseason would change the franchise’s entire trajectory and ultimately lead to the departure of Nolan Arenado down the line.

Instead of building upon their success by engaging in trades and the free-agent market, Colorado opted to bank on their success from the previous seasons to roll over into 2019. The team was confident in the core of Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon, as well as the rotation led by German Marquez and Kyle Freeland. The front office was so confident that they opted to let DJ LeMahieu sign with the New York Yankees and replace him with ailing veteran Daniel Murphy. We all know how things played out from there.

I am starting to get the same vibes with the 2021 version of the Nuggets. Instead of building upon their run to the Conference Finals, Tim Connelly and co. opted to sit back and bank on the progression of his European center, and his 22-year-old and 23-year-old rising starts to propel the team back to the Conference Finals and hopefully beyond. Keep in mind, this was the plan while key role players in Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig were on their way out the door.

Denver’s big splash of the offseason was bringing in JaMychal Green. Green has been a solid role player when healthy, but he has not had nearly the same impact that Grant did across the board for the team.

Connelly has done an excellent job of developing this team through the draft over the years into one that can be competitive on a nightly basis, but he failed to transition his mindset as GM from rebuild mode to title pursuit the last few months.

The lack of offseason signings was startling, but what’s more perplexing was Denver’s willingness to foster three rookies on a roster looking to contend for a championship, with a coach who is notorious for favoring veterans over rookies. Let alone bringing over an undersized European guard who has never played in the NBA before. That’s your championship move?

Get back to me when you see the Lakers or Warriors make a move like that.

Zeke Nnaji, RJ Hampton and Marcus Morris could be solid players for the Nuggets down the line, but what exactly do they bring to the team at his very moment? What do they add to a team looking to win a ring in the next couple of seasons?

What’s most frustrating about the offseason is the fact that nearly every team around Denver got better, while the Nuggets have remained virtually the same. The Lakers beefed up their roster, Phoenix added Chris Paul, and other teams made aggressive moves to solidify their spot within the NBA’s top ranks.

Not the Nuggets.

So here we are. The Nuggets have virtually the same core as last season but have taken a step back in the grand scheme of things.

With that, there is one clear issue: Jokic needs help. And he doesn’t just need any help. The Nuggets need to do good by their team-centric star and provide him with legitimate A-type talent instead of the wishful thinking that comes with Denver’s youthful roster.

There no shame in being a young team, but when you are geared up for a run at a title with an MVP candidate, you need to build the team accordingly. Right now, the Nuggets are like a four-cylinder engine with a turbo. That turbo (Jokic) is enough to get off the block rather quickly, but you’ll never be able to beat out a car with a V6 or V8 engine once the race settles in.

This season is looking more and more like a lost cause, a familiar feeling amongst Denver sports fans the last few years.

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