There were plenty of times for the Denver Nuggets to jump ship.

One win away from the first championship in franchise history, an awful lot of reminiscing is taking place. There’s reflection, looking back upon the good moments, the bad moments, the what-ifs, and much more. The butterfly effect is very real, and it’s easy to get carried away with how one different move from the Nuggets could have changed the course of the franchise’s history.

Like, what if the Denver Nuggets traded Nikola Jokić to the Boston Celtics for the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft for the right to draft Jaylen Brown? It was a real rumor, and the Nuggets ended up saying no to the Celtics, who were canvassing the league for trade options at the time.

Some in Boston media clearly felt like the Nuggets were insane to say no to such a rumor.

I don’t need to tell everyone how different the Nuggets would be if they simply traded their former 41st overall pick in 2014 for the third pick in the 2016 draft.

What if the Nuggets acquired Kevin Love during the 2017 NBA Draft? A three-team trade between the Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers was bandied about and nearly sent Paul George to the Cavaliers to pair with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Instead, the Pacers backed out last minute, and the deal that would have sent Indiana native Gary Harris back home fell through.

The Nuggets acquired Paul Millsap in free agency a week later, with Harris leading the charge in his recruitment. Millsap taught the Nuggets how to be professionals and played a part in one of the most important moments in franchise history.

The Nuggets used this scuffle to refocus themselves down 3-1 in the bubble to the Los Angeles Clippers, and with 17 points and great defense in Game 5, Millsap helped begin Denver’s second straight 3-1 comeback, giving the Nuggets the confidence they needed to stay the course in the coming years.

What if the Nuggets had traded Jamal Murray before his bubble breakout? He was an interesting prospect and clearly talented, showing promise in his first three years but not quite enough to be a “set-it-and-forget-it” type of star. The Nuggets would need to continue developing him, and there were plenty of stars on the trade market that the Nuggets avoided. From the aforementioned George, to Kawhi Leonard, to Anthony Davis, to Kyrie Irving, even Blake Griffin or DeMar DeRozan. Plenty of players changed teams, but the Nuggets remained status quo.

Even after his bubble breakout, there were rumors of a James Harden trade. Could the Nuggets have paired Harden and Nikola Jokić together? Maybe if they wanted to. Harden was still an MVP caliber player and showed it in the immediate aftermath of the trade to Brooklyn. The Nuggets stayed the course though, believing that Jokić and Murray would do great things together and refusing to put Murray on the table for a Harden deal.

Murray’s injury derailed Denver’s best laid plans for a little bit, and some teams may have traded the injured star if put in Denver’s position. The Nuggets waited the injury out though, allowing Murray plenty of time to heal. Murray missed the 2021 and 2022 playoffs as a result, but the Nuggets never pushed him to come back sooner than he thought he could. They appear to be reaping those rewards with one of the greatest runs for a dynamic duo in NBA history.

Then, there’s Michael Porter Jr., who’s been through a lot since being drafted in 2018. He’s sat out full seasons, had to manage multiple surgeries, and deal with an immense amount of pain while playing basketball. Many teams would have tried cashing in on his talent to get immediate help. Instead, the Nuggets stayed the course, even paying Porter a big contract for his trouble, and trusting that a healthy Porter would impact winning at the highest levels.

Porter’s shooting just 3-of-22 from three-point range (13.6%) in the NBA Finals, and it’s clearly killing him that nothing’s really fallen yet. The Nuggets are fortunate that they’ve built such a well-rounded team to withstand that slump, but Porter’s found ways to contribute outside of shooting. In Game 1, it was his defense. In Game 4, it was his cutting. In previous rounds, Porter both hit three-pointers and played defense at a pretty high level, giving the Nuggets exactly what they needed to get to this point. Hopefully, he breaks the ice again in Game 5.

The Philadelphia 76ers coined the term “Trust the Process” when they were struggling to see the light back in 2015. General Manager Sam Hinkie entered the building and revolutionized tanking. He emphasized being as bad as possible, accumulating as many draft picks as possible, drafting young stars, and developing a team with elite young talent to new heights.

Hinkie wasn’t able to complete his vision and was fired before he got to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but he laid the groundwork by selecting players like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, and Markelle Fultz at the top of the draft. Embiid proved to be a hit, and Simmons was thought to be something, but Okafor and Fultz were clear busts. There were plenty of awesome role players added though, like Robert Covington, Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell, Jerami Grant, and others.

There was pressure on the Sixers to get good fast after the Fultz disaster though, so after winning 52 games in 2017-18, they cashed in some of those chips and acquired Jimmy Butler, a great move in retrospect. Feeling trade fever, they doubled down and acquired Tobias Harris, who ended up not being the greatest fit and has a contract that has proved debilitating.

After the Embiid-Simmons relationship fractured, the Sixers acquired James Harden from the Nets, hoping that a new dynamic partner for their superstar would help get them back on track. The regular seasons have been good, but the playoffs have been disappointing, and the Sixers are left wondering where things went wrong.

Jan 28, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) meet after a game at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets never blinked when faced with adversity. They certainly could pivoted like the Sixers did, and nobody would have faulted them. When you have an opportunity to turn a second round pick into a top three selection, why wouldn’t you? Turn an interesting prospect into an All-Star? You haven’t had one of those since Carmelo Anthony! Turn a possible star into an MVP caliber player at the same position? Who would say no to that?

The Nuggets said no to all of it.

Tim Connelly, Calvin Booth, and the Nuggets organization were all confident in the direction of the team. Even in moments of crisis, like losing a game that was the difference between making the playoffs for the first time in five years or not. Stan and Josh Kroenke stood by the vision laid out and executed by Connelly, Booth, Michael Malone, and others. They knew that Jokić, Murray, and Porter were worth waiting for.

Yes, there were trades. Gary Harris had to go to get Aaron Gordon. The Nuggets cried when that happened, an emotional roller coaster for many who saw the benefit of what was happening and didn’t care because they had to say goodbye to a brother. The Nuggets also traded Monte Morris and Will Barton to acquire Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith, another painful but necessary trade to make. These were the exact players needed to complete Denver’s vision. They were the clear next steps of the process, not some chance move that occurred quicker than the team was actually ready for. The Nuggets waited until exactly when the trades needed to get done before pulling the trigger, and they reaped the rewards as a result.

Adding Bruce Brown? Part of the process. Drafting Christian Braun? Part of the process. Adding Jeff Green? Part of the process.

There’s obviously a bit of romanticizing here, but the Nuggets knew what they had to do and didn’t get distracted. They stayed focused, kept their eye on the prize, and were able to reach this moment because of their belief in what they were doing. There was commitment to the vision from everybody involved, and the Nuggets are finally seeing the benefits after such an intense few months. Years really.

That’s why the Nuggets have an opportunity to become champions tonight: unshakable, unflappable belief in each other.