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Even with the confetti still falling from the Ball Arena rafters and the NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy glinting inches in front of his nose, Michael Malone’s attention was already elsewhere. Minutes after helping lead the franchise to its first-ever NBA title, Denver’s head coach announced to the sellout crowd, “We want more.”
Three days later, in a voice-cracking speech at the team’s victory parade, he reiterated the message, if a bit more boisterously: “Y’all want to do it again?” he asked the thousands gathered in front of Denver City Hall. “Let’s do this. Dynasty, dynasty, dynasty.”
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It’s a loaded word in sports—aspirational, wishful thinking, a pipe dream. In basketball, you can count the number of dynasties on one hand, and even that’s debatable. Time has cemented into lore the Boston Celtics of the late ’50s and ’60s, the Los Angeles Lakers of the ’80s, and the Chicago Bulls of the ’90s. But what about the early-2000s Lakers? Or the 2015–’19 Golden State Warriors? Can the Denver Nuggets enter the chat?
While peering into the future may distract from Denver’s glorious present, it’s too tantalizing to not imagine what the coming years could have in store for the newly minted champions. Many of the pieces needed for such a run are in place. A transcendent superstar in his prime? Check. An All Star–caliber sidekick? Check. A deep and talented supporting cast? Check. An experienced, respected coach? Check.
Much of the Nuggets’ justifiable optimism is centered around Jokić, who recorded 10 triple doubles in the postseason and became the first player in NBA history to log the most points, assists, and rebounds in any playoffs. He is crafty for a big man—a deft dribbler with a sweet touch shot who isn’t afraid to hang them from behind the three-point arc (he scored 35 treys in the playoffs). More importantly, though, Jokić’s game isn’t predicated on his speed, jumping ability, or athleticism—it’s a ground-based approach, one that should remain effective even as he ages and help prevent career-turning injuries.
This isn’t to say he’s old—Jokić is only 28. And with a deal running through 2028, he should be the face of the Denver Nuggets for the foreseeable future. The team’s next three-highest scorers are young, too: Aaron Gordon is 27, Jamal Murray 26, and Michael Porter Jr. 24. Each member of that trio—along with fifth starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who is 30)—is under contract through at least the 2024–’25 season.
And though the Nuggets have eight players entering free agency this offseason, only one of them, Bruce Brown (who declined his $6.8 million player option to become a free agent this morning), averaged more than 4.1 points per game last season. In other words, the team that breezed through the playoffs with a 16–4 record will head into next season largely intact.
Most of the Western Conference teams that will vie to dethrone the Denver Nuggets next season have serious, unavoidable flaws. The Phoenix Suns have Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and the newly acquired Bradley Beal, but their various moves have left them with next to no depth, which the Nuggets exploited in the conference semis.
The Memphis Grizzlies, who finished two games behind the Nuggets for the number one, have their fortunes tied to star guard Ja Morant, whose concerning and self-destructive behavior over the past five months landed him a 25-game suspension to begin next season.
LeBron James is just 18 months from his 40th birthday, making the prospect of a Los Angeles Lakers’ title seem implausible barring significant roster changes. The Los Angeles Clippers’ two stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are injury-prone and seldom on the court together. The declining play of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (who may not even be a Warrior next season) makes Golden State much less threatening. The Sacramento Kings are young and exciting, but have only one strong season on their resumé.
In the NBA, it’s not outlandish or naive to believe a team can stack championships. With small rosters, impactful players, and lax salary cap considerations, teams are built to last. Since 1980, an NBA team has won at least three titles in a five-year stretch five times, with four different franchises achieving the feat. A “dynasty” isn’t a far-flung fantasy in the NBA.
But as clear and navigable as it might seem, the path to back-to-back(-to-back?) championships for the Denver Nuggets is littered with obstacles.
Injuries large and small are perhaps the most common pitfall for potential dynasties, sidelining and limiting players whose contributions to a championship are so integral. The Nuggets haven’t been immune to it: Murray was out for 131 games across the 2020–’21 and 2021–’22 seasons while recovering from a torn ACL. Porter has undergone three back surgeries since 2017 and has missed 132 regular-season games over his four-year career.
But there’s something intangible about success—and failure—in the NBA, too.
The Miami Heat stockpiled three of the NBA’s best players in 2010, leading to James’ audacious prediction of “not five, not six, not seven” titles. The could-be dynasty won just two championships over a four-year stretch.
After the Lakers’ title in the NBA Bubble in 2020, the Sporting News proclaimed, “A new Lakers dynasty? Why 2020 championship could be a start with LeBron James, Anthony Davis on board.” Over the following two seasons, the Lakers won just two playoff games.
After the Milwaukee Bucks won the Finals the following year, ESPN ran the headline, “Why Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks believe they can be the NBA’s next great dynasty.” Neither has it gone to plan, as Milwaukee failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs in 2023.
For every team like the Warriors, who rode an exciting group of young stars to four championships between 2015 and 2022, there are many more cautionary tales of prematurely crowned dynasties, of teams well positioned for several more titles only to never reach those heights again.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know whether the Nuggets can avoid that fate and whether their promise materializes into something more than a single run in which everything came together. Can they etch themselves into NBA history as one of the league’s unlikeliest powerhouses and join the ranks of the sport’s most exalted franchises? We certainly hope so. But if not, at least the 47-year-long wait is over.