Take Your Time: The Denver Nuggets Weren’t Built in a Season

The foundation for the burgeoning Nuggets dynasty was laid in 2014, when the team drafted a relatively unknown center from Serbia. Over the better part of the next decade, the front office added one piece after another, removing the ones that didn’t fit the winning culture, all while giving the staff and young players time to grow. There were setbacks to be sure (such as 2021’s first-round playoffs exit), but nobody panicked by, say, firing the head coach or trading for Kyrie Irving. Nine years later, the Nuggets finally claimed the franchise’s first title.

The season after the Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic, the Denver Broncos won their last Super Bowl. Since then, the team has churned through five head coaches and 13 starting QBs. Now, we’re not saying that Vic Fangio is Mike Malone—and Trevor Siemian, Drew Lock, and Teddy Bridgewater combined wouldn’t amount to a single Jeff Green, never mind a Jokic. But there’s an impatience to the Broncos’ front office’s machinations that leads to high expectations and, ultimately, dismal records.

You can’t really blame the Broncos. Unlike Nuggets fans, the Broncos faithful are used to winners and so demand the appearance of one on the field. And the quick-fix approach worked when Denver traded for Peyton Manning. But mortgaging the future (two first-round and two-second round picks) for Russell Wilson didn’t. Will sacrificing more of it (a first and second) for Sean Payton pay off? Even if the former Super Bowl–winning coach resurrects Wilson’s career, are the Broncos positioned to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for supremacy of the AFC West this year? Next year? In five years? No, they are not.

Building a sustainable winner from the foundation up isn’t easy (see: Denver Broncos, 1960-1977), but the results are almost always worth it (see: Denver Broncos, 1983-2005). To achieve the latter, though, a team needs a patient ownership and a front office that’s committed to its master plan—two virtues the Nuggets have in abundance, but of which the Broncos have been woefully short.—Spencer Campbell


Since 1996, when Broncos public-address announcer Alan Cass (inadvertently?) coined the team’s IN-COM-PLETE chant, fans of the orange and blue have been shouting the phrase in unison after every failed connection between opposing quarterbacks and their receivers. In the days of John Elway and Peyton Manning, the taunt worked. Elway was probably a better rusher than passer, but he had a strong arm and won games; Manning easily ranks in the top five of the greatest NFL passers of all time.

It has, of course, been seven long seasons since the Sheriff retired—and, for the most part, the holier-than-thou incantation hasn’t hit its mark since. But (insert eyeroll emoji) Donkey diehards still belted it out during the abysmal 2022-’23 season, during which quarterback Russell Wilson had a fourth-worst-in-the-league completion percentage of 60.5.

Maybe it’s just us, but we’d suggest the Broncos either lose the chorus altogether or, and hear us out, bring in Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as a temporary, early-season QB coach. After all, the Joker is one of the best NBA passers of all time. He has a near-clairvoyant understanding of where his teammates will be; he dishes the ball without having to look-off his intended receivers; and he threads the needle between defenders as if they aren’t even there. Of course, it’s possible that Russ already knows the six-foot-11 Serbian star should be his muse: The Broncos QB was spotted at several Nuggets games during the team’s championship season. —Lindsey B. King

Make the Team More Than a Team. Make It a Family

“Family on three! One. Two. Three. FAMILY!”

So goes the chant that Nuggets head coach Mike Malone leads his players in after every single game, win or lose. Family, it turns out, is one of Malone’s most consistent themes. During the Nuggets victory parade, he told reporters, “We stay together in good times and bad. That’s what families do.”

As cheesy as Malone’s dad energy sometimes may sound to anyone outside the locker room, the Nuggets roster seems to have fully embraced his message and become like kin—a level of cohesion the Broncos could desperately use. While Broncos players and coaches gave each other confused and frustrated looks during early season games last year, the Nuggets have made the effort, under Malone’s leadership, to cultivate a positive team environment.

Take Aaron “Mr. Nugget” Gordon, who invites players over to his converted Montbello warehouse for parties and shootarounds. Maybe Russell Wilson could have weekly cookouts for his team at his $25 million spread? The Broncos could also learn from the Nuggets’ D.P.O.G. (Defensive Player of the Game) chain; Malone awards the gaudy necklace to the team’s most impactful defensive player after every contest, and the Nuggets’ Instagram feed is full of videos of teammates cheering for each other whenever the award is handed out.

Meanwhile, the Broncos’ social media channels almost never take us into the locker room, so it’s next to impossible to know what the vibe is in there these days. But on the off-chance the Broncos start chanting “Family on three!” before, after, and even during games, we won’t call it cheesy. We’ll call it a step in the right direction.—Chris Walker

Dial Back The Cockiness

Are the Broncos the most arrogant professional sports team in Denver?

No longer is it a foregone conclusion that Denver residents will pledge fealty to the orange and blue. These days, the city is a hub for transplants; often, their allegiances have traveled, and they root for the Bears or the Cowboys or (gasp) the Raiders. And they appear to have no trouble sniffing out the fake bravado and self-importance wafting all the way from Dove Valley to Empower Field at Mile High.

So we’ve got a tip for the Broncos brass: Take a page out of the Nuggets’ playbook, and let the kinder, more humble side of the organization shine this season. The Nuggets have grown their footprint by being genuine—with likeable players, coaches, and front-office folks—and welcoming longtime and new fans alike. After that, the team has let its winning do the talking.

Maybe most important, the Nuggets, led by their All-Everything center, Nikola Jokic, know when to shut up. Jokic is the ultimate team player, the superstar without the super ego. Mike Malone is the everyman coach, the lunch-bucket guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and always has his players’ backs. The effortlessness and professionalism with which the Nuggets went about their business in what has become a perpetually drama-filled league was so deft that it almost went unnoticed.

It’s obvious the Broncos didn’t see this shift coming. These aren’t the 1990s John Elway teams, and Manning isn’t quieting a rapturous crowd at Mile High anymore. It’s been eight years since the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi trophy. And yet new head coach Sean Payton doubled down on the sort of inexplicable sensationalism and drama that’s permeated this team for years—before having to walk back his comments. It’s high time the Broncos start winning and demonstrating an attitude befitting one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. If they don’t, perhaps the fans will finally move on.—Robert Sanchez