Broncos getA, Nugs incomplete on report cards
indianapolis » wo years apart, two teams from the same city— the Broncos and Nuggets— set a chart down the same path. Funny how things sometimes work that way.
The result has been a lesson in the fragile nature of decisionmaking at the pro sports level.
A philosophy change was needed. Toughness was on the minds of both organizations.
The Nuggets had a string of success, including 10 consecutive years of playoff berths. But it was the string of playoff failures that grated at them most. First round … exit. First round … exit. Nine times out of 10. They were entertaining, but in the playoffs they were too soft. It was getting them beaten. In June 2013, enter Brian Shaw. Making the playoffs wasn’t the issue. Finding the winning formula in them was. Fast and finesse wasn’t how deep playoff runs were created. Half-court and physical defense was how true contenders were made. Shaw was the man to bring that playoff winning formula to the Nuggets.
Only, as it turned out, he couldn’t win in the regular season.
The Broncos wanted tough. High scoring and finesse got them to a Super Bowl— and got them pounded in it. High scoring and finesse didn’t get them out of the divisional round of the playoffs the following season.
In January 2015, enter Gary Kubiak.
Making the playoffs wasn’t the issue. Finding the winning formula in them was. General manager John Elway wanted a team that would go out “kicking and screaming,” because he didn’t have that. A strong running game and a physical defense were how true Super Bowl contenders were made.
Kubiak was the man to bring that playoff winning formula to the Broncos.
And, as it is turning out, Kubiak is doing just that.
The line between philosophy and execution is a thin one. The
TNuggets and Broncos made coaching changes in search of the same things. Added grit. Added grind. A foundation that each believed gave themselves a true shot at winning big time. The Broncos, for all of the shakiness the offense may have displayed during the regular season, won 12 times and then put their new playoff personality to the test. They passed those tests and stand one win from the franchise’s third Super Bowl title.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, the newest Nuggets coach, Michael Malone, was answering questions pregame about coaching teenagers, about what it is like to oversee a rebuild.
The Nuggets had so desperately wanted to go out kicking and screaming.
They are now in an extreme makeover.
Does that make the Nuggets wrong for trying, for tinkering with something already successful in the first place? Not any more than it made the Broncos wrong for taking an already winning formula and shaking it up in hopes of squeezing more out of it.
In 2003, the Detroit Pistons fired Rick Carlisle, then a hot commodity, after he had won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. One hundred wins and out? So many struggled to believe that could be the case. Larry Brown, the man with the playoff plan, was hired. The Pistons won the NBA title in his first season.
It can be like that. The Broncos are living it. Kubiak is Larry Brown. The Broncos are on the doorstep of a major decision hitting the jackpot.
The Nuggets have started over. By all accounts, their future looks bright. But this week is a cruel reminder of how the best of intentions, no matter how carefully vetted and made, are never promised a storybook outcome. Christopher Dempsey: cdempsey@ denverpost.com or @dempseypost