Bron­cos getA, Nugs in­com­plete on re­port cards

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

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@ den­ver­ or @dempsey­post

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