How the Nuggets rebuilt their once fractured culture

By Christian Clark

While the Minnesota Timberwolves were firing social media shots at each other last month, the Denver Nuggets were firing Spikeballs. Only five months had passed since the teams faced each other in a play-in game to determine which team went to the playoffs. In the lead-up to media day, the team that came out on top was imploding while the other one was kicking off practice by playing a park game.

"That’s the perfect sport for me," said Nikola Jokic, who teamed up with Gary Harris to defeat Paul Millsap and Will Barton in the championship round. "I have long arms, and you don’t need to move that quick."

In three years together, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, general manager Arturas Karnisovas and head coach Michael Malone have taken special steps to create an environment for players to put their roots down and grow. Denver's brain trust has prioritized players who play the game with genuine joy. And once those players are here, Denver goes above and beyond to make them feel comfortable. (See: Malone devoting a chunk of his summer vacation to fly to Europe to spend time with Jokic and Juancho Hernangomez.)

The result is a roster made up of players from four different countries whose idea of fun is seeing how many teammates can fit into one cold tub, a home crowd at Pepsi Center that's flocking back after the brutal post-George Karl years and a franchise that's starting to once again earn respect around the league three and a half years after "1-2-3 … six weeks!"

At the foundation of it all: a vastly improved culture.

Jack Benoit