Take Nikola Jokic off the Nuggets, they’re the Detroit Pistons.
It takes a village to win a ring. Joel Embiid can kick it to James Harden. Giannis Antetokounmpo runs with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
If you doubled Jokic, on a roster that was missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who was going to make you pay? Aaron Gordon? Monte Morris? Will Barton?
Embiid and Giannis are legends. Hall of Famers. Legends who’re still kicking in the NBA Playoffs right now because they’re rolling with other Hall-of-Famers.
The Joker isn’t the NBA MVP for a second straight year because the nerds suddenly took over the awards voting. Nerds have had the votes for decades.
Jokic is wearing the crown again, and deservedly so, because nobody in the NBA, and maybe nobody in modern NBA history, did more during a season with less.
In the eight games Denver played without the Big Honey because of either rest or injury precautions, the Nuggs went 2-6. Throw out a 15-point win over Houston, aka “The Boogie Game” — DeMarcus Cousins put up 31 points and nine boards in Jokic’s stead — and it was 1-6 with a minus-10.1 scoring margin.
Nuggets minus Joker: 2-6. Sixers minus Embiid: 6-8. Bucks minus Giannis: 6-9.
Without their MVP candidates, Philly and Milwaukee went down a notch. Without its MVP candidate, Denver went off The Painted Wall without a parachute.
Instead of a page, or even a paragraph, opponents’ scouting reports for the 2021-‘22 Nuggets consisted of a single sentence:
LET SOMEBODY OTHER THAN 15 TRY AND BEAT YOU.
Nine words. Nine. That the Nuggets won 48 games anyway says a lot about Michael Malone as a coach. It says even more about Jokic, who put up more points per game (27.1), rebounds per game (13.8) and almost as many assists per game (7.9) than last season, despite having a half-speed MPJ for only nine games and no Murray at all.
Let the ESPN talking heads weep. Let the Philly trolls rage. As a one-man, franchise-carrying performer in this town goes, only John Elway did it better.
And among the greatest players to ever represent the city, Jokic probably slides into the No. 3 slot now, trailing just Elway and Super Joe Sakic.
The former, as the Broncos quarterback, reached five Super Bowls, won two, and redefined a franchise. The latter nabbed two Stanley Cups here and helped transform Denver into one of the country’s great hockey towns.
In terms of the bar fight over The Greatest Nugget Ever, though, it’s over. The kid from Sombor won. Two MVPs. And counting. One conference final. And — hopefully — counting.
David Thompson, one of the game’s greatest skywalkers, was Michael Jordan’s hero. Alex English raised the bar and kept it there for more than a decade. Dan Issel bridged the NBA-ABA merger with gravitas and guts. Carmelo Anthony could score from anywhere.
But none of them was ever bestowed the NBA’s highest individual honor while hooping it up here, let alone twice. Monday’s news was the tiebreaker. Now. Forever.
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The only thing missing on Jokic’s roster is health and help. The only thing missing on his resume, at age 27, is taking the Nuggets to where they’ve never been: The NBA Finals.
Of the previous 12 basketball legends to ever win consecutive MVP awards, only two — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Steve Nash — never won a title two years before, during, or two years after their back-to-back honors. Abdul-Jabar had already snatched a crown with Oscar Robertson in Milwaukee in 1971, then nabbed a string of ‘em once Magic Johnson showed up in Los Angeles, starting in 1980. Thanks to Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, Nash never reached the Finals.
It takes a village to throw a parade. Elway had Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe. Peyton Manning had Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Sakic had Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg.
Jokic woke up Monday as the greatest Denver pro athlete ever without a ring. It’s up to Tim Connelly, Calvin Booth and the Nuggets front office to change that last part. And the sooner, the better.