As the Denver Nuggets slog through another regular season, winning a few more games than they lose, on pace to enter the playoffs as a lower seed the tenth straight season (the eighth under George Karl), they're breaking an unspoken promise they made to their fans back in 2009. In that season they made it as far as the Western Conference Finals, where they were defeated by LA Lakers in six games. There was an understanding, though, that the Lakers were going to someday fall off and that the Nuggets would take advantage when they did, elevating from an also-ran to a force to be reckoned with in West. Fans understood that Denver's time at the top would come once the "Laker era" finally ended.
This season Kobe Bryant has begun to show to his age. The much-heralded addition of Steve Nash to LA's roster hasn't made the Lakers any younger. The team is finally struggling. They're currently in third place in the Pacific division with a record of 15-20, trailing both the Warriors and the Clippers. They might still be playoff bound, but nobody would be shocked to see LA sit out this post-season.
Sadly, the great promise this circumstance should have offered Nuggets fans is going unfulfilled. Our expectation was that the demise of mighty LA would leave a void that would be filled by our team. Instead, the Nuggets have failed to rise beyond their usual middling status. The LA Clippers, a former laughing stock in the West, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, formerly the Seattle Supersonics, have emerged as the dominant teams in the conference. San Antonio and Houston remain threatening and even the Memphis Grizzlies have managed to assemble a better record than the Nuggets.
This should be Denver's time. And it still may prove to be. But what deflates Nuggets fans, even after a victory like the squad secured over Orlando last night, is that the franchise is still experimenting, tweaking the roster and the lineups to the extent that not a single player remains from the 2009 team that went to the Conference Finals. Rather than growing as a team, bonding, developing roles and nailing down a system they know works, the Nuggets have consistently thrown out babies with bathwater. As a result, they have never matured, never "gelled".
The Nuggets, despite a decade-long run of being "good" still haven't gotten great. It seems that they have finally waited out the Lakers, but their fate remains the same - they'll go no further than the first or second round of the playoffs. This is because, rather than being poised to emerge, they're developing. Instead of being a few years behind Kobe and the Lakers they're now a few years behind Durant and the Thunder, Griffin and the Clippers. Worse, those are young, deep teams. Their horizons extend as far as the eye can see.
The Denver Nuggets have failed to establish dominance atop the Western Conference and have, instead, stood still and watched other teams come from seemingly nowhere to assume their seat headed toward the future. The 2013 season will eventually reach it's predicable end early in the post-season and then the Nuggets will get back to work manipulating and molding, trading and signing, changing and developing into a team that will offer us only more broken promises.