Not even a week has passed since the Denver Nuggets won their first NBA championship in franchise history, yet they are already pegged as the favorites to win it all once again next season.
The Nuggets are on top of the early projections followed by the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.
While it is obviously too early to tell with the offseason free agency period not even underway, there is really not much reason to doubt Denver’s chance at a repeat title–especially if head coach Michael Malone’s (Drunken?) “Run it back” announcement during their championship parade comes to fruition.
This team is built to keep on winning in the coming years, with each member of the Nuggets’ starting five still relatively young. Among their five starters, only shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is older than 30. It is easy to overlook that two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic is still only 28 while Aaron Gordon (27), Jamal Murray (26), and Michael Porter Jr. (24) are even younger.
One potential obstacle for Denver though is the looming free agency of their key reserve Bruce Brown. The 26-year-old guard played a major role in the Nuggets’ success, bumping up his value in the open market, which makes it likely that he will opt out of his $6 million player option for next year come this offseason’s free agency period.
The combination of hustle and versatility that Brown brings to the table has made him an intriguing player around the league and he is expected to land a major payday come July.
However, it is too early to count out Brown’s return to Denver, especially after Malone’s pronouncement during their title celebration.
Meanwhile, the two teams with the next best title odds at the moment, Boston and Milwaukee, reside in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics and Bucks were both favored title contenders in the recently concluded playoffs as well after dominating the regular season until the Miami Heat burst their bubble.
One potential distraction for Boston this season though is the upcoming 2024 free agency of their NBA All-Star swingman Jaylen Brown. The 26-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent come 2024, but the Celtics can already re-sign him to an extension as early as next month. Securing a deal for Brown will lessen the distractions surrounding this team and should be a priority for their front office.
On the other hand, Milwaukee will have to make a key free agent decision of their own this July with starting center Brook Lopez set to receive strong offers in the open market. Re-signing the 35-year-old seven-footer, who was the backbone of their defense this past season, should be on top of their to-do list this summer and will be crucial in their bid to compete for another title
Despite his age, Lopez’s game is largely ground-based and should age gracefully. He remains one of the best defensive centers in the league and his ability to shoot threes at an above average rate (37.4% on 4.7 attempts per game last season) makes him extremely valuable in the modern NBA. Lopez has already been linked with the Heat and Houston Rockets.
Another interesting development with the Bucks is their emergence as a potential trade destination for the Washington Wizards’ three-time NBA All-Star guard Bradley Beal. The high-scoring Beal will be a perfect on-court complement for Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Milwaukee will have to give up either Jrue Holiday or Khris Middleton to make this trade work.
It will be interesting to see if the Bucks will be willing to give up one of their beloved co-stars for Beal, who will be 30 years old when this next season begins, as he is only slightly younger than Holiday (33 years old) and Middleton (32).
It was not too long ago that Milwaukee was hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy themselves and the Nuggets’ title made them the sixth different team to win the championship over the past six seasons. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s introduction of new rules with the goal of creating parity have been a success so far, although this Denver team has a strong chance of breaking this recent trend.
The Nuggets as presently constructed can definitely win the first back-to-back titles since the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018, but it will definitely be an uphill climb in a league that is as competitive as it has ever been.