In spite of having a plethora of stars throughout the course of the years, it’s safe to say that the Denver Nuggets haven’t been the most successful franchise in NBA history.
Then again, they’ve become a powerhouse in the Western Conference recently, led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (you can click here if you want to learn more about their star players).
The Nuggets entered the NBA as a member of the defunct ABA. They don’t have anything to do with the NBL’s Denver Nuggets, which folded shortly after the 1950 season. As a matter of fact, this team was actually named the Denver Rockets before being forced to change names because of the Houston Rockets.
They were one of the powerhouses of the ABA, winning a couple of divisional titles in the 70s. The Nuggets kept their foot on the gas in the late 70s and 80s before taking a major dip, and it wasn’t until the late 2000s and late 2010s that they became relevant again. As of now, they have ten divisional titles.
Despite having a plethora of stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dan Issel, and Alex English, this franchise had to wait until 2023 to make it to its first NBA Finals. They beat the Miami Heat to get their very first championship, cementing Jokic as the best player on Earth and one of the most unique big men of all time.
Even despite their struggles, the Nuggets have had their fair share of solid coaches throughout the course of their history. In the next paragraphs, we’re going to let you know everything there is about some of them.
Dan Issel’s 180-208 coaching record with the Denver Nuggets might not be that impressive. Then again, he did come to rescue the team in two separate stints, from 1992 to 1995 and 1999 to 2001. Besides being one of the best players in franchise history, he led the team to its first winning season in four years in 1994, even upsetting the Seattle Supersonics in the first round.
He was the president and GM of the team when he came back for his second stint, and he didn’t find that much success in his second tenure with the team, but he’s still a cherished member of the organization remembered for his playing days and for coaching one of the most shocking upsets in NBA playoffs history.
Larry Brown will forever be a basketball legend. He coached the team to a 251-134 record across five years from 1974 to 1979, earning ABA Coach of the Year honors in both 1975 and 1976. He was in charge of the team during their first three seasons of the transition to the NBA and retired with the highest winning percentage in franchise history by the time.
Brown’s Nuggets made it to the ABA Finals back in 1976, although they couldn’t keep up with Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving and his almighty New York Nets. To this day, he’s still considered to be one of the 15 greatest basketball coaches of all time, having been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2002.
Doug Moe logged a 432-357 record with the Denver Nuggets from 1980 to 1990, earning NBA Coach of the Year honors in the 1987-88 season. He followed Larry Brown as an assistant coach, getting a chance to coach the San Antonio Spurs before heading back home to establish his high-octane offense in Denver.
Moe turned the Nuggets into must-watch basketball, establishing the fastest offense in the game and leading them to nine consecutive postseason berths. He also set a then-record with 54 wins in the regular season. Up to this day, you can see his ‘432’ banner hanging high on the court, which stands for his record number of wins with the organization.
Often unapologetic, George Karl was one of the best basketball minds of his generation. He was in charge of the team from 2005 to 2013 and fell just nine wins shy of Moe’s record, logging a 423-257 record. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2012 and coached the All-Star Game back in 2010.
In his first season with the team, the Nuggets closed out the year with a 32-8 record to make the playoffs. He coached prime Carmelo Anthony and made him one of the most dominant offensive forces in the league. Following Anthony’s departure, he kept the team competitive despite the lack of star power, and he was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Mike Malone may not have been with the team for as long as other coaches, but he did lead them to their first NBA Finals and NBA championship, so he has bragging rights over all the others. Notably, he was a testament to patience and building a slow yet steady process through the NBA Draft.
Coach Malone led the Nuggets to the mountaintop of the West, turning them into one of the toughest home teams in the league, and making the most of Nikola Jokic’s unique skill set to take this team to the ultimate glory.