If you've watched the Nuggets play lately, it may feel like they're missing something that you just can't quite figure out.
Then you look at the injury report: Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, Joffrey Lauvergne, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur. It's like watching a rerun of M.A.S.H. every night at Pepsi Center, with all the players needing medical attention.
The dearth of players is starting to wear on Michael Malone. There's no way around it, he wants to win. He wants his players to buy into his system, execute, hustle, and be committed to winning. So far, the Nuggets players have been able to do that eight times in 22 attempts. That rate is about the same winning percentage that the team had last season, albeit with a different head coach, more healthy players, and a different goal. That season ended with the Nuggets in the lottery,where they selected Emmanuel Mudiay with the No. 7 pick.
This season, the Nuggets own the rights to four draft picks, but are likely only going to have two on draft day. They'll likely have a high teens/low twenties pick from the Rockets as well as their own pick, which puts them in a good position to add a starter and a rotation player off the bench. They don't have control over where the Rockets pick lands, but they do "control" their own destiny in regards to their own pick - by tanking.
I am not an advocate of tanking. I think it is terrible sportsmanship, and it's harmful for the team culture. However, there is no shame in preserving the health of players signed to contracts by providing them the rest necessary to fully heal. Some players may need extra caution to protect against rushing back into the lineup before they are game ready. I don't consider that to be tanking - that's maximizing value of assets. If I needed to have a bevy or repairs done on my car, I wouldn't want to get back on the road before all the lug nuts were tightened and lids screwed on - that'd be foolish.
The Nuggets need healthy bodies, especially healthy bodies that can contribute. Danilo Gallinari is playing with an injury, and was on the court for 38 minutes against the Orlando Magic in a game that was over in the third quarter. It's three weeks before New Years - Gallinari should be commended for his leadership in playing through pain, but it's not necessary. There are other ways to be a leader to your teammates.
Part of the reason Gallinari may have played so many minutes is that Coach Malone doesn't have any other options. Kostas Papanikolaou earned a DNP-CD against Orlando, and the Nuggets sure could have used a player that could help score. The game against the Magic got me thinking about a potential trade the Nuggets could make to help redeem the season - not help the team get into the playoffs, but obtain their goal of not letting their core players suffer injury while rebuilding for future seasons.
Trading for Nick Young
What? That crazy guy that married Iggy Azalea? The guy that celebrated missing a 3-pointer in glorious fashion? JaVale McGee's old teammate that once challenged McGee to try the cinnamon challenge, filmed it, and then shared it online?
Correct - the one and the same.
Last night Nick Young was critical of the Kobe farewell tour circus. Tonight he appears to be out of the rotation.
— Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane) December 3, 2015
Perhaps it's not the greatest idea to criticize Kobe Bryant for jacking up circus shots when your head coach is Byron Scott and you play for the Lakers - but he wasn't wrong. Here's what Young said:
"You can't blame (Kobe). He takes a lot of shots. But it's everybody," Young said. "From the coaches to the players, we have to get on one page and on the same page. I can't tell you why that's not happening right now. All I know is the circus came to town today and we did what we normally do."
"We're a circus," Young said. "We're playing terrible. We lost to Philly. Philly! What does that make us?"
Young is 30 years old now, and he's been in the league for eight seasons. He's been on four teams, and been to the playoffs twice. He's getting to the age where he either matures, finds a role in the league, and sticks around for a few more seasons, or he's on his final contract. He's in the doghouse, earning a DNP-CD in three of his last four games. He's buried on the depth chart behind Bryant, Metta World Peace, and Jordan Clarkson. He's not known for his defense, and the Lakers have plenty of players that don't mind shooting the ball, which is Young's primary skill that he brings teams.
Here's why it makes sense for Denver
Tim Connelly can't accept the fact that Gallinari is playing 35 minutes a game. He's not yet a year away from coming back from major knee surgery, and when he does play, he's asked to do everything for this team. Papanikolaou isn't going to cut it, he's a marginal player and hasn't shown the ability to effectively spell Gallinari. Without Gallo on the floor, the Nuggets are asking Will Barton, Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye to take more shots. Barton is having a fine season, but Nelson and Foye could go with fewer shot attempts. Only Emmanuel Mudiay has a lower effective field goal rate than the two veteran guards.
What Young does do well is serve as a scorer. He's had a propensity for long two-pointers before in his career, but he's a career 37.7 percent 3-point shooter and has averaged about 4 attempts per game from distance. When he gets to the free throw line, he knocks them down at a career rate of 83.4 percent - only Gallo has career numbers like that on the Nuggets roster. On his field goal attempts inside the 3-point line, he's a career 44.5 percent shooter - right about the Nuggets team average this season. He may be a chucker, but he's about on par with the rest of the Nuggets.
If J.J. Hickson was moved in the trade, the Nuggets would need Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried and especially Jusuf Nurkic to get and stay healthy the rest of the season. They need four of them to be able to make it through 48 minutes, and five is insurance. Malone and the rest of the team would miss Hickson's rebounding, as one of the team's strengths is offensive rebounding. Hopefully the team would be able to make more shots, lowering the number of potential offensive rebounds, as well as have Nurkic be able to pick up the slack for Hickson.
Ideally Young would give the Nuggets a player that can create offense off the dribble. When the Nuggets reach the third quarter, the ball movement begins to stop and the team starts launching jump shots off the dribble. That's not great. If you give Young the ball with under 10 seconds and give him the opportunity to create a shot, he's going to be able to do that. He's old enough now that he should know that his coaches want him to play downhill, attacking the basket, using his length and quickness to create a shot attempt. The Nuggets could really use a player that can do that.
Finally, the Nuggets can afford to eat Young's salary. He and Hickson make a similar amount this season, but Hickson is a free agent at the end of the year. Young has another year left, with a player option for 2017-18. The Nuggets core players are all under contract, and they'll be getting cheap talent in the draft. Paying Young $5 million each season to be a tenth or eleventh man isn't a salary cap burden.
Here's why it makes sense for Los Angeles
On the Lakers side, they should welcome the opportunity to get rid of Young's contract for Hickson's expiring. The Lakers should be trying to attract talent through free agency, and every dollar helps. Hickson helps provide depth this year behind Roy Hibbert, and after this year is up, he's off the books, saving the team $10 million and adding $5 million to their cap space for the 2016 free agent pool.
The Lakers are in last place in team field goal percentage, slumming around near 40 percent with the likes of the Pistons and the 76ers. Detroit has the rebounding titan Andre Drummond to grab offensive rebounds - it's part of their offense for him to score off putbacks - and the 76ers are terrible. But the Lakers have a bunch of jump-shooting guards - adding an offensive rebounder like J.J. Hickson could help their offense.
Ideally, the Lakers don't want to get much better. They desperately need to keep their pick, which is top-3 protected this season and next. If they end up fourth in the lottery, the 76ers get their draft pick in 2016 or 2017. In 2018, all protections are off, and the 76ers get the pick no matter what. That's when the Lakers should be trying to make the playoffs, to minimize the value of the draft pick they send to Philadelphia. If they can end up with two top-3 talents from the upcoming drafts, they should have the talent to become the Lakers again, and not the LOL Lakers version we see today.
Kobe can get what he wants, the owners save money, and the team doesn't improve due to a trade. It checks off all their team wants in trade. The Nuggets get a player that can help their offense, there's the excitement of a new player to potentially draw in some fans for a few games, and they get a player that can stretch the floor off the bench that isn't Randy Foye.
Don't dismiss the idea as totally crazy - give it some thought, and then laugh as much as you'd like.