The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 18, and as always, the rumors are flying fast and furious. While the Nuggets are out of playoff contention, there always exists the possibility that they make a move that would change their trajectory.
With that date looming in front of Nuggets fans, Gordon Gross and I sat down and thought a lot of thoughts that became words, and shared them with each other over an electronic communication medium known as email. Here is part one of that conversation.
Daniel Lewis: Tim Connelly recently agreed to a multi-year extension, helping ensure stability for the franchise as they continue to improve and develop. At the press conference when the extension was announced, Connelly said the following.
"My nature is pretty aggressive. We like the way we're trending. We don't like to be on the outside (of the playoff picture) looking in, we don't like to be so far under .500. So I think it would be short-sighted not to be aggressive.
"We don't want to rush the process; we don't want to be short-sighted. Opportunistic is probably a word I overuse but I think it's important. Always be aggressive, always work the call and you never know what kind of trade could materialize to help your team now and in the future."
Connelly didn't stop there, and moved on to the notion of adding a draft pick to a potential four draft picks the Nuggets could have in the 2016 draft.
"You never know," Connelly said. "I like our pick situation. I think it stacks up favorably next to most teams the next couple of years. With the skyrocketing cap, I think picks have taken on even more value. I think depending on the pick, I think it would be wrong to say we're only focused on this or that. And also it has to be an upgrade. With some of these young guys I think it's going to be hard to find a guy who's an upgrade."
With that mindset of being opportunistic, Gordon, what do the Nuggets even have to offer?
Gordon Gross: If you listen to opposing announcers, Dan, apparently the Nuggets are just putting a final shampoo and manicure on Danilo Gallinari before they toss him away to a contender. Opposing fanbases seem to think that Denver is a crater absent all life and basketball talent and we have nothing their teams could possibly use. And then of course Nuggets fans either believe we have the makings of an All-Star starting five, or the best squad of future janitors and convenience store workers that 70 million dollars can buy.
What the Nuggets really have are options. Mudiay and Jokic would seem to be the most untouchable players, since as rookies they've barely scratched the surface of what they can be. Wilson Chandler's hip injury will keep him on the bench during trade season as well. Leaving them aside, we've got a few different tiers to work with:
Tier 4: The filler
Mike Miller, J.J. Hickson, Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye are not going to be main rotation players for any contender. They can be used as throw-ins to match salary or solve an emergency need for the price of a top-55 protected second rounder (i.e., nothing). They might go if we trade a higher tier player, but not in their own deal. Before his injury Jameer might have been bumped to the next tier for somebody needing a backup point, but the injured cannot be trusted. I don't think he has trade value now.
Tier 3: The secondary piece
The young guys who might be moved are not necessarily price matches but rather talent matches. Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne would be add-ons to pay dividends in future years, but are also unlikely to be tasked with helping a team get over the hump this year. They are price sweeteners or part of a consolidation deal rather than the likely main piece in any deal - and because they are also cheap, improving and under contract, they aren't likely to go anywhere unless that consolidation is pretty sweet indeed.
Tier 2: The role-player
Darrell Arthur gets his own tier here. He can opt out after the year, so a team is only adding him for the stretch run. He can play defense and score some but isn't a starting-level player. He's not a great rebounder for a 4 but if somebody needs a player like him to make their defense work, then he could bring back a return anyway.
Tier 1: The impact player
Earlier this year this would have been Gallinari and Kenneth Faried only, but Will Barton just will not be denied his rightful place on the podium. Gallo is the best player in this tier, but these are the top-3 available players for the Nuggets. Barton (second in the league in bench points) is a Sixth Man candidate, Faried (2nd in offensive rebounding %) is still a rebounding machine and energy dynamo, and Gallo (16th league-wide in Winshares) is back to the All-Star level he had reached before his knee injury blew up the George Karl Nuggets for good.
The Nuggets have two incredible Sixth Man-style upgrades and a borderline All-Star to offer, as well as a roleplayer and some nice young talent to spice up a deal. The problem for the Nuggets is that they also need All-Stars and Sixth Man candidates to build their own squad. Would they be better off holding all their top cards or swapping some out now for future cash and prizes?
Lewis: Gordon, I like the idea of ranking the Nuggets players in tiers. I agreed with most of the rankings you have, but I did want to offer my opinion on a few of the players you mentioned.
I don't think Mike Miller would be filler in a deal. The front office thinks of him more as a player-coach, and his contributions on the practice court far outweigh any trade value he has. He helps hold players accountable, teaches the young players how to be a professional, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a front office position offered to him here in Denver.
I would place Lauvergne in tier two, because he's a young role player that can come off the bench at either the 4 or the 5, able to score at either position as well. He's just out of the Nuggets rotation, but he would be in line for more minutes in the second half of the season if either Arthur or Faried is moved.
Now, to answer your question, that's really the elephant in the Pepsi Center for Tim Connelly. Andrew Feinstein addressed the issue one month ago, and Nuggets fans, in a scientific poll, seemed opposed to the idea of moving him. I think Gallo stays a Nugget now and possibly for another contract after his current deal expires - he's versatile enough to be a primary offensive threat, like he is now, but also can be a tertiary threat on the team after some of the younger players develop along. If Gallo would be an excellent contribution to a championship contender on his contract, barring injury, I don't see that changing over the next five years, by which the Nuggets are hopefully a playoff team trying to reach the conference finals and beyond.
I think that Will Barton is a also a player Tim Connelly isn't willing to part with. Connelly fostered a personal relationship with Barton, and signing him to a 3-year, $10 million contract in the offseason was one of the best deals signed in free agency. Barton is a Baltimore guy, like Connelly, and it would be agonizing to see him leave for the Nuggets GM. Trading Barton now might do more damage than help, because free agents might not trust the Nuggets front office to honor commitments as much after they go and ship off a player that signed with them just a few months ago. It would be a warning sign to me about the Nuggets culture that they are trying to build - basically, it'd have to be a trade the Nuggets overwhelmingly win.
That leaves the final top chip - Kenneth Faried. Faried's contract isn't awful in the expanding salary cap, but his contract goes up every year for the next three years. If any team trades for him, they're signing up for three years of Faried. That's a lot to digest for another team, and they may be content to watch the Nuggets lose with him on their roster rather than pick up a handful of wins over a season with him on their roster.
Of all the Nuggets pieces going forward, I think it makes the most sense to trade Faried. His rebounding is really valuable, and he's shown signs of improving, albeit slowly, on defense under Michael Malone. He had so many bad habits to start the season, and it takes more time for an old dog to learn new tricks. I think the Nuggets will likely end up holding on to him, although perhaps not by choice, and seeing if Malone can continue to chisel off the rough edges on the Manimal.
Plus, that means we can get more plays like this!
After all that though, what might the Nuggets want back if they were to make a trade? Are they looking for players to add to their core, or are they looking for draft picks to add players in the future?
******* INTERMISSION *******
Gordon and I had so many words, we had to split it into two parts. Such teases! Anyways, if you want to read Part II, you'll be able to get there by clicking this link.