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 two of that conversation. You can (and should) read part one first.
Gordon Gross: I think that's a question of where you like your birds. The Nuggets are on pace for a top-10 pick this year plus Houston's which is currently #16. Portland is one game out of the playoffs which would also give Denver the #15 if they snuck in. Denver has its own pick next year plus a top-5 protected Grizzlies pick as well. All of those bodies need places to play, and have to make the team's rotation in order to be more useful than J.J. Hickson's DNPs or Joffrey Lauvergne's occasional playing stint.
Draft picks are birds in the bush, and Connelly needs to convert them into birds in the hand. Euro stashes aren't as easy when players like Jokic know they can come over here and contribute now, either. I think it's more likely that Connelly's next task is to consolidate some of the talent on the roster into making a better top-7 core and fill out the back half of the roster with draft picks. Michael Malone may like his hockey shifts, but playoff rotations get shorter. Nobody's giving the Randy Foyes of the world 20 minutes a game in the playoffs.
I agree with you that Gallo and Barton look like good core guys to fit in with Mudiay and Jokic. Chandler is a good swing forward off the bench once he's healthy. Gary Harris has shown well, but is he better as a bench 3-and-D slasher? The Nuggets could use another point guard or even combo guard to backup Mudiay and help with bench scoring, because right now Barton is on an island.
If Faried gets moved (since we both agree he is the likeliest core player to get moved), the Nuggets will need a starting power forward who can complement both Gallo and Jokic, which probably means a bruiser on defense to cover the interior where the Nuggets get beat up right now. If Jokic and Nurkic can't play together, then the power forward next to Jokic has to be able to do Nurkic-like things on defense - hopefully with the ability to hit a shot inside of five feet. Lauvergne is trying to be that big player who can shoot and handle the inside defensive responsibilities, but he's not there defensively yet.
So I would say Denver is looking someone better than Jameer Nelson to back up (and sometimes play next to) Mudiay, for a shooting guard to make sure Gary Harris doesn't have to play 40 minutes (as he did in the Knicks win), or for a power forward who shores up Nikola Jokic's current defensive weaknesses against strong interior players and can score in the paint. It's also possible a good combo guard could fill both the Mudiay-backup and starting-quality SG roles.
They wouldn't turn down a star either, I'm sure, but let's leave the Kevin Love or Blake Griffin pipe dreams alone for now, shall we? The Nuggets can look for some or all of those needed pieces in the draft, but if they want a couple of them to be core pieces they'll probably have to be trades or free agents. It's hard to meet every need in a draft, and while I like some potential bench pieces in this one I wouldn't want to rely on it to cough up multiple top-7 players for Denver.
Knowing the problem doesn't mean having a solution, though - who out there could fit the bill for what Denver needs to round out the lineup?
Daniel Lewis: The Nuggets do have a few luxuries as they approach the trade deadline. First, they have an open roster spot that was most recently filled by Sean Kilpatrick. Second, the Nuggets aren't aiming to be contenders this season or next season. 2016-17 will likely be another building year, although they would ideally make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed.
That means they can afford to take on an ugly contract, as long as it expires in the next year or two, or trade for a player that fills a position of need while they look for an upgrade. They can also gamble on players that are injured, with another year to see what happens while fully healthy.
I think there are two good moves the Nuggets could make that might not move the radar too much this season, but could put them in a position to make a difference in the future.
The first is a trade with the Detroit Pistons, swapping Randy Foye and a 2018 second round pick from Golden State for Spencer Dinwiddie and Reggie Bullock.
The Pistons could use a second round pick after shipping a few out to Phoenix for Bullock and Marcus Morris, and with a lack of bench shooting, Foye fills a short-term need for them. He'll help them make the playoffs, something that can't be said for Denver. Spencer Dinwiddie is buried on the Pistons depth chart, but is a young guard that the Nuggets could use to backup Nelson in case of injury. Bullock is a North Carolina wing that has never been able to find playing time - it's likely that he's on his way out of the league, but he might get a few minutes in Denver to prove that he's worth a one-year contract next season.
The second trade I think the Nuggets should try to help facilitate is a three-team trade with Brooklyn and Houston. The Rockets would get Thaddeus Young and Randy Foye, the Nets would get Ty Lawson and Joffrey Lauvergne, and Denver would get Donatas Motiejunas and Markel Brown.
This is a big move for Houston, because Young is an underrated player that would fit well in their system next to Dwight Howard or Clint Capela. To get him, they'd only be giving up two players on one-year contracts, and they'd move on from the Ty Lawson experiment.
For the Nets, they really need to acquire a point guard, and taking a gamble on Lawson is a thing they shouldn't be afraid of doing. Losing a good player in Young isn't ideal, but they have nothing going for them over the next three years anyways. They also get Lauvergne, a capable big man that could give them value off the bench.
For the Nuggets, taking a gamble on Motiejunas returning to health is a gamble they can afford. D-Mo has a bad back at the moment, but getting a big man that can shoot, rebound, and pass would be a difference maker. Markel Brown would fill the gap vacated by Foye, but doesn't likely factor into the Nuggets long-term plans. Foye likely wasn't returning to Denver next season, and switching him for Brown is a horizontal move.
I think that adding Motiejunas, especially if healthy, gives the Nuggets a power forward that could develop into a valuable rotation member. He's started a times for the Rockets, and would be a player that could compete with Faried for starters minutes. At minimum, it gives them flexibility, with Darrell Arthur, to explore moving Faried. Right now the Nuggets can't move Faried without getting a power forward back, because Arthur and Lauvergne can't shoulder that burden on their own.
What's a trade that you would like to see the Nuggets execute?
Gross: Your idea of a trade for Motiejunas is interesting, and the Nuggets have to be on the lookout for a better backup point guard who can flourish with extra minutes, much the way Barton did upon arrival. Maybe Dinwiddie is that.
I'm actually not sure I see a trade deadline match with the Nuggets for anything meaningful, and could absolutely see them standing pat. The J.J. Hickson rumors are still out there but I still consider that to be a middling 2nd-rounder exchange. I could see trying to get Michael Carter-Williams out of the Bucks on the cheap but I don't consider that a major deal.
I would be interested in a swap of Faried for Brandon Knight, though.
The two-PG approach was not working down there in Phoenix even before Eric Bledsoe's injury, but Mudiay doesn't play like Bledsoe, so it might work better here. If he's willing to take a bench role in the same way that Barton has a bench role then Knight could help salvage Denver's bench scoring woes, and the Suns need a PF with the Morris Toxic Disaster Warning still in effect. We can send them Jameer Nelson to run point for them this year and then willingly back up Bledsoe next season as well.
The deal gets Teletovic out of the desert since he's an expiring and his absence would continue to help their tank - as well as help mentor fellow countryman Nurkic for at least this year (or longer if we can re-sign him). It still begs the question whether Knight would be willing to come off the bench here, but playing 30 minutes a game and leading Barton, Chandler and Nurkic down the court isn't going to feel like riding the pine in some other places.
Of course, it might just end up with Denver being stuck in the same situation that Phoenix is, with two players who both think they should be the starting point guard. Knight isn't a great defender and his height is limited (and partial cause of his turnover issues), but his speed and scoring would increase our dynamics markedly in both areas. It would be interesting regardless.
But interesting or not, what do you think the odds are that Denver makes a needle-moving trade and sacrifices one (or more) of their better talents? It feels like a moving-deck-chairs deadline to me, but I'm curious whether you think Denver will have a different starter or two by the end of February - and not because of injury this time.
Lewis: I don't think that the Nuggets will make any trades after all has been said and done. They are invested in maintaining franchise chemistry, and patiently building. If there's a way they can deal Lauvergne for a first round pick or a high second round pick, they might pull the trigger on that. He has value, but I doubt a lot of teams are interested in him.
I definitely could see them moving Hickson for a late second round pick - those have value even if the Nuggets don't use them. Jameer Nelson's health makes moving Randy Foye risky, unless they get another guard back in the deal that can play both positions.
I'm not in favor of making a move just to make a move though. A trade to get a superstar player like Kevin Love or Blake Griffin is always acceptable, but unless the Nuggets are getting an impact player, I don't see the point.
That's a lot of ink on the trade deadline - anything else you'd like to add?
Gross: Nope - that does it for me.
Lewis: Go see Deadpool! But please, make it a better experience for all of us and leave your children at home.