The Denver Nuggets find themselves in a peculiar position, they have three first round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, and yet it seems unrealistic that they would actually want to keep all three. For one, the team already has three starters (Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris) under the age of 22, and another key contributor (Jusuf Nurkic) who is also just barely of legal drinking age here in the States. Adding three more players in their teens or early twenties seems unlikely. Second, while they could dump guys like Jakarr Sampson and Axel Toupane, or choose not to retain any of their three upcoming free agents, the Nuggets would have very few, if any, roster spots for adding talent via free agency if they take on three additional guaranteed rookie contracts.
The answer to this conundrum? Trades. Yes Stiffs readers, we're about to rosterbate. Ask any person on the Nuggets beat, whether that be our own Adam Mares and Jeff Morton, the Denver Post's Chris Dempsey or even that shady BSN guy Nate Timmons, and I'd bet they all agree that the Nuggets are likely to be very active in the trade market on draft night and more than likely will end up making at least one deal before the day is done. Which deal to make though?
The Nuggets have a couple of glaring needs that they could fill via trade. Chiefly, they need outside shooting/wing scoring, and most importantly, they need a star. They likewise have a gluttony of other things, including: injury prone but dynamic wing players, European big men, solid role players and yes, draft picks. Just how can they parlay their plentiful assets into players who fill their needs? Here's five trades that would definitely help.
Trade #1: Boogie to the Lakers, #2 Pick to the Nuggets
The Nuggets needs a star, but so do the Los Angeles Lakers and while no one in Denver really notices if the Nuggets do well or not, the 18.7 million people in LA will only be captivated by a perennial mediocre Los Angeles Rams team for so long. Desperate to turn around what has been a miserable multi-year run, the Lakers might be willing to give up their coveted #2 pick in the draft if they could get an instant star player, and there just happens to be a mercurial center in Sacramento who is just that.
Nuggets receive: #2 and #8 pick in 2016 draft
Lakers receive: Demarcus Cousins
Sacramento Kings receive: Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and #7 pick in 2016 draft
This trade is a great one for the Nuggets and Lakers. Denver gets the #2 pick which will be either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons (probably Ingram), both of whom have definite star potential and the Lakers give up a chance at a star to get a bona fide star. Cousins may have his issues with chemistry and grumpy coaches (Dave Joerger and Cousins...good luck with that Kings) but his production on the court cannot be denied. In what can only be described as a season mired with controversy, the Kings big man still managed to put up over 26 points and 11 rebounds per game, and even shot the three ball at near league average.
So why do the Kings give him up? Cousins is a bit of a headache, and no matter what you think of George Karl it's foolish to say that the coach was only to blame for the rift between him and his star player last season. They also get two starting caliber players in Gallinari and Faried and move up one spot ahead of Denver who otherwise could take an outside shooter, a skill the Kings are also lacking, right in front them. Still, its possible the Kings could get a better deal for Cousins elsewhere. To sweeten the pot, the Nuggets could go without getting the Kings #8 pick in return, leaving Sacramento with two new starters and two top ten picks to help move into their next era.
Trade #2: Jimmy to the Lakers, #2 Pick to the Nuggets
While the Kings are adamant about not trading away their star, the Chicago Bulls have been a little more willing. Jimmy Butler is one of the premier two way players in the league and while he might not bring as big of an impact as Cousins, he certainly will get the interest sparked in LA with the Lakers. The Bulls want a lot though, as well they should, but Denver might have just enough assets to get them to budge.
Nuggets receive: #2 pick in the 2016 draft
Lakers receive: Jimmy Butler
Bulls receive: Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic and #7 pick in the 2016 draft
This one is a little tougher for Nuggets fans to swallow. The Lakers still get their bona fide star but Denver pays a much steeper price to move up five spots in the draft. Nonetheless, it gets them into the Simmons/Ingram range and gives them a shot at getting a star player of their own. The Bulls meanwhile lose out on Butler, but get an instant starter capable replacement in Barton and also bring in Bosnian big man Nurkic which makes their need to retain Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah, both free agents this off season, much less drastic. They also add a lottery pick to the one they already own, giving them a bevy of assets to work with.
Likelihood: 15%. The Bulls reportedly are interested in starters and a top three pick for Butler, so it's tough to see them settling for the #7 instead, and really, enough with giving the Lakers what they want.
Trade #3: Celtics finally get Gallo
It's no secret that the Boston Celtics have had an eye on Gallinari...for a while, but while there's been a lot of rumors and flirting with the idea of Gallo in green, nothing has ever materialized. With the Celtics owners of a plethora of picks themselves, they're far more likely to be interested in collecting starting caliber players right now than more draft picks, and Denver of course has a handful of those as well.
Nuggets receive: #3 pick in 2016 draft
Celtics receive: Danilo Gallinari and Joffrey Lauvergne
While Denver would in all likelihood fall short of getting either Ingram or Simmons, Croatian sensation Dragan Bender wouldn't be a terrible consolation prize. He'd bring another versatile big with range beyond the three point line to Denver and would make Faried imminently expendable. He's also got a bit of star potential himself. The Celtics get their guy in Gallo, and also get a serviceable big in Lauvergne who's loads cheaper than Amir Johnson (the Celtics could decline Johnson's team option, making him a free agent) and would provide some insurance if they are unable to retain Tyler Zeller and/or Jared Sullinger.
Likelihood: 15%. The Celtics need to unload picks more than the Nuggets do, and they're only getting rid of one. Plus, one has to imagine they'd try hard to get a bigger return for the #3 pick, even if this is a "two player draft."
Trade #4: Nuggets make sure Murray isn't in Minnesota
Denver has to find a way to get some outside shooting in this draft, and there's absolutely no one better to provide it than Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray. The conundrum is the Minnesota Timberwolves also have a big need for a shooting 2 guard and they pick two spots ahead of Denver. In order for the Nuggets to ensure they get their guy, they're going to have to get something done with the Phoenix Suns who currently sit in the #4 slot.
Nuggets receive: #4 pick in the 2016 draft
Suns receive: #7 and #19 pick in the 2016 draft
The Suns found their outside shooter in last year's draft when they picked up Kentucky dynamo Devin Booker. Their backcourt is over burdened with scoring talent but it's offset with their lack of perimeter defense. Jaylen Brown out of Cal makes a lot of sense for Phoenix. While he can't shoot a beach ball into the ocean, his athleticism and versatility on defense make him an extremely intriguing prospect, especially in the new age of small ball and switching. If the top 3 picks go Simmons/Ingram/Bender then the Suns would only be making a small gamble that Brown would still be there at #7. With Murray off the board the Timberwolves likely go after the next best thing at 2 guard with Buddy Hield, leaving the New Orleans Pelicans thrilled that top point guard prospect Kris Dunn is still there for them at #6.
Likelihood: 25%. It's a trade that either makes Suns GM Ryan McDonough look like an idiot or a genius. If Brown indeed is still there at #7 then the Suns get their guy and add a pick in the process, if he's not then you just blew it for a back end 1st round pick. For Denver it's a win-win, they get the best shooter in the draft and also shed one of their three first rounders...which is probably all they're going to do.
Trade #5: Yaaaaaaaaawn
Every year schmucks like me pump out these trade articles and get everyone's hopes up that their team is about to pull off a big blockbuster. We sit there with baited breath waiting to hear what amazing deal Tim Connelly has pulled off and in the end there's a lot of smoke and little fire and as much as we want to talk ourselves out of it, this year is likely no different. Still, Denver needs to consolidate assets in some way, and even a minor deal can reap benefits.
Nuggets receive: #10 pick in 2016 draft
Milwaukee Bucks receive: #15 and #19 picks in 2016 draft
This deal is nearly identical to the one the Nuggets performed with the Bulls just two years ago, except this time it's Denver packaging two picks to move up. In the 2014 draft it was the #16 and #19 (and the corpse of Anthony Randolph) for the #11 so the value pretty much shakes out here. The Bucks really need a guy to protect the rim (Grege Monroe ain't him) and a guy like Skal Labissiere or Cheick Diallo could fill that role and could be available outside the lottery, meaning Milwaukee could not only fill a need, but also add an additional asset in the process. The Nuggets meanwhile move back into the lottery and if they miss out on Hield and Murray at #7, they could ensure they get a guy from that second tier of shooting prospects like Timothe Luwawu or Furkan Korkmaz at #10.
Likelihood: 45%. I refuse to put any trade over a 50% likelihood because it's a complete crapshoot on draft night, but depending on the way the picks start falling both teams could easily be motivated to make this deal.
Some of these trades wouldn't be able to be officially finalized until after the draft because the new fiscal year doesn't start until about a week after the draft and some teams (like the Celtics) wouldn't be able to take on the incoming salary until the new cap is in place but each one is doable. The Nuggets could also sit it out and try to get a guys like Korkmaz and Luwawu at #15 or #19 and then convince them to stay overseas for a year, alleviating the roster and youth burdens that three rookies would entail. Denver could also look to move some of their veterans for other NBA ready players and I'm sure they'll try to figure out how to get Butler or Cousins or Kevin Love for themselves. Indeed, the trade options are numerous but one thing is for sure: standing pat is the least likely among them.