Now that free agency is all but done and the headline deals were made weeks ago (no offense to Mike Miller) the Denver Nuggets are left facing the potential of another season where the major roster improvements are expected to come from getting players healthy and improving the returning members of the team. While the Golden State Warriors made a free agent signing that will be talked about in the annals of NBA history and the Chicago Bulls were bringing an aging star home, the Nuggets were left either unable to secure a meeting with a star or to spin a failed one as good for the organization. Meanwhile, despite the promise of Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and a handful of other barely old enough to legally drink alcohol prospects, Denver remains a basketball wasteland, at least from a notoriety and championships standpoint.
And yet, perhaps there is another way. Certainly, drafting smart and developing from within is necessary for success but it doesn't exactly put butts in the seats, at least not in year two of a rebuild which is essentially where the Nuggets are at. It also doesn't guarantee success. The Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Greene which set them up for years of chasing titles, but in the same time period the Toronto Raptors drafted DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. All three are solid picks, smart picks but no one is confusing them with a trio that's going to bring the first NBA title to Canada. So while Mudiay, Murray and Jokic may all pan out into fine players, if the Nuggets have an opportunity to land a proven star they should take it.
The fallout of Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State has made Russell Westbrook the most talented player on the trade market and while other "superstars" like Kevin Love or Blake Griffin might be available, only Westbrook is arguably a top five player in the world. A player of his caliber doesn't become available on the trade market very often so it behooves the Nuggets to do everything they can to get him. Just exactly what would that take?
In the past decade there have been a handful of "superstar" trades, some were for players of similar caliber to Westbrook and others were for players slightly less talented, but for the basis of comparison, the following trades will be used:
- Carmelo Anthony trade from Nuggets to the New York Knicks
- Chris Paul nixed trade from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers
- Chris Paul trade from the Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers
- Dwight Howard trade from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers
- Kevin Love trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Cleveland Cavaliers
|Trade partners||NBA starter||NBA role player||Young role player/prospect||Long shot prospect||Cumulative VORP|
|Nuggets and Knicks||Danilo Gallinari||Raymond Felton||Wilson Chandler||Timofey Mozgov||3.5|
|Hornets and Lakers||Lamar Odom||Luis Scola||Kevin Martin||Goran Dragic||7.4|
|Hornets and Clippers||Eric Gordon||Chris Kaman||Al-Farouq Aminu||Austin Rivers*||1.2|
|Magic and Lakers||Arron Afflalo||Al Harrington||Nikola Vucevic||Josh McRoberts||2.4|
|Cavaliers and Timberwolves||Thaddeus Young||none||Andrew Wiggins||Anthony Bennett||0.3|
There's some serious outliers when it comes to the cumulative VORP in this table. The Hornets/Lakers deal was actually a really good one for New Orleans, but what the number doesn't tell you is the three main pieces of the deal (Odom, Scola, Martin) fell of a cliff shortly thereafter. The Cavaliers/Timberwolves trade is extremely low because Wiggins was a rookie and thus had a 0 VORP, and then there was Bennet who was...in a word, yikes the season prior to being traded. Since the Nuggets don't own the #1 overall pick as a trade asset and since they don't have any aging veterans on their last legs, let's throw out those two numbers and assume that somewhere between 2.0 and 4.0 cumulative VORP is where they would need to be to land Westbrook.
The Nuggets are in an advantageous position to make this type of deal, and in fact have been building their roster/compiling assets for the past three years with this type of deal in mind as the end game. In a trade for Westbrook I imagine no one is untouchable, though in the interest of Denver, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would be two players they should avoid adding if at all possible. In the most ideal situation, Kenneth Faried fills the role of NBA starter as he seems to have the best ratio of not in the Nuggets long term plans to perceived value around the league. The question is just where does Oklahoma City place his value, do they consider him a key piece of the roster or is he simply a good role player? He would likely start right away for OKC,so the Nuggets have the need part going for them. Would a package like this be enough to get OKC to budge?
The cumulative VORP of that package is only 1.0, mainly due to the fact that Mudiay performs very poorly in that statistic. In some ways that is similar to Wiggins and the Cav/T-Wolves deal, with the future promise of the player outweighshe current production. For the sake of argument though, let's say that deal is not enough to have the Thunder embrace the re-build. Arguably the most talented player on the Nuggets right now is Danilo Gallinari, and with the Thunder just losing their small forward to the Warriors, they could do a lot worse than Gallo as a replacement.
The Thunder have to thrown in Kyle Singler here because while they do have some space in the cap, there's not enough to absorb both Gallinari and Faried's contract by sending out Westbrook alone. This deal fills a much bigger hole than the previous one by bringing in Gallo, but it only has a cumulative VORP of 1.4. Plus, with the Thunder bringing on Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, adding Faried as well creates a major log jam at the four. In order to really make the Thunder think, Denver needs to be able to provide help at the small forward position plus offer an upgrade to both the starting power forward position and the OKC bench.
Now we're talking. This deal brings in Gallo to fill the void at small forward, helps keep the log jam at power forward clear while providing an upgrade, replaces Westbrook with a bright young point guard prospect and gives the Thunder some scoring punch in the form of a legitimate, young NBA role player in Will Barton.Throw in some sweetening from the Nuggets in the form of additional draft picks, including Memphis' 1-5 protected 1st rounder next season,m and it's an enticing package indeed. As for the numbers, the cumulative VORP for this package is 2.6, and if you take into account the anticipated boost in Mudiay's play as he develops then this deal is generally in line value wise for what historically been the price for a superstar. There would be some red tape to get through because Ilyasova currently can't be packaged with other players and Barton would have to be a straight up trade for an exception but the deal would be possible (even though the trade machine says it's not) it would essentially be three separate but simultaneous deals.
Nuggets fans likely feel like thats a lot to give up, but when you consider what the roster would look like, it's still quite promising.
- PG: Russel Westbrook, Jameer Nelson
- SG: Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley
- SF: Wilson Chandler, Mike Miller, Axel Toupane, Jakarr Sampson
- PF: Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez, Ersan Ilyasova
- C: Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne
- PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Cameron Payne
- SG: Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow
- SF: Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Kyle Singler, Josh Huestis
- PF: Kenneth Faried, Domantas Sabonis, Nick Collison
- C: Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Mitch McGary