December 15th, a day that for Denver Nuggets fans is synonymous with the rise of Nikola Jokic. However, for the rest of the world of NBA fans, December 15th has quite a bit of significance as well. That’s because it is the day that players who signed new contracts in the offseason are eligible to be traded. In other words, as of yesterday, every player is on the table (with a few exceptions). So in the spirit of the season, let’s speculate into some trades the Nuggets might try to pull off to improve the team.
The minor but major trade
Every now and again a team pulls off a small trade that seems insignifcant but ends up being a big boost for them. Think of when the Nuggets dealt Randy Foye to the Oklahoma City Thunder for D.J. Augustin and two (TWO!!!) second round picks. While Augustin wasn’t a star by any stretch of the imagination, he was able to shore up some sorely lacking point guard depth and arguably was better offensively than he had ever been in his career.
Why the Nuggets do it: Emmanuel Mudiay has not been good, there’s no way to sugar coat that. While he has certainly been better from behind the 3pt line, the rest of his game is largely the same as its always been: poor finishing, ugly turnovers, shoddy defense at best. While there still may be hope for Mudiay, the Nuggets are trying to make the playoffs and beyond. One has to wonder how much longer they can afford to let Mudiay weigh them down when the team is looking to move into the win now phase of their rebuild. While Devin Harris certainly doesn’t light the world on fire, he gives a consistent veteran presence to the reserves while also being better than Mudiay overall, at least right now. He also is expiring whereas Mudiay has another year on his contract. Offseason flexibility isn’t exactly at the top of Denver’s list, but its rarely a bad thing.
I genuinely feel for the kid. I do. But this data is just shockingly aligned in such a clear direction. pic.twitter.com/mFhhK4hpJq— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 14, 2017
Why the Dallas Mavericks do it: Because why not honestly. The Mavericks aren’t contenders, they’re headed in quite the opposite direction in fact as the current cellar dwellers of the Western Conference standings. Harris is an aging point guard on an expiring deal and while I’m sure he’d like to come back to the Mavericks given his ties to the team, Mudiay, a 21 year old with a high ceiling that they can obtain for nothing more than one expiring contract, fits much better with where Dallas is at. Also, with Mudiay growing up in Dallas, one has to feel like if he’s going to resurrect his career there’s no better place to do it than there.
Why Denver doesn’t do it: As boss man Mares puts it: optics. Dealing a twenty-one year old 6’5” point guard that you drafted two years ago with the #7 overall pick for an aging veteran on an expiring contract doesn’t look good on it’s face and there’s plenty of fans who will judge the trade, and by extension the Nuggets, on face value alone.
Why Dallas doesn’t do it: Loyalty to Harris. It’s the only reason they would say no. The only other reason I could see is as Matt Moore of CBS sports pointed out to me when I shared this idea, Rick Carlisle is a hard nosed coach who hates ugly mistakes on the basketball court. He’s definitely got some major sway in the organization and he might nix this deal on his own.
The one that will make you sooooooo angry
There are trades that when they happen they seem terrible to the fans. Take the #13 pick for Trey Lyles and the #24 pick deal the Nuggets pulled off this last offseason with the Utah Jazz. The Jazz selected Donovan Mitchell with the 13th pick and he’s looked fantastic, meanwhile Nuggets fans can’t stop thinking about how all they got for the next coming of Dwyane Wade was that bum Lyles and the skinny white dude from Syracuse who doesn’t even know how to play man defense! I jest, but it goes to show how fans can quickly perceive and pass judgement on trades. Fact is, Mitchell is far from a proven commodity as are Lyles and Tyler Lydon so while the trade might seem bad right now, that’s more about perception than reality.
*2018 2nd rd pick to Brooklyn.
Why Denver does it: Ohhhh I can feel the rage of my readers through my screen on this one. Again, perception. DeMarre Carroll is notoriously known as one of the most overpaid players in the NBA. Hell, the Toronto Raptors had to pay the Brooklyn Nets a first and second round pick just to get rid of him. Here’s the thing though...Carroll is having a pretty good season in Brooklyn. He’s 8th in defensive RPM, shooting ever so slightly above league average from 3pt range and hitting a TS% number that is better than anything he’s done outside of his time in Atlanta (where he earned the right to get overpaid). The other thing? Kenneth Faried’s contract ain’t much better so this deal essentially is only signing the Nuggets up for an extra $1.7 million per season.
Why Brooklyn does it: This deal signs the Nuggets up for an extra $1.7 million per season. That’s the big sell. I also imagine the Nuggets would have to add a 2nd round pick to the deal to get the Nets to bite. It’s crazy to think that Faried alone is not enough to get Carroll and maybe he is, but adding a second round pick to the deal allows for Brooklyn to continue to utilize Carroll as he was most intended: as a way to add draft capital.
Why Denver doesn’t do it: The extra salary. Denver already has a fairly high payroll so adding extra money may not be in their plans. Also if the Nets go after draft compensation hard the Nuggets will likely balk. A 2018 second round pick is doable (Denver has two), but anything higher than that is too much to ask.
It’s every fans dream from now until late February that their team will pull off a huge deal to add a star player that pushes them into the next echelon of contention. These trades are rare, but they do happen. Last year it was DeMarcus Cousins being dealt at the deadline. This year a lot of eyes have turned to the Memphis Grizzlies who appear to be heading into a rebuild but also have two high priced, “win now” star players in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol who may no longer fit the direction the team is headed.
*2019 1st rd pick to Memphis, 2018 2nd rd pick to Phoenix.
Why Denver does it: Conley is a clear upgrade over any point guard on the Nuggets roster, including Jamal Murray. If healthy, Conley solidifies a “big three” on the team with Paul Millsap and Jokic and gives the Nuggets a roster that if nothing else should be a perennial playoff team that can at least challenge the top tier teams in the West. The only rotation player they have to give up in this deal is Will Barton and there’s questions about whether or not the Nuggets can retain him after the season is over. Finally, if Conley truly can push you into a being a top 3⁄4 team in the west, then the 1st round pick isn’t likely to be all that great anyways.
Why Memphis does it: It’s a tough sell for Memphis to be honest. Unfortunately though they are currently holding extremely expensive damaged goods. With the team looking less and less likely to compete, getting off Conley’s big contract gives them clear direction towards a rebuild and the flexibility in terms of cap space to prepare for that rebuilding period. They get a prospect in Juancho Hernangomez and a first round pick as well. Plus while Barton would be a rental, with the cap space they clear out dealing Conley they could re-sign him and given Barton’s Memphis ties, they’d probably have a decent shot at doing that.
Why the Phoenix Suns do it: Draft compensation in exchange for taking on salary. That’s the name of the game in Phoenix. Also, if there is anyone who can get Darrell Arthur as healthy as possible, its the Suns training staff.
Why Denver doesn’t do it: Achilles injuries are no joke. The Nuggets would be making a win now play for a player they aren’t sure can get on the court, much less win, right now. There’s also the giant contract to consider. Conley’s deal runs into the time period when Jokic, Mudiay, Lyles, Murray and Malik Beasley will be up for extensions. If any of those guys are due a big payday, Conley’s deal along with the Nuggets other big contracts would likely mean re-signing one of the youngsters, including Jokic, will push them into the luxury tax and that might be too much money for a team that would still have a hard time making the finals.
Why Memphis doesn’t do it: Because they’d want Murray in the deal instead of Barton. If Conley is 100% healthy then this deal is a non-starter without Murray and though Conley is not healthy, the Grizzlies still may feel like there is a better return out there for them. They’d also have to be wary about Barton. While he played his college ball in Memphis it’s not like it’s his hometown and after being one of the biggest bargains in the NBA the past couple of seasons Barton is likely going to be looking to cash in as much as possible on his next deal which is something the Grizzlies probably want to stay away from.
Why Phoenix doesn’t do it: Because a 2nd round pick is all they get for taking on $15 million of salary. It seems unlikely that DA is going to opt out of his deal at the end of the season so the Suns are going to have to take on the full value of his contract. The Nuggets have the Golden State Warriors 2nd round pick and what will likely be the Portland Trail Blazers second round pick in 2018 so you’re probably talking about the #45 pick at best here. While Phoenix has said they will take on salary in exchange for draft compensation, in this case the compensation may not be enough.