Guess what? The trade deadline is a mere 3 weeks away. If that seems fast, don’t worry, it is. The NBA elected to move the deadline up by about two weeks this year. The idea is to avoid situations like DeMarcus Cousins finding out mid All Star Game press conference he had been traded last year, or back in 2011 when Carmelo Anthony played for the Western Conference All Star team despite everyone knowing he was on the cusp of being dealt to the Eastern Conference. Moving the deadline forward lets the All Star Game be about the All Star Game and also makes it so players dealt at the deadline have already had their “onboarding” with their new team before the break so everyone hits the ground running when they get back.
With the new deadline looming, the Denver Nuggets are certainly a team that should be active at the deadline but whether or not they will be is a matter of debate. Currently tied for the 7th seed, and just a game back of the fifth seed, the Nuggets are the type of team you would typically expect to be in a buyer scenario, looking to add an impact player that assures their playoff bid and helps them take the next step towards title contention. However, the Nuggets front office is also well known for valuing their players perhaps more than other teams do. They’ve also given the appearance of being rather risk averse, only making deals when they are either very favorable (trading Arron Afflalo) or when they have no choice (trading Jusuf Nurkic) so whether or not they actually make a deal is a matter of debate. Let’s dive into the deadline!
Are the Nuggets buyers or sellers?
Denver actually looks like they’ll be a bit of both this deadline, but I wouldn’t expect them to make any major moves, just minor ones. The Nuggets are deep in the “decent” talent level category (they have been since the aforementioned Melo trade), so much so that decent players like Kenneth Faried or Emmanuel Mudiay are not getting much playing time. Faried’s skill set isn’t as valued in today’s NBA, but he still is an elite offensive rebounder, rim runner and finisher above the rim. However with the emergence of Trey Lyles, its been hard to justify Faried getting minutes over the younger, more versatile forward. Mudiay has developed slower than the Nuggets would like, resulting in his benching. Mudiay is much more of a case of being too much of a liability on the court rather than just being squeezed out of minutes like Faried. Still, the point guard has elite size and his ability to get to the basket shows the potential he has. With the Nuggets teetering on the edge of playoff seeding, they can’t afford to wait for Mudiay to develop anymore which leaves him out of the rotation and on the trading block. The Nuggets also should be small buyers, looking to shore up one or two specific spots of their roster, but I wouldn’t expect any major acquisitions.
What are Denver’s best trading chips?
We’ll do our annual power ranking of trade assets next week, but lets touch on it a bit here. The Nuggets essentially have three assets that are off the table (unless Cleveland comes offering LeBron James of course): Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Those guys are also the Nuggets three best trading chips which is another reason Denver should remain relatively quiet at the deadline. Denver’s best trade chip that they wouldn’t hang up the phone immediately on would be Lyles. The 22 year old is having a career year for Denver and still has another year left on his rookie contract. His ability to play an inside out game is something a lot of teams could use and he still has a good ways to go before he reaches his ceiling. Denver also has some less effective but still young players in Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley that could interest some teams and Will Barton is a perennial 6th man of the year candidate on an expiring deal that has such a low salary number it works in almost any trade scenario if a playoff team is looking for a bench scoring boost.
What holes does Denver need to fill at the deadline?
The Nuggets will be looking to make one if not two small improvements this deadline, or at least they should be. Mudiay’s benching has resulted in Barton taking over the backup PG duties. Barton is most effective as a volume scorer off the bench and even he has said that making the adjustment to playing point guard has meant other parts of his game have suffered. On top of that, Murray, who is the starting PG, isn’t from the typical PG mold. Jamal has shown his ability to be a scoring wing and a prolific shooter, but he’s struggled to set up the offense and get the ball into the hands of Denver’s best playmaker, Jokic. He’s also been inconsistent. Adding a true point guard to the team to take over the backup role, move Barton back to what he does best, provide guidance to Murray and give coach Michael Malone another option late in games when Murray doesn’t have it is exactly what the Nuggets need. Outside of that, Denver could look to upgrade their depth and defense at the small forward position, but a move to replace Wilson Chandler as the starting small forward seems far less likely.
What is the Nuggets dream trade?
The key word here is “dream.” This is never gonna happen, but if we’re dreaming:
Adding Paul George and Devin Harris would cure what ails Denver. Veteran point gaurd capable of running an offense and being trusted down the stretch? Check. Wing who is a defensive ace, is an upgrade on offense and brings a major veteran presence? Check. Mudiay on to a fresh start? Check. Darell Arthur in a place that can keep him as healthy as possible? Check. Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap still on the team? Check. There’s of course a big part being left out of this: Denver would assuredly have to include some draft compensation, and it might be a lot. The Nuggets 2018 first round pick is guaranteed to be going to Oklahoma City in this scenario, and they might have to include another. They’d have to give Phoenix some sort of draft compensation to take on DA’s contract (it has a player option for next year that he’s sure to exercise) and Dallas probably at least wants a second rounder for going through the hassle of swapping out Harris for Felton. A deal like this would be more likely if the Thunder were still sputtering like they were at the beginning of the season. With OKC playing much better, dealing George at the deadline is almost guaranteed to be off the table. Alas, it’s fun to dream though. If you want a more realistic idea, I’ve been pounding the Emmanuel Mudiay for Devin Harris drum since before Thanksgiving and I’m not going to stop until the deadline passes.
The Nuggets have been pretty quiet at the deadline ever since Tim Connelly took the reigns and that should continue this year. The team is in an awkward position where their current standing makes them a candidate to make a deal at the deadline, but with them playing the majority of their season so far without their marquee offseason acquisition, it’s hard to gauge if making a move at this time is really what they need. The biggest deadline and beyond addition the Nuggets get is the return of Millsap and that alone might be enough to get them into the middle seed area of the playoffs. Expect the Nuggets to try and make a minor deal or two to clean up the roster and add some veteran depth at the back end of their rotation but if you wake up on February 8th expecting the Nuggets to make a blockbuster deal, you’re gonna have a bad time.