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Roundtable: Off-court drama and trades

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Fourteen days remain until the 2018 trade deadline, and we ask the writers what team they get the most joy from seeing lose.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

No softball questions to start this roundtable, we’re jumping right into it. Which player has the higher ceiling, Jamal Murray or Nikola Jokic?

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): When I make hot takes in the writers private Slack channel and Dan wants to shame me publicly...I think Jamal Murray has a higher ceiling overall. I think Jokic has a higher floor and is more likely to reach his ceiling than Murray, but Murray is the ultra-scoring wing player type that can win multiple MVPs and rings as the best player on the team and for that he gets my nod.

Jeremy Poley (@JeremyPoley): Nikola Jokic clearly has the higher ceiling. But the question is a nice compliment to Murray. Jokic has the potential of being one of the top ten centers of all time. When you look at that list you’ll see players that have such unique skill-sets that you can’t even compare them to each other. I once heard the phrase, “Skill is hitting a target no one else can hit. Genius is hitting a target no one else can see.” Jokic is one of those rare players in any sport, not just basketball, that carries so much gravity that they defy any measurement by any analyst, coach, or player. You can analyze something he does, try it yourself, and still never have the same effect. It’s because his game goes beyond skill and transcends into genius - or as sports vernacular goes: “greatness”. Coming into this season he had one question mark: is he a defensive liability? Well, he spent the first quarter of this season ranked between the first and second highest rated defensive center in the league. He has proved that in the right situation his defense isn’t a liability, nor even a non-factor, but a strength. Let’s hope that his environmental circumstances don’t destine him to become Denver’s “Barry Sanders”. I’ll rephrase my original answer: He doesn’t even have a ceiling - a ceiling is something we can see.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): The ceiling is the roof! I’m actually going to agree with Zach here, and say Jamal Murray. Murray has more athleticism, and his ability to score makes him a player that could make him a perennial All-Star caliber player. He has such great work ethic, and I see a desire to be the best in him. With Jokic, I see that competitive fire, but I also see a guy that was drinking three liters of Coca-Cola a day as well. I think Jokic will always have moments where he looks bad on defense, but Murray has the athletic tools that he can combine with his feel for the game to make his mistakes less glaring.

Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I disrespectfully disagree with Dan and Zach. The answer is almost certainly Nikola Jokic because I think Jokic is already talented enough to be a top 10 player in the NBA. It’s pretty telling that Jokic has been played out of position for the last month, forced to take a back seat for the first month, and has dealt with an injuy while still holding the team’s 2nd best Net Rating while simultaneously making every player on the roster better just by being alongside him. He isn’t as flashy and his impact is less obvious to the untrained eye (I told you I was going to be disrespectful!) but he is and will likely always be a massively underrated basketball player.

Please summarize the month of January in five sentences or less.

Mikash: I’ll do it with one gif (pronounced “jif”).

Poley: It was disappointing to see us push the Plumkic lineup as hard as we did. We still stayed in most of those games down to the last few minutes. It’s encouraging to see the team’s spirit stay together through the adversity. Murray and Lyles have proved to be game-changers in the right circumstances.

Lewis: This was the month where the Nuggets really showed how much they missed Paul Millsap. January basketball is tough for every team, with fatigue and experience determining how successful teams can be. I began to have doubts about Michael Malone. The Plumkic lineup, which I never was a fan of, is not a productive pairing.

Mares: The Nuggets put themselves in position to fail and then got frustrated when things didn’t go the way they wanted. As with most young teams in the NBA, the Nuggets are learning the hard way that the margin for error at this level is incredibly thin. With Paul Millsap’s return still (probably) too far in the future to start the countdown, the team better get back on track very quickly.

Would you rather have Lonzo Ball for the next seven years, with all his off-court drama, or LeBron James for the next two years, with all his off-court drama?

Mikash: Is there even a debate? Clearly the answer is LeBron. LeBron’s drama is centered around him, the greatest player on earth, Lonzo’s drama is centered around his dad, the most obnoxious person on earth.

Poley: I don’t think that Lavar Ball’s social impact has much gas left in its tank. In an attempt to save their profit margins, ESPN turned Lavar Ball’s antics into a bubble that’s in the middle of bursting. I expect Lonzo’s off-court drama to simmer down for the extent of his career. That being said, having a small-forward that can get the ball inside to Jokic (and probably back out again for an optimized shot) is the feast that my eyes are craving. So, I would go with LeBron.

Lewis: Who would be crazy enough to take Lonzo Ball? James makes his team an instant title competitor, because he’s the best player in the league. The Nuggets would have a great chance at making their first ever NBA Finals - being able to experience that would be the greatest thing.

Mares: This question is slightly more difficult for me to answer than you’d think. I’d probably rather have LeBron since he’s still capable of being the best player in any game, no matter the stakes. However, if Jokic’s role gets diminished alongside Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap, what would his role be next to LeBron? Would he become Kevin Love, a low usage spot up shooter? Meanwhile, Lonzo is still a ways away from being a plus player but he is, in my opinion, a near perfect fit next to Jokic. In the end, the floor with LeBron on your team is always championship contention so the answer is LeBron. But don’t tempt me with my dream Lonzo-Jokic pairing.

What is your favorite team for the Nuggets to get a win against?

Mikash: I’d probably still go with the Golden State Warriors. There’s something special about knocking off one of, if not the, greatest teams of all time. Plus, the Warriors are easy to dislike. Kevin Durant might be the least likeable player in the NBA, and Draymond Green and Stephen Curry are definitely top 10 on that list as well.

Poley: Oklahoma City. I was so sick of hearing about how putting three scorers together was genius. All the video-game-team-managers can go back to the drawing board when our team of college-aged “no-names” mops the floor with them.

Lewis: It has to be the Lakers, right? Even though they aren’t “THE LAKERS” anymore, they’re always going to be that team that thought signing Karl Malone and Gary Payton would be easy enough to get them another championship. They’re the team that wins their draft picks, easily attracts star free agents, and is just always good. I love beating the Lakers.

Mares: There’s no question it’s the Portland Trail Blazers. That matchup is shaping up to be a fun mini-rivalry and the fans on both sides seem into it. The stakes are so high being that they are a conference rival and the Jusuf Nurkic factor provides the perfect amount of bad blood.

With 14 days until the trade deadline, what’s a trade you could see happening with the Nuggets and an Eastern Conference team?

Mikash:

Because D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay all being on the Brooklyn Nets would be amazing! Can we make this a three team deal with Mario Hezonja going to the Nets as well?

Poley: This trade works because of trade exceptions.

Our cap situation is being exaggerated, so I don’t see any red buttons being pushed to blow things apart. I don’t see panic trades to sling salaries all over the place. Even though Mudiay is sitting right now, our management’s record leads me to believe that they won’t try to plug someone in above him. The likelihood that they bail on Mudiay for a short-term boost doesn’t resonate with my concept of how our management is operating. Even if it could be a good idea. Chandler having the ability to opt into another season might scare management a little bit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some activity trying to move Faried or Chandler. It won’t take much to give our cap space some breathing room. The Celtics’ trade exception is probably looking like a gold mine to Tim Connelly. Maybe Faried and our second round pick from Portland for Yabusele & Larkin and Boston’s first round pick if we’re lucky. Larkin would be interesting because he has to be thrown in for cap reasons, but he might just steal any of the minutes that Mudiay is still hoping to get.

Lewis: A trade I’d like to see is Mudiay and Arthur for Johnathon Simmons of the Magic. I have no interest in acquiring Hezonja, who is not a NBA rotation player, and I think it’s time to move on from Mudiay. The Magic have no interest in being good, but need a point guard to replace Elfriid Payton, and Mudiay could be had for a song at this point. I wouldn’t even mind sending a first round pick to Orlando either, Simmons is a good player.

I’ll upgrade Zach’s trade by sending Faried, Mudiay, Juancho and a 2019 first for Carroll, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris. Those three players would be great with the Nuggets, and it’d be nice to bring Dinwiddie back to Colorado.

Mares: You rarely see me make fake trades online because I hate doing them. Most realistic deals are underwhelming. I think Darren Collison is a player that’d fit really nicely on Denver’s roster but I can’t find a deal that makes any sense.

What’s a trade you could see happening with the Nuggets and a Western Conference team?

Mikash:

Still banging this drum.

Poley: This trade works because of trade exceptions:

The Pelicans look like buyers going into the all-star break. So let me ruin their team with a trade. They’ve already proved eager to ruin it themselves. They have a great starting unit but their bench is possibly the worst in the NBA. They’d love to land Barton, a sixth-man-of-the-year contender. We can throw in Chandler to make that breathing room we need to sign Jokic with ease. In return we take a flyer on Solomon Hill, a potential wing defender coming back from injury. He’s got a nasty contract, but it looks amazingly similar to Plumlee’s. And it ends on the same off-season as well - putting Denver in prime position to make their big splash in ‘20. New Orleans says, “We get a huge bench upgrade and get to dump a big contract mistake in the same trade? What’s the catch?”. We respond with “Well, since you’re now guaranteed to win a championship this season, why don’t you give us your worthless first round pick?” And we offer them our second rounder from GS, the real ‘18 champions, so that they still feel like they haven’t completely given up on the upcoming draft.

Lewis: I’m still going to bang a drum for a trade with the Grizzlies: James Ennis and their 2018 second round pick for Emmanuel Mudiay and our 2018 first round pick. They get a point guard to back up Mike Conley Jr., and the Nuggets get a small forward that allows Will Barton to play more point guard.

Mares:

I told you I’m bad at these. I don’t have any real answers so instead I will suggest a completely unrealistic trade. Denver gets involved in the rumored, Clippers-Trail Blazers trade to help facilitate the deal. That’s right, I’m suggesting that Denver trade Jusuf Nurkic for the second time in two years! This trade won’t happen but if it did, it’d be because Portland gets cap relief and two young prospects. Mudiay is a buy-low candidate (who will likely pull a Nurkic and turn into an all-star for the final 2 months of the season) while Juancho gives them a cheap option on the wing for the next 2 years.

The Clippers get the rights to pay Nurkic who will be reunited with his buddy, Danilo Gallinari while also getting CJ McCollum to build around. Denver gets Jokic’s countrymen, Milos Teodosic and the rights to decline Beverley’s team option if they get in a bind and can’t afford to extend Jokic without doing so. If they are able to shed Wilson Chandler’s or Darrell Arthur’s salaries, then they can pick up the option and run with Teodosic and Beverley off of the bench until both grow unhappy with their diminished roles, get into a locker room brawl with Michael Malone, and then demand a trade. (I told you I am bad at these)