The Denver Nuggets and President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly are in for a very busy trade deadline.
With the Nuggets at 29-25 and battling for a playoff spot in the lower half of the Western Conference bracket, many expect the front office to be aggressive in acquiring additional talent. Many sources have identified the Nuggets as a buyer for a potential backup point guard, from Marc Stein’s report that Denver asked about Marcus Smart to various reports regarding Darren Collison and Cory Joseph.
Now, nothing is certain around trade time. Sometimes, reporters are keyed into exactly what’s going on. Other times, teams are putting out smokescreens with different motives in mind. The Nuggets have needs though, and those needs aren’t going away unless external movement or internal development occurs.
Keeping that in mind, the four biggest needs, in my mind and shared by most of the Denver Stiffs staff, are as follows.
Creating a roster spot for Torrey Craig is essential. Lately, Craig has been the sixth man off the bench in Malone’s rotation, providing solid defense, smart shot selection on offense, and a whole bunch of energy and effort. He’s been great, and he should be a major priority. One way to do this is to do a consolidation trade where the number of players leaving the team is less than the number coming back. Another is to trade a player for draft pick compensation. Another is to release, stretch, or buy out a player on the current roster.
A steady backup point guard would do wonders for Denver’s second unit. Emmanuel Mudiay has shown improvement in recent games, but the offense as whole struggles to operate when Nikola Jokic leaves the floor at the beginning of the second and fourth quarter. Those combined 10 to 12 minutes have lost Denver five or six games this season, and a lot of the issues would be solved by acquiring a point guard that knows how to truly run the show. Will Barton and Trey Lyles are excellent spot up shooters that have been stretched thin due to this hole in the lineup. Acquiring a facilitator that provides a legitimate advantage would solve many problems.
A starting caliber small forward is a secondary need but one that could mean the difference in playoff seeding. Wilson Chandler has dealt with illnesses over the last few games, and when he’s not on the floor, it’s clear as day that Denver lacks a competent “big wing” defender. Even when Chandler is in the lineup, he’s slashing 41.4/32.2/84.2, a career low in field goal percentage in a qualifying season (greater than 500 minutes played). His shooting is a competitive liability, and while he has great moments defensively, they rarely come unless he’s facing elite competition. Adding a two-way wing that can shoot and defend players in the 6’6-6’10 range would be a extraordinary coup.
Clearing the salary sheet for next season will make the Nuggets more competitive in future years. Daniel Lewis wrote an excellent piece awhile back detailing Denver’s cap issues going forward and why they need to make a trade. I think he’s absolutely right. Some of the contracts Denver may look to trade in the next 59 hours or so: Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Will Barton, and Emmanuel Mudiay, depending on the return.
Now, without further ado, there are 15 players that the Nuggets have either showed interest in the past, have shown interest in lately, or may show interest in the near future. The ranking combines a variety of factors, most notably availability, price, team need, and financial concerns.
Honorable Mention: Andre Roberson - Oklahoma City Thunder
Roberson recently had season ending surgery on a torn meniscus, but he would have been an excellent player to target at the deadline this year given the relatively underwhelming performance by the Thunder. The Nuggets likely won’t trade an injured player who can’t contribute this season, and the Thunder might not even make him available.
15. Tyreke Evans - Memphis Grizzlies
The Nuggets were recently stated as a team in pursuit of Evans, and while he’s an excellent ball handling wing, he fits an almost identical role to Will Barton in a similar contract situation. Memphis wants a first round pick for him, but Denver cannot give up a first rounder for a player that duplicates a current player’s role. They have specific needs, and unless Barton is also on the move in a separate deal, it just doesn’t make sense.
14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Charlotte Hornets
Kidd-Gilchrist fits part of the vision I have for a defensive oriented wing. He has the size to match up with the best offensive wings in the Western Conference, and he’s under contract through 2020. His issue is on the offensive end, and it would be hard to craft a top offense with him on the floor for long periods of time. In the end though, the reward may outweigh the risk.
13. Milos Teodosic - Los Angeles Clippers
A veteran point guard who can shoulder the load as a facilitator with Nikola Jokic off the floor? That sounds like Milos Teodosic to me. The Serbian guard has his issues though. He’s an awful defender and struggles to stay on the floor due to injury, having only played in 25 of the Clippers’ 52 games thus far. Still, he’s healthy now and a cheap gamble, as he’s due just $6 million this season with a $6.3 million player option next season.
12. George Hill - Sacramento Kings
Hill is posting a 47.0 FG% and a 45.2 3P% this season, but he’s only playing 26.2 minutes per game. That’s because the Kings are terrible, and they are also trying to develop young talent instead of win basketball games. Hill can still run the show off the bench for a playoff team though. With solid decision making, great shooting efficiency, and positive defense, Hill would be an excellent backup to both Murray and Harris in Denver. His contract is a concern though.
11. DeMarre Carroll - Brooklyn Nets
Carroll is putting together a nice bounce back season after struggling for two years in Toronto. His production and efficiency are back to par (14.1 PER and 54.0 TS% compared to Chandler’s 9.7 PER and 51.8 TS%) and his defense remains above average for the position. If he’s cheap enough, the Nuggets should be calling.
10. Marcus Smart - Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart makes game winning plays. His efficiency is terrible and his decision making in the interim borders on boneheaded. Still, he would immediately be the best defensive guard in Denver if acquired, and he’s comfortable handling the basketball. He averages 4.7 assists per game off the bench in Boston and would pair well with either Murray or Harris in staggered lineups. Even three guard lineups featuring Murray, Harris, and Smart at the 3 would likely be effective.
9. Elfrid Payton - Orlando Magic
Payton’s cost is lower than Smart’s, and he’s less likely to disturb the culture, which is why he finds himself at 9. Payton averages 6.2 assists per game as the starter in Orlando, the 15th most in the NBA. He knows how to facilitate, and he would be even better with floor spacing threats like Murray, Harris, Barton, Lyles, and Jokic surrounding him on a consistent basis.
8. Jonathon Simmons - Orlando Magic
Payton’s teammate, Jonathon Simmons, fits the profile of a physical, defensive minded small forward at a relatively cheap cost. He’s not a better outside shooter than Chandler, but he’s finishing at a higher rate and he brings intensity every single night. His price tag will likely be cheap as well, and maybe the Nuggets could bring over both guys in the same deal if they are willing to part with the right pieces.
7. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Brooklyn Nets
Hollis-Jefferson is enjoying an under-the-radar breakout season. At just 23 years old, RHJ is averaging 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists at the forward position. His perimeter shooting has been mostly negative, but his playmaking has improved, and he has enough positional versatility to defend most wings and forwards in the NBA. It’s unlikely that Brooklyn would part with him, but Denver might still inquire about him when they talk to the Nets.
6. Otto Porter Jr. - Washington Wizards
Like Hollis-Jefferson, Porter is a hybrid forward with defensive versatility that’s hard to find in the NBA. Unlike Hollis-Jefferson, Porter can shoot the hell out of the ball. His percentages are slightly down from an extraordinary season last year, but his production has improved as a scorer and passer. He’s the perfect small forward in a Jokic-led offense, but he may not even be available. Still, if Denver has an opportunity to acquire him, all players other than the core three should be available.
5. Wesley Matthews - Dallas Mavericks
Matthews is a professional, a hard worker, an iron man. After tearing his achilles in 2015, Matthews is almost all the way to the player he was before the injury: a 3 and D wing sniper. He’s posting a 38.3 3P% on 6.3 attempts per game, and while his defensive numbers are average or worse, he’s covering for Dirk Nowitzki, Maxi Kleber, Harrison Barnes, J.J. Barea, and Dennis Smith Jr. defensively, an impossible task. He likely won’t cost very much come Thursday, and Denver may be able to exchange bad salary for him if they include pick compensation or a young prospect.
4. Devin Harris - Dallas Mavericks
Harris, Matthews’ teammate, is the embodiment of a stop gap point guard. At 34 years old, he’s still holding steady as a part of Dallas’ army of bench point guards. He’s not ball dominant, but when paired with Murray, Harris, or Barton, he would act as a stabilizer for the other backcourt position. He’d also be extremely cheap, and maybe the best course of action is to acquire him and Matthews in tandem, sending Mudiay back to his familiar abode in Dallas.
3. Darren Collison or Cory Joseph - Indiana Pacers
Collison is averaging 12.8 points and 5.3 assists as the starter, while Joseph is averaging 7.8 points and 3.1 assists as the backup. Both have been reasonably good for the Pacers, and both represent an ideal archetype for a backup to Jamal Murray: conservative, efficient, and a veteran presence. Murray would learn a lot from either guy, especially Joseph, a fellow Canadian. The price for each guy would be steeper than Harris, but not as high as Smart in all likelihood.
2. Jae Crowder - Cleveland Cavaliers
Crowder has underperformed in Cleveland next to LeBron James and Kevin Love. Most of that is likely his own fault, but part of it has to be attributed to the dumpster fire that resides in Cleveland right now. Crowder is better than his numbers there, and in Denver, he would be an ideal fifth starter, a glue guy in between Murray, Harris, Millsap, and Jokic. Crowder has still in better than Chandler this season, and his contract going forward remains cheap. He’s due $6.8 million this year, $7.3 million next year, and $7.8 million in 2019-20, more than a bargain for what he’s done during his career and what he could do in Denver. The Cavs are desperately looking to make a change, and here come the Nuggets with Wilson Chandler and Will Barton looking extremely interesting.
1. Spencer Dinwiddie - Brooklyn Nets
Finally, the crown jewel. There is no better obvious fit for the Nuggets at the trade deadline than Spencer Dinwiddie. A quality backup point guard who remains on a cheap contract for this season and next season, Dinwiddie has been one of the 20 best point guards in the entire NBA this year. The individual efficiency isn’t great, but Dinwiddie creates so many good looks for his teammates and makes their lives infinitely easier. At 6.5 assists, Dinwiddie ranks 10th in the NBA in assists, and that unselfishness and ability to set the table would really play well next to Denver’s scoring guards. He also runs the pick and roll well with the bigs, and Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee would have a field day on the second unit playing with Dinwiddie in the spread pick and roll. The price will be high, and Denver needs to be okay with parting with Malik Beasley or Juancho Hernangomez if they don’t want to part with a first round pick. Still, Dinwiddie played his college ball at CU Boulder, is under contract for next year on a cheap deal, and he’s probably the best possible backup point guard the Nuggets could ask for at this point.
That’s it. That’s the list. If the Nuggets do end up making a trade for the purpose of upgrading the roster, I expect it to be for one of the above players. All of them fit a need to a certain degree. In my opinion, the top three would set the Nuggets up the best going into a playoff run.
Is it likely that Denver pulls off a deal? I put it at a 90% likelihood that they make a trade of some kind. It could be a salary cap related deal, but I expect a move to be made to try and separate from the scrum of playoff teams vying for spots. If the Nuggets really want to make a splash, they should shoot for Otto Porter Jr. and see if Washington will budge. If they want a minor move, one of the Orlando Magic players listed should be easily acquirable.
But the moves that are juuuuuust right? That would be the top three. Go get Spencer Dinwiddie. Go steal Jae Crowder. Go swindle Darren Collison or Cory Joseph. Those guys provide advantages for this year and beyond, and adding them should improve Denver’s chances of making the playoffs heavily.
Denver Stiffs will have the latest NBA Trade Deadline news and updates as they are made available.