The NBA trade deadline has passed, and the Denver Nuggets did not trade any players. This was not a shocking development: the Denver front office has a well-founded belief in its ability to draft and develop players, but choosing not to alter the roster that has struggled with health all year has its good and bad points. We’ll discuss them in this Denver Stiffs roundtable.
Are you surprised the Nuggets did not make a trade, even for one of their expiring deals like Trey Lyles?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): No. I expected them to go forward with this team. They have somewhat redundant pieces, but is any piece actually redundant to a team that has suffered as many injuries as Denver? It’s hard to consolidate when you are struggling to get enough healthy bodies on the court to form an 8 man rotation. And Denver has shown the past few deadlines that they don’t make deals just because they have expiring contracts on the roster. This is their modus operandi: staying the course.
Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): Not at all. One could make an argument for the relative importance of moving on from/replacing Trey Lyles in the rotation, but there was never a need to make a move here. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Few teams had less pressure at the deadline.
Jeremy Poley (@JeremyPoley): If you ranked the NBA in terms of teams’ pressure to make a trade going into this deadline, I’d have the Nuggets at 29th, just before the Warriors. Last year’s deadline had 15 trades? So, no - not a surprise that the Nuggets didn’t end up in one. I’ll also mention that they still have very limited data on what a healthy lineup looks like. If you wouldn’t want your investment broker making your financial decisions with limited data then why would you want Connelly and Arturas doing the same with your Nuggets’ roster? You have to beat back the emotional takes you might have of some of what you’re seeing right now, let the team get healthy, and measure the data that comes from that.
What’s a trade you would have done to make this team better for this postseason run?
Gross: The rumored Noah Vonleh interest is one I would have as well. Denver could use a more defensive power forward, as their defense goes in the toilet whenever Paul Millsap is out of the lineup or playing injured. Yes, he’s a free agent after the year but it would have helped Denver in these playoffs and as a stoploss against another Millsap injury down the stretch. I’d have swapped Trey Lyles for him as Trey is not someone I expect the Nuggets to re-sign after the season.
Vogt: I’m intrigued by the Vonleh rumors as well, but who knows what the deal itself looked like. Unless the Pelicans suddenly decided to swap Anthony Davis for a Denver package that didn’t include Jamal Murray, there was no trade that potentially moved the needle that was worth shaking things up in my opinion.
Poley: It’s easy to say who I’d want to trade off the Nuggets and hard to say what another team would actually be willing to give us back. Most of these trade scenarios get very unrealistic real quick. So I’ll stand by the boring one I’ve been mentioning of Lyles for Michael Beasley. I think the Lakers would’ve been inclined to take a swing on a young big man. And they did, in fact, trade Beasley so obviously they were willing to part with him. He could’ve been a big man at the 3 and another tool in the small-forward-shed that we’ve built up.
If the Nuggets could have gotten a deal done for a rotation player (but not a star) that would have cost them Jarred Vanderbilt or Michael Porter Jr, should they have pulled the trigger?
Gross: I have to say no. Vanderbilt is already showing the kind of motor and nose for the ball that could make him a rotation player as soon as this stretch run, and every Michael Porter Jr clip screams “explosive volume scorer” in a way that makes it hard to sell low on either man. As much as Denver wants to succeed this year, this is not the year they’re aiming at - and it makes sense to temper their trading urges until they actually know what they have. Imagine throwing Malik Beasley into a deal as a scrub last year only to see him bloom into what he has this year. Denver’s been preaching patience with its young guys and even when it’s frustrating to see the cracks in the roster go unpatched, it’s understandable.
Vogt: I don’t think we’ve reached that stage yet. Denver is winning at a rate that puts them ahead of schedule for sure, but their timeline hasn’t necessarily been accelerated by the relative success. They have another year to see what this group can do and what those two players can contribute. If they lose in the first round I don’t think there will be any cries of “they were too cautious of the deadline!” Folks will probably be more interested in hyping up their Summer League run together.
Poley: Yes. Continuing the financial analogy - the #1 rule in market trading is to protect your assets. We don’t know what we actually have with MPJ. That’s not the kind of thing that you invest in. If there’s an offer on the table for something that’s real, with data, that’s proven, you take it and let the other guy take the gamble on what’s in the “black box”. The team that lacks assets or any real value can take those swings for the fences. But we’re in a new era and the Nuggets are near the top of the league in value. Protect it and let other people gamble.
What’s the ceiling of this year’s team now that we know what the roster pieces will be?
Gross: I still say it’s the Western Conference Finals, but I think Denver needs to be the two-seed to pull that off. Avoid Golden State before then and hope the Rockets and the Warriors rough each other up on their way to that WCF matchup. But Denver’s got to get healthy and re-commit to their early defensive schemes and effort as well. I’m not sure they hit that ceiling this year, but it’s there - and it’s another reason they kept the team intact at the trade deadline.
Vogt: Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, depending on their matchup, the floor is also a loss in the first round. I would urge Nuggets fans not to overreact to the latter, as it wouldn’t necessarily be an indication that this group is incapable of a deep run. They’re still ahead of schedule.
Poley: There’s nothing stopping us from contending with the Warriors for the Western conference. They have the edge, sure. But a game played is still a game played (or seven games played).