Where do the Denver Nuggets rank in the NBA in terms of 5-year outlook?
Adam Mares: If we were just talking about the future talent of the roster, the Nuggets would be top 4 alongside the 76ers, Bucks, and Warriors. But when you factor in market and organizational reputation/structure, teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers both enter the mix. The Lakers haven’t done anything right other since Dr. Jerry Buss passed away and six years ago yet they still landed LeBron James and have a great chance of adding at least one free agent this summer. That’s just the way the NBA (and the world) works. So I’d rank Denver 6th behind the two L.A. teams and the three I mentioned above. The Mavericks and Jazz are also in the mix.
Ryan Blackburn: I would be hard pressed to rank the Nuggets anywhere other than the top spot overall in a ranking like this. There could be other teams that pass Denver over the next five years, but those teams possess uncertainty and a lot of faith to actualize that. The Lakers and Clippers actually need to sign and/or trade for these mystery stars to play with LeBron and whoever the Clippers have in three years. The 76ers, Bucks, and Warriors all have major free agents that could change the direction of the organization. Denver’s core is positioned well and locked in for the next several years. They have various avenues to improve the team. Nikola Jokic is a legitimate superstar. Why shouldn’t they sit in the top spot?
Gordon Gross: Denver has Jokic, which puts them in a favorable Top-5 position overall. They can rearrange the rest of the players around him or run out there with a very similar iteration and see what happens. I’d go Philly, Golden State (still) Milwaukee, then Denver over Dallas, so much like Adam. I agree with Adam on this as well - the Nuggets are not a FA destination and never have been. Jokic is not exactly a recruiter either, though he may prove to be a draw who knows. Other teams can change their fortunes in an instant because of where they are located. New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami will always be able to alter their fate in one casual superstar signing. Denver will have to do it the harder way, which is why I can’t put them at the top of the heap - but being in the top tier is a lovely and new position for them.
What is one fake Nuggets trade that you actually kind of like?
Mares: I’m still kicking around the idea of Ben Simmons playing alongside Nikola Jokic. As much as I love Jamal Murray, Simmons has a higher upside and could be a great fit alongside Jokic and three shooters. It would feel awfully weird to move on from the team’s 2nd most important player but I think shooting guards are much easier to find than two-way wings with Simmons’s measurables and skill set. Sure, his shooting provides an obstacle but that weakness is mitigated by Jokic’s ability to draw the rim protector out of the paint.
Blackburn: The Nuggets have their primary core of Jokic, Murray, and Harris locked in, but they need two-way forwards with athleticism to cover for various weaknesses. One player that I have always loved for Denver is Jonathan Isaac, whose skills and shot are developing to complement potentially elite defense. The Magic have both Isaac and Aaron Gordon at the forward spots, and the Nuggets have an excellent backup in Malik Beasley who attended Florida State for a season. In a Beasley-for-Isaac swap, both players would have opportunities long term to be valuable starters, as the Magic need more athleticism and shooting in the back court. With Isaac in the fold, the Nuggets could bring back Paul Millsap and slide Isaac to small forward temporarily, or Denver could decline Millsap’s option, search for a true small forward in free agency this year, and slide Isaac to power forward.
Gross: Anthony Davis is still available right? Give me that one. It would cost picks, salary filler and one of Harris or Murray as well as Michael Porter Jr, most likely. If they won’t cough up AD then I’d still like Jrue Holiday. On-ball defense matters in the Finals, as does the ability to stick with your man off-ball, and Denver is missing that piece still, but it would probably have to be Harris going back along with potentially Plumlee and Monte Morris, which would be a steep price. Denver’s history of deal-making has me believing there won’t be any kind of major trade, but if there were to be one this is probably the year.
Who are you rooting for in the NBA Finals?
Mares: I often don’t realize who I am rooting for until the game is on the line and I feel a seemingly uncontrollable wave of emotions rush over me. Last night, I was pulling for the Warriors. It’s weird because my default position is to root for the underdog, especially when it involves a tortured fanbase like Toronto’s yet here I am hoping that the Kevin Durant-less Warriors can pull this off. In my head, a Durant-less title for the Warriors would once again invalidate KD’s decision to join a 73-win team and maybe...just maybe...prevent future stars from stacking the deck the way that he did.
Blackburn: I’m rooting for Toronto. It’s time for a changing of the guard. The Kobe-Shaq Lakers broke apart after losing the 2004 NBA Finals. The LeBron-Wade Heatles broke apart after losing the 2014 NBA Finals. Five years later, the best way to cause strife in Golden State would be to add the pressure of losing to the impending free agency decisions. Durant has endured an enormous amount of criticism for his decision, but in three years with Golden State, it has been validated with at least two shiny championship rings. If he wins a third, what’s stopping him from re-upping with the Warriors and going for more? I’m rooting for Toronto to pull this off and to cause chaos, potentially disbanding the juggernaut that has dominated the Western Conference for the last five years.
Gross: I’m of the opinion that if Toronto wins then Kawhi Leonard comes West again, which I don’t want - unless he comes to Denver of course. If Golden State wins it’s another feather in the dynasty and cuts Durant’s legacy off at the knees as Adam says, and that latter part would amuse me. I always root for the underdog in a matchup of two teams I’m not partial too, though, and that means Toronto. My brain wants Golden State to win, but my heart says Toronto. I want to see them build all the statues, from Kawhi-at-a-press-conference to Drake-massaging-Nick-Nurse. All of em.