With the offseason officially upon the Denver Nuggets they now turn their attention to how they can improve their roster in hopes of making a run at a title next season. This year’s playoffs established the Nuggets as a true championship contender, but it also showed they have some work to do if they want to get over the hump. They were eliminated in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals after nearly being eliminated by the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in the previous two rounds. The Lakers and Clippers aren’t going anywhere next season, and given the draw of their market can be expect to have many options for improving their own rosters. Meanwhile, a healthy Golden State Warriors team still boasts a trio (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) that won a title one year and won seventy-three games the next. Add in Andrew Wiggins who can be an elite role player instead of a miscast primary scorer and whoever Golden State acquires with the 2nd overall pick in the draft (whether that be by using the pick or trading it) and the Warriors look formidable in 2021 to say the least. It is folly to think the Nuggets can merely stand pat and expect internal improvement alone will get them past those three teams.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they will be quite limited in improving the team via free agency. Jamal Murray’s extension will eat up nearly all the money vacated by Paul Millsap’s expiring deal, and the money from Mason Plumlee’s expiring deal will need to be applied to re-signing Jerami Grant who one would expect will have many suitors in the free agent market. Essentially the Nuggets will be left with their exception money to use in free agency which will be enough to sign a solid role player, but not what one might call a difference maker, or even a starter for that matter. No, if Denver intends to add a serious difference maker to the roster, they’ll need to do it via trade.
Before we dive into some scenarios for improving the team with a trade an important point about the Nuggets situation needs to be made. If we accept that there is 0% chance the Nuggets trade either Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray and about a 1% chance they trade Michael Porter Jr. (look, if Giannis Antetokounmpo wants out you add MPJ to that deal, otherwise it’s hard to imagine Denver surrendering their young star on the rise for anyone) then it guarantees Gary Harris and/or Will Barton will be a part of any deal. The reason is simple. The Nuggets won’t have the cap space, if any, to be able to absorb a large salary coming in meaning they will have to match (or get close to matching...see Tim Francis in the comments for an explanation of how NBA trade math works for teams over the cap) any salary they absorb with the salaries they send out. With Grant, Millsap and Plumlee expiring and Jokic/Murray/Porter off the table, Barton and Harris are the only players on Denver’s roster with any significant salary to speak of. There are other chips they can add to the deals, as you’ll see in this exercise, but those two guys have to be in the mix on every deal. That’s just simply the math of it.
Jrue Holiday - PG/SG - New Orleans Pelicans
Jrue and the Nuggets feel like a match that’s been waiting to happen for years, not unlike how Paul Millsap and the Nuggets felt the same way a few seasons back. Ultimately the Nuggets waited until they had the cap space to give Millsap a very lucrative offer, but neither they nor the Pelicans have that luxury with Holiday. Denver is in win now mode, the Pelicans are in win soon mode. Holiday and the Pelicans is sort of like Danilo Gallinari and the Nuggets were a few years ago. Can he help the team? Certainly, but he’s also at a point where he’s hitting the back end of his prime and probably would like to jump from a developing team to one that is ready to compete. Already Holiday rumors are swirling and with Lonzo Ball set to take over as the primary guard in New Orleans a split this offseason seems likely. For the Nuggets to obtain his services they’ll have to come with a strong offer.
Why it does and doesn’t makes sense: I know what you’re thinking, it sucks to give up potential unicorn Bol Bol, but as the saying goes, you have to give up something to get something. One of the issues the Nuggets will run into with having to add either Barton, Harris or both to a deal is those guys can be viewed as not exactly great value. Harris in particular can be a tough sell due to his disappearance in the Lakers series and his high cap figure, meanwhile Barton was unable to play in the bubble at all making him somewhat a riskier acquisition for teams, even at an affordable $13.7 million per season.
That’s means the Nuggets have to sweeten the pot and Bol can be just that guy. Given that he’s on a two way deal it will give the Pelicans options on how to handle him financially and also makes him the best bargain chip the Nuggets have. He provides the Pelicans a unique player to put next to Zion Williamson and with Jaxson Hayes able to fill the traditional center role, the combo of Bol and Williamson has to potential to be a nightmare pairing at the forward position the likes of which the NBA has never seen. The benefit to Barton and Harris in the deal is Harris fits the Pelicans timeline a bit better than Jrue and the combo of the two guards breaks up Jrue’s one big salary into two, giving New Orleans further options to explore in the trade market. The 1st round pick is the sweetener the Nuggets will need to offset Harris’ salary vs production ratio.
Victor Oladipo - SG - Indiana Pacers
The rumors are swirling about Oladipo wanting out of Indiana. The star guard was up and down for the Pacers during their rather brief playoff run in the bubble and continues to work his way back from a devastating knee injury he suffered during the 2018-2019 season. Prior to the injury Oladipo was one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, boasting a Most Improved Player award, all star selection and 1st team All NBA defense in 2018. Now 28, like Holiday, ‘Dipo is assuredly looking to not waste the remaining years of his prime. That’s not to say staying in Indiana is a waste, and Victor has denied the rumors about him wanting out, but it’s not exactly a tough sell to say the Nuggets are closer than the Pacers to reaching a title.
Why it does and doesn’t make sense: Oladipo in many ways offers a lot of the same things that Holiday does. He gives you a second scorer and playmaker in your backcourt as well as someone to hound opposing guards on the defensive end. However, given his recent injury history and rumors that he wants out, he won’t be quite as expensive to acquire. His lower contract number also means there’s less need to add both Barton and Harris to the deal to make it happen. If the Nuggets strike out on acquiring Jrue, Oladipo is a nice backup plan. On the Pacers end Gary Harris is a player they’ve been rumored to have interest in before. He’s an Indiana born product too which always carries extra weight for the Pacers. It’s a bit easier making him the center of an Oladipo package as well because like Victor you’re hoping the injury concerns can be overcome and he returns to the form we saw a couple years ago. Monte Morris and the 1st round pick are nice additional assets to pick up to help sweeten the deal.
Oladipo is cheaper to acquire because he’s considerably more risky though, there’s no way around that. There’s no guarantees he returns to his all-star level play and no guarantee he re-signs after the 2021 season is up. Denver is going to be cautious surrendering anything of note in a situation like that. The trade also isn’t a great fit for either team if we’re being honest. Even at pre-injury form Oladipo doesn’t assuage some of the Nuggets problems. He is roughly the same size as Harris so he won’t add any length to their perimeter. More notably however is he’s the type of player that’s going to need the ball in his hands a lot more than Harris or even Jrue Holiday. Victor is at his best taking guys off the dribble and using his lightning quick first step and finishing ability to score at the rim or using a devastating step back to create space at the perimeter. He flourished when he first got to Indiana because he was immediately the number one option, you have to wonder if he has similar results as a third or even fourth option in Denver. From the Pacers end, beyond the concerns with Harris, they don’t really need Morris when Malcolm Brogdon and Aaron Holiday are on the roster. Throw in the fact the Nuggets likely wouldn’t offer more than this but it’s still a deal another team could top fairly easily and all in all an Oladipo to the Nuggets deal seems pretty unlikely.
Myles Turner - PF/C - Indiana Pacers
Oladipo isn’t the only Pacer rumored to be at odds with the organization though, and perhaps wouldn’t even be the Nuggets top target on the roster. Jared Weiss of The Athletic noted that Myles Turner may also be looking for a change of scenery. After being bounced by a Los Angeles Lakers team that combatted them with size, the Nuggets might be better off looking to add a big to play next to Nikola Jokic rather than a wing to put next to Jamal Murray. After all, Jerami Grant showed he could be Denver’s go to perimeter defender, it was an undersized and aging Paul Millsap that put them in a bind in the conference finals. The Nikola Jokic Nuggets struggle when facing a team like the Lakers that can throw size and athleticism in multiple waves at Denver’s bigs. Given how it was that fact, and not a lack of scoring or an inability to defend the perimeter, that ultimately proved to be too much for the Nuggets, adding a big like Turner may be the very best thing this team can do in the offseason.
Why it does and doesn’t make sense: Call me crazy, but I actually think Turner is the more expensive Pacer to acquire in terms of what someone has to give up to get him. Unlike Oladipo there are no injury concerns and Myles is locked into a fair deal for the next three seasons, he’s also four years younger. The ceiling may be a touch lower, but the floor is quite a bit higher. For the Nuggets, Turner immediately slots in as one of their two bigs. He provides Denver with much needed rim protection and helps bolster their defense in general. He’s also an effective three point shooter so he won’t clog the lane and muck up Denver’s cutting and motion on offense. He’s got the size, strength and athleticism to take on the toughest big opposing teams have while leaving Jokic free to conserve energy on the defensive end and hawk rebounds while Turner boxes out. That’s the one area of weakness for Myles, rebounding, but with Jokic and Michael Porter Jr on the floor it’ll be more about keeping guys off the glass, rather than getting to it himself. On the Pacers end, Barton gives them either a replacement for Oladipo should Indiana move him elsewhere, or gives them a sorely needed scoring wing off their bench. Meanwhile the versatility of Bol provides the Pacers with a different look at pairing a seven footer with Domantas Sabonis, which gave mixed results with Turner.
On the other hand, Bol is an unproven commodity still and him plus Barton and a 1st (Keita Bates-Diop is essentially filler) isn’t the most impressive package if you’re not convinced that Bol is at the least going to be a starting level player in the league. Bigs who can protect the rim and shoot the three are a valuable commodity in this league so once again it’s not hard to see how Denver gets outbid in this scenario. They could swap Barton with Harris if that helps, but Will’s smaller deal might be the more appeasing piece for Indiana. They could likewise add this year’s 1st round pick instead of next, 22nd overall might be a bit higher than where the Nuggets 1st round pick next year ends up. The other thing to consider is the Turner/Sabonis pairing has been clunky at times. There’s no guarantees that Turner playing next to Jokic would work out well for either player.
Bradley Beal - SG - Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal’s departure from the Washington Wizards feels like something that’s been in the works for years now, even with Beal signing an extension last offseason. The fact of the matter is Washington is still barely skimming the level of mediocrity while Bradley is right in the middle of his prime. If he’s going to win a championship it’s in all likelihood not happening with the Wizards. More than any other star player right now, he fits the mold of extremely talented guy on a team that is in need of a rebuild. Given that Wall’s contract is probably the worst in the NBA, trading Beal is Washington’s one shot to reset the deck and send one player out in exchange for multiple opportunities to acquire building blocks.
Why it does and doesn’t make sense: I know, I know, I said there is a 1% chance the Nuggets trade MPJ. Here’s the deal, the Nuggets aren’t getting Beal without giving up Porter. Beal is too high quality of a player, there are going to be too many suitors, there’s just no way the Nuggets put together the most enticing package Washington gets for their best player without including Porter in the equation. I’ll get to why that might not make sense for Denver to do in a bit but if they wanted to go all in for Beal, this is probably where they’re going to have to be. Porter would give Washington a shot at replacing Beal’s offensive production while also adding some size to their wings which is going to be an issue if they lose Davis Bertans in free agency (seems likely). Porter’s also the only guy on Denver’s roster outside of Murray and Jokic that the Wizards could sell as a major attraction to their fanbase. Morris is also a good get here for the Wizards. With Wall returning from a very long injury absence and no other notable point guards to speak of on the roster, Washington could greatly benefit from a guy like Morris who is good enough to start but also capable of playing off the bench.
The attraction for the Nuggets is straightforward. They get an instant third star to put with Murray and Jokic while giving up future promise. Beal still has two years on his contract plus a third if he chooses to take his player option so they would have a chance at an extended run with the Jokic/Murray/Beal trio. There’s some issues here though. First and foremost is the cost. Beal’s contract jumps noticeably in the final fully guaranteed year and makes another bump in the player option year. If he were to pick up that option the Nuggets would be paying out over $100 million for the three stars alone in 2022-2023. Trading for Beal means an acceptance from the Kroenke’s that they are going to have to pay into the luxury tax at some point, if not multiple points. Beal also doesn’t do a ton for Denver in the way of shoring up their defense. The Nuggets would still be undersized at the two guard, but would not have Gary Harris’ defensive chops to fall back on. Putting Porter in the deal means there’s a good chance the Nuggets would roll out a starting lineup of Murray/Beal/Barton/Grant/Jokic next season which leaves a lot to be desired in terms of size, defense and rebounding. Most importantly surrendering Porter could very well be looked at as skipping a step. In terms of offensive production, the major difference between Beal and Porter isn’t range, ability or shooting prowess, it’s minutes and usage. Now, there’s no guarantee that Porter can replicate Beal’s production if he was given the same number of opportunities but it’s important to point out that Beal averaged 1.331 points per field goal attempt last season, MPJ averaged 1.328. There’s no guarantee that when it’s all said and done we don’t look back on Porter as the better player in comparison to Beal.
Aaron Gordon - SF/PF - Orlando Magic
There’s an assumption among Denver fans that the Nuggets re-signing Grant is a foregone conclusion. While it certainly seems like he is Denver’s top priority in the offseason, he is still an unrestricted free agent who may sign wherever he so desires. It behooves the Nuggets, and us in this exercise, to consider back up plans should Grant end up playing somewhere else next season. Enter Aaron Gordon. Best known for being robbed in dunk contests, Gordon might be one of the best ways the Nuggets replace Grant should they need to. After several season in Orlando while the Magic continue to pile up forward prospects, Gordon may be the odd man out with the the team who originally drafted him with the second overall pick.
Why it does and doesn’t make sense: This is essentially a one for one player swap in Harris and Gordon and putting Monte in the deal to get it over the table. You might even be able to pull this off without Morris involved at all but Harris’ value took a hit in the Lakers series (and it’s been in decline ever since he signed his new deal). In some ways you have to pay to get off of Gary’s deal and swapping it for Gordon’s contract, which gets cheaper in it’s final two years, alone isn’t going to cut it. The Magic have only Markelle Fultz to speak of in terms of point guards on their roster so no doubt they’d be interested in Morris. Gary gives them some much needed toughness in their backcourt and a plan to replace Evan Fournier should he decline his player option or even play out the final year available on his deal. The Nuggets meanwhile get a player who isn’t quite the shooter that Grant is, but still a strong versatile defender capable of covering big perimeter players. Gordon would be a boost on the rebounding end as well.
The problem on Denver’s end comes down to price. Again, this is a backup plan, if the Nuggets re-sign Grant there’s little need to go after a player like Gordon. If they can’t sign Grant though then they might have to pay extra to get a similar player. Gordon essentially represents what you would get in Grant except you’re going to pay more and surrender other quality players to get him, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The problem is Denver has basically three notable sweeteners: Morris, Bol, first round pick. Pick any one of the three you want, but for my money (being the big P.J. Dozier believer that I am) Morris is the easiest to part with in this deal. On the Magic end though you have to wonder just how much interest they have in Gary. Fournier is still on the roster after all and bought a home in northern Florida just a few months ago so it certainly seems like he is trending towards accepting his player option. Terrence Ross is also under contract for several years. Orlando is fairly bereft of small forwards so certainly they could play one of those guys at the three but giving up Gordon for Harris in return really weakens Orlando’s size on the wings.
Which trade would you most like to see from the Nuggets
This poll is closed
Harris/Barton/Bol/1st for Jrue Holiday
Harris/Morris/1st for Victor Oladipo
Barton/KBD/Bol/1st for Myles Turner
Harris/Morris/MPJ/1st for Bradley Beal
Harris/Morris for Aaron Gordon
None. Your trades are bad and you should feel bad.