First, what emotions ran through your mind when you saw Jamal Murray go down in agony and then heard the extent of his injury (torn ACL, out indefinitely but at least 10 months)?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I didn’t see it live. My phone blew up with texts and IMs and I had to go on Twitter to see the clips. It was surreal - so much like Danilo Gallinari’s injury that buried the George Karl era, and at the same point in the season with a team that had so much promise if he could have stayed healthy. I know what a grueling rehab process this will be for Murray so my heart just goes out to him. Just stunned, really.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): At that point late in the fourth quarter, I was on the Locker Room app with Brandon Ewing and other Nuggets fans discussing the ramifications of this blowout loss. Denver was fighting back though. When the play ultimately happened, some of you may have heard my live reaction. I was in visceral pain. Jamal Murray is a player that I’ve connected with during the last five years, and I could feel that this was going to be awful. It turned out to be exactly what I feared.
Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): I think many Denver fans, like myself, immediately thought back to the 2013 Gallinari injury. They are almost a mirror image of each other. The injuries both occurred in April, they were both driving down the left side of the lane when it occurred, Gallo and Murray were the team’s second-leading scorers, and the Nuggets were a top four team in the West. I’ve grown to expect what can go wrong will go wrong for the Nuggets because every time they have a glimmer of championship hope it seems it is taken from them. An absolutely gut-wrenching loss. I feel for this Nuggets team, the coaching staff, and especially Murray and his family.
Jeremy Poley (@JeremyPoley): The audio. It horrified me.
Cinema has slowly learned that sometimes under-doing something can be more impactful than Hollywood’s traditional approach of overdoing. The gunfight scene from Mann’s “Heat” with nothing but short pops of gunfire and sharp tactical calls between the team. Omaha Beach in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” where your brain is blocked from registering what your eyes are seeing. And nowhere to be found was any of the music that we’ve learned to rely on to orient our emotional cues.
We were left with Jamal’s shouts and pleas echoing through a gigantic empty arena. Someone else shouted for help and the camera cut to a new shot before we could make out who was saying what, who might be acting out of normal, or what was everyone else’s reaction. Our brains were left in a vacuum waiting for some intel to fill it. It was awful. Time stopped.
How do the Denver Nuggets recover from this, in both the short-term and the long term, or can they recover at all?
Gross: Both Murray and Denver can recover from this. It certainly puts a kink in their plans for this year, and without much practice time or stretch run remaining there is not a lot of time to alter course. The 1-5 pick and rolls will have to switch to Will Barton or MPJ, and a lot of players will have to step up - but this is why Denver has players suited to roles this year. Aaron Gordon will have to be more than a dunker, Barton will have to be a consistent scorer, and MPJ will no longer have to fit in - he’ll have to stand out even more.
But Denver still has the MVP in Nikola Jokic and a puncher’s chance to make a lot of noise this year. It’s a rough year around the league as a whole, but Denver has the ability to recover from this even this year, and moreso next year as it will give a lot of players an opportunity to grow with Murray out. If they do it right maybe he can come back into an even stronger team than the one he left.
Blackburn: In the short term, there’s very little the Nuggets can do. They could sign Austin Rivers with their final roster spot and hope he gives them something of a scoring and veteran leadership boost. Ultimately, this season will come down to how much more the following five players can give: Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton, Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, and PJ Dozier. Porter and Barton will be asked to assume larger roles within the starting unit. Morris will most likely be asked to fill Murray’s starting point guard spot. Campazzo will most likely be asked to be the primary bench point guard. Dozier is a bit of a wildcard, but Malone can figure out how to optimize some of his versatility in the rotation.
Long term? This expedites the star development of Porter over the next couple of seasons. Where the Nuggets were willing to be patient before, they now need Porter’s star ceiling right flipping now. If he can grow into the player the Nuggets organization thinks he can be, Denver will be okay in the long term. If the Nuggets have to find other means to improve.
Knowlton: In the long run, Denver can and will recover from this. I find it hard to believe the Nugget’s front office wants to see another manifestation of the Brian Shaw era. Yesterday bred so much negativity around this franchise and for good reason, but I think it’s important to remain positive. Last year, Denver showed when the odds were stacked against them they could still prevail. Yes, these are different situations but the underdog mentality fits the Nuggets well. I think the championship expectations might be out the window, but Denver still has enough talent to be competitive in the playoffs.
Every single player will have to be a better version of themselves. The bench becomes more important than ever. JaMychal Green will have to start making shots, Monte Morris will have to become a consistent scorer, PJ Dozier has to cut down down on the turnovers, and Facundo Campazzo will have to hit his open three point shots. Of course, we have the leading MVP candidate and he has to start putting up 35-40 point nights again. Most of all, Michael Porter Jr. has superstar potential and this must be the time for him to prove it.
Poley: The short term is confusing. Morris and Campazzo have been effective but in special roles. What will the defensive pressure that Murray’s 6’5” frame be replaced with in the playoffs? Is an average guy like Austin Rivers worth going in on, or do you live with the edges and flaws of our current backcourt?
The long term is even more confusing. Murray is a Nugget for the long-haul. So you have to treat his recovery like that. But the championship window is now and that window changes after next season with the likes of Gordon and Barton’s contracts ending and knocking on the door of whatever MPJ’s next contract will shape up as. Is it worth it to go into luxury tax sooner rather than later? The repeater tax is crippling and the Nuggets wouldn’t survive it for very long. That was hopefully the answer to “continue” the Nuggets’ championship contention, not ramp up to it.
Does this derail their title hopes in the next two seasons?
Gross: Short answer: no. Long answer: they’re gonna need some breaks, but they already have one in the MVP Jokic. Having that tentpole to build around always helps, but for the time Murray is out they’ll need PJ Dozier getting hot, Aaron Gordon taking and hitting open threes, stuff like that. They’ll need some star turns from their remaining stars and especially next year they’ll need Jamal Murray to come back strong out of the gate in March or April. It doesn’t derail them in both years but it definitely sets Denver back. How could it not? Playoff Jamal is a huge force, and his pick and roll with Nikola Jokic is basically unstoppable. Denver will have to recast some players in new roles and hope those understudies can step up when it counts. It’s a tall order.
Blackburn: They probably can’t win a championship now, but crazier things have happened. It’s just so difficult to win one, and for a mid-market team like Denver it’s even more difficult. They need to get a little lucky even in the best of circumstances, and this is the exact opposite of that. The confluence of events Denver needed to put themselves into this position was difficult enough, and it involved Murray being healthy and the second best player on the team. It would be surprising, mind-boggling even, if this didn’t derail that plan.
Knowlton: It doesn’t derail their title hopes for next season, but it more than likely does for this season. The Jazz, Lakers, and Nets have too much firepower for Denver in a seven game series. I hope I am wrong but this is not the NFL. Football teams can get hot without much star talent and glide to a championship because they are only one game matchups. If we are talking glass half full, the recipe for a title this year will have to mirror what Dallas did to Miami in 2011. Jokic will have to outshine the best in the league, and role players will have to come up with consistent and clutch baskets.
The next season will be a telling one. Hopefully, Jamal is available and physically primed for the stretch run towards the playoffs. Gordon should be more comfortable in the offense, MPJ should be equipped for stardom, and who knows what offseason moves the Nuggets can make to prepare for a championship.
Poley: The Nuggets are not derailed! Really? Picture a train... derailed. That’s not the Nuggets! Murray brought two things to the goal of winning a championship - an extra gear, and the right size. He’s one of those NBA talents that can turn off the world and just score the ball like fiction. Also, his experience has caught up to his body and he presents himself as a versatile defensive matchup for any backcourt they might face in the post-season.
At this point, instead of the Nuggets charging into the playoffs and other teams adapting to them, we’re now at the mercy of needing to carefully bounce and pivot through the right matchups to win a championship. Recall to mind last year’s first-round series against the Utah Jazz. Now, don’t have Gary Harris come back from injury and win 3 straight. Now, take Murray out entirely. Scary!
Recall to mind our third-round series against the Lakers. Now, take Jamal Murray out. I hate to say it, because the man deserves our love and sympathy, but does that change that series too much? Now, put in Aaron Gordon and 2021’s MPJ. That’s a series I would be excited for.
What is one positive thing that you’re hoping comes from this nightmare?
Gross: First I want Jamal to be healthy. I’m hoping that in rehab he’ll be able to get his core and legs sorted out and set himself up for a long career upon his return. Hopefully rehab will do for him what Steph Curry’s tireless lower body strengthening workouts did for his ability to play relatively healthy and with huge impact. And then I hope it plants seeds in the rest of the team that can grow strong. If some of Denver’s young players can find a way to expand their games with bigger roles maybe that gives the Nuggets a better shot at a title in years to come. Right now though, the body blow from losing Murray until 2022 really hurts.
Blackburn: It’s impossible to be positive about this. I hope other players on the roster become even better with an increased role, forged in the fire so to speak. Porter is just one player, but Jokić will have to be his best self too. Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, all of the players up and down Denver’s roster will need to step up. It takes a team to replace Murray’s impact, and I hope the Nuggets are up to the task.
Prayers up, Jamal.
Knowlton: Unfortunately, I think we should look at the Lakers for some positivity right now. They lost two of their essential pieces, but they have beaten teams like the Nets and Clippers because their role players are getting more confidence. Once AD and LeBron come back, the Lakers should be even better when you pair two of the best in the league with more confident role players. With more minutes, Denver’s role players will learn how to play and excel with their teammates and hopefully this serves as preparation for next season.
The Nuggets lost in the play-in game vs Minnesota, they lost vs Portland to get to the West Finals, and they lost to the Lakers to earn a bid at a championship. Each season has ended with a crushing blow yet Denver continues to improve. The Nuggets do not skip steps. I look forward to see how this group bounces back.
Poley: My eye is on MPJ and the opportunity for growth of his offensive game. Remember the guy from the playoffs that had no role? That struggled to get involved to the point of calling out his coaching? We’ve watched a season of him merely starting to fit in with what Jokic and Murray do together and it’s been mind-blowing. But the theme of Nuggets has always been the same - the theme of the Nuggets is Jokic and Murray. Now we’re about to see what happens when that changes to Jokic and MPJ.