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Roundtable: Stiffs writers react to the Nuggets running it back in free agency

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Barton, Rivers, and Green back? Adding Jeff Green too? The Stiffs discuss...

DENVER NUGGETS VS PHOENIX SUNS, NBA PLAYOFFS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Which of the four deals the Nuggets signed in free agency did you like the most?

Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): The Will Barton signing was clearly the best and most necessary signing of them all. They are desperate for consistent guard scoring especially with Murray missing most of next season. This signing helps Denver maintain continuity within the starting lineup. Aaron Gordon will have a full offseason to enhance his role within the offense, but for the rest of the starting lineup, they are very familiar with one another which is crucial late in games. With that being said, Will needs to stay healthy. He’s shown the tendency to be injury-prone and the Nuggets are banking on him to consistently stay in the lineup. If he misses significant time again, this signing will clearly be the wrong decision.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): The Barton deal was tops for me. I don’t really care about the money, I care about the years. A two year contract is perfect for both the player and the team. He can perform knowing he’s got the safety cushion of an additional year, and if a situation arises where he either has to be moved or his skills decline, it’s going to be an expiring deal soon. Now he needs to focus on staying healthy and playing as well as he can.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): The Nuggets certainly had a plan if Will Barton informed them that he wasn’t going to return, but it’s unlikely that the plan would have helped Denver enough in the short term to combat some of Denver’s issues with Murray out. Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo are more facilitating guards. P.J. Dozier is more of a defensive guard. Bones Hyland probably isn’t ready as a rookie to play consistent minutes. The Nuggets needed someone to be the primary guard scorer until Murray returns, and Barton was readymade for the task. A two-year deal, as the others have said above me, is perfect, and it didn’t preclude them from their other goals to fill out the roster.

Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Which of the four deals the Nuggets signed in free agency was the biggest head-scratcher?

Knowlton: It’s either bringing back JaMychal Green or signing Jeff Green. Denver’s immediate needs were enhancing their guard/wing depth and acquiring a defensive presence inside. They did neither. JaMychal Green had some nice rebounding games in the playoffs, but re-signing him does not make this team better, it just brings them right back to the position they were last year. Jeff Green is a good player. He enhances their offensive productivity off the bench but does not help their interior defense at all. Both of the Greens play that same stretch 4 position, so it seems like Denver is going to play small ball when the bench unit comes in. Unfortunately, Denver’s defense will continue to get run-through in the paint, so do not expect this team to produce consistent defensive performances. In fact, bank on the opposition to score about 110+ per night.

Lewis: It’s signing Jeff Green. I get it — the front office likes guys with the initials JG. But he’s nearly 35 years old. Trust me, the athleticism of his 20’s is no longer there. This is a guy that couldn’t play with the Jazz two seasons ago and was dumped on Houston. He was bad before COVID-19 became a thing. The Nuggets gave him two years? There are going to be a lot of players I would rather see in Denver than Jeff Green under any circumstance. This, courtesy of my son, sums up my reaction to that signing.

Blackburn: It isn’t so much one deal or the other for JaMychal or Jeff as it is the combination of both of them on the same roster. Both players are listed at 6’8” and roughly 230 pounds on Basketball Reference, and they have each filled similar roles for their teams in the past few years. JaMychal Green split time at power forward and center this past year as a floor spacing option offensively and switching option defensively. Jeff Green did much of the same for the Brooklyn Nets, even as a starter and high volume contributor throughout the year. Did Denver need both players? Were Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Čančar, and Bol Bol not enough as other reserve options off the bench? Perhaps there are more moves to be made than where the roster sits now, but it seems curious to enter training camp with roughly six power forwards on the roster and four in line for playing time.

The Nuggets are clearly running it back with a similar roster to last season. Is this the right call?

Knowlton: I can’t stress this enough— absolutely not. If the goal is to make it to the playoffs and maybe win a first-round series then sure, but last season showed the Nuggets that they lack depth, and it was not addressed. The only new signing in Jeff Green will not just magically save their bench issues. Denver’s championship window will not be as long as they might think. While most of the top teams continue to improve their roster, Denver does not and unfortunately, they will continue to look up at the Lakers until that changes. Not only did the Lakers add Westbrook, but they also added Dwight Howard and Wayne Ellington. Those are two pieces that would have improved Denver’s roster dramatically, but they stay with their current roster. I don’t think it's the right move at all.

Lewis: Clearly the front office thinks they were a Jeff Green away from winning a title. Sure, injuries hurt their guard depth, so they should be fine proceeding without any wing depth behind a small forward who plays best at power forward and also missed two years with a broken back. Running it back is the way to go for a team that reached the championship, not got stomped on by the Phoenix Suns. Wrong call.

Blackburn: I’m undecided. In a perfect world, the Nuggets would have added the perfect bench wing player to their roster to soak up 20 to 25 minutes a night ad improve the offense and defense marginally. In reality, finding wings like that is really hard, and perhaps the Nuggets are still looking for those options as we speak. If they can’t find those options, then it’s not a bad thing to trust the growth and development of players like Michael Porter Jr., P.J. Dozier, and Zeke Nnaji to help offer Denver marginal advantages. In addition, added comfort level for Aaron Gordon, Austin Rivers, and the rest of the Nuggets with this group wouldn’t go amiss either. Finally, when the Nuggets were all healthy for a very brief stretch, they were a sexy pick to win a championship. If Murray gets healthy and gets back to that point, why shouldn’t the Nuggets be okay with running it back and seeing where they stand? Figure out where the line is, make the necessary changes the following offseason, and keep moving forward.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

With 15 players on the roster now, do you expect the Nuggets to make any more moves beyond signing two-way players?

Knowlton: I would certainly hope they can get a real nice defensive-minded wing on a two-way contract, but I think they really want to see what this roster can do fully healthy. I don’t think they’re going to like the result, but I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I think the eventual loss of Millsap will loom larger than people think. I don’t think he should be in the lineup for Denver, but he was a great leader to everyone in that lineup so they will miss his leadership. Maybe they sign another veteran player, hopefully with championship experience, to a vet minimum contract.

Lewis: I certainly hope so. Being cheap the year after your franchise player won MVP is a mood. Maybe it’s for the best fans can’t watch the Nuggets play because of the broadcast dispute. They won’t be able to watch the franchise waste away a year of Jokic’s prime with curious roster moves.

Blackburn: I would expect a potential trade involving one of Bol Bol, Vlatko Čančar, or perhaps Zeke Nnaji. The wing market is hot right now at the peak of free agency, but after things settle down a bit, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Nuggets explore their options bolstering their wing depth in some way. Right now, the only true wings on Denver’s roster (6’5” to 6’7” with capability to defend shooting guards and small forwards) are Will Barton and P.J. Dozier. Denver’s forwards (6’7” to 6’10” with capability to defend small forwards and power forwards) are Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Green, Green, Čančar, and Bol. It feels like the positional talent could be distributed a bit more evenly in an ideal world, and we will see whether the Nuggets agree.