Aaron Gordon looked like a guy that was heading towards a season of playing out the final year of his contract as a prove-it deal. Do you think the Denver Nuggets giving up so many assets to acquire him in a trade prompted them to be more aggressive to negotiate an extension?
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): The Nuggets knew they didn’t want to go into another lame-duck season with an important piece of their team after what happened with Jerami Grant the previous year. They planned around the idea of having Grant for the 2020-21 season, and when that didn’t come to pass, it left the Nuggets scrambling. They found a good solution in Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline, but it cost them a lot to get him. Rather than tempt fate once again, the Nuggets did what they had to do to lock Gordon into a contract with the rest of their core. Now, they hope it pays dividends over the next several years.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I absolutely believe that was a factor. They spent a first-round pick to get Grant and he walked for the same amount of money but a bigger expected role - even if on a current non-contender. Aaron Gordon is also going to have a smaller role with Denver in terms of shots and offensive contributions than he otherwise would, and is expected to do a bunch of the “dirty work” required of crucial championship pieces. Denver spent several first-round picks and parted with players they liked to patch the hole left by Grant; they were not going to take the chance of spending all that for nothing, and pushed their chips in on the small sample size that they were treated to when the roster was (mostly) healthy.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I agree with Gordon and Ryan on this one. If Gordon was a player they had been able to get without giving up as much as they did at the trade deadline, I think they may have been more willing to wait on an extension. Gordon is also in the athletic prime of his career which made it even more important to not allow him to get to free agency. Additionally, Gordon didn’t have a terrible time in Denver. While it wasn’t a flawless fit, Gordon helped make the Nuggets better by being the versatile wing defender that the team needed. Those players don’t grow on trees, and, if Denver had allowed him to hit the market, there is a strong chance that he was not going to be longing for potential suitors.
Did you want the Nuggets to wait until next offseason to try and re-sign Gordon, or are you glad they got him locked in early?
Blackburn: I’m glad they locked him in. The simple reality of the current climate in the NBA today is that there are very few players that are 6’8” and athletic enough to do what Aaron Gordon can on both ends of the floor. The vast majority of those players are stars with plenty of skill or athletes with a limited skill set. Gordon is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and the Nuggets are making the bet that at 26 years old (in two days) and with Nikola Jokić on the roster, they will have plenty of time to see Gordon develop his skill set into whatever helps the Nuggets win a championship.
Gross: Denver didn’t have other options. They haven’t drafted anyone who could take over for Gordon, Zeke Nnaji’s Summer League showed he is not near a large role of patching defensive holes across rotations, and as Ryan said there are not a lot of players who can fill the niche that Denver wants AG to fill. Denver wouldn’t have FA money to use to add anyone and would be relying on Will Barton to stay healthy and be a desired trade piece for a different defender if they lost AG after this year. Waiting a year would provide time to prove he is the right fit in the role, but Denver tried that before with Grant and it didn’t work out for them. The trade cost meant that they believed before they got here, and what they saw with him here was enough to get the deal done. I’m fine with it.
Bridgford: After the nonsense they pulled with Grant, I’m glad they didn’t play chicken and got the deal done. Gordon has the size and athleticism to be a hot commodity in free agency if he can become a semi-consistent 3-point shooter this season. In a Nuggets’ offense that would have maximized his ability to slash to the rim and get him open looks at the basket, he was well-positioned to put together a strong season on the offensive end of the floor. Throw in the flashes he showed on defense, and he was primed to be the 3-and-D wing that would be near the top of the market. It was an expensive risk that the Nuggets couldn’t afford to take. Now, they have the long-term window to really contend.
Is it at all worrisome that the team worked out an extension for Gordon before getting one done with Michael Porter Jr. after President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said that he wanted to work quickly to get one done with MPJ?
Blackburn: I’m not worried about the Michael Porter Jr. extension after the Nuggets locked in Gordon. They have no way of replacing MPJ unless they trade him for equal value at this point. Either they trade him, they extend his contract, or he walks away for no return at all. The last piece of that is the doomsday scenario, and Denver won’t let it get that far.
Gross: If there are 10 players that can do what Aaron Gordon can do for Denver, there are maybe 5 that can do what MPJ can do and are gettable. If the extension doesn’t get done by the extension deadline, is MPJ in danger of being traded? Yes, I believe so. Do I believe it will come to that? No. If it does, though, him destroying the league while being fed bucket after bucket by Nikola Jokic (with no Jamal Murray prior to the trade deadline to take shots away) is a good way to get the most from any trade. I expect Denver to pay, though - I still assume they are just working through minutiae related to injury fears, and the lack of a pressing deadline lets them continue those conversations for a while yet.
Bridgford: I’m not overly worried, but I’m not not worried either. I’m sure that the injuries Porter has dealt with have been some of the reasons that the deal has not been locked in yet. However, the relationship between Michael Malone and MPJ hasn’t exactly been the rosiest through his two seasons on the floor. He could see the front office prioritizing Gordon as a slight towards his own talents and be ready to jump ship when he can. There will be no shortage of teams that are willing to sign him, and, as Gordon mentioned, a trade isn’t out of the realm of possibility if Denver sees that an extension won’t happen.
Do you think Denver overpaid Gordon with this extension? Is he underpaid now?
Blackburn: This is probably an overpay in a vacuum. Analytics models don’t believe in Gordon fulfilling the terms of this deal, and it’s probably because Gordon’s best trait on either end of the floor, on-ball defense, is the most difficult for models to quantify. The fact is, Gordon is Denver’s best on-ball defender. He will be tasked with the difficult assignments in an attempt to make the lives of Jokić, Porter, and Murray easier. If he succeeds in that regard, and his success allows Denver’s star scoring trio to flourish offensively, then his contract becomes negligible. If he’s asked to be more than a complementary offensive player, then there might be some issues.
Gross: Gordon seems to like it here, especially next to Michael Porter Jr. according to comments from both of them, and as my dad always said, “When you find the right thing at the right time, don’t chisel about price.” Denver paid. It feels like they paid him “open market rate for a bad team looking for a good free agent” prices, and that’s honestly okay that it’s not a discount - assuming this means Kroenke isn’t gonna flinch when the bill comes in.
Bridgford: It’s a clear overpay for me, but Denver didn’t have a choice. As we mentioned at the beginning, Denver traded too many assets to let Gordon walk for free, so the deal had to get done no matter the cost. Gordon is the wing defender that brings this roster together, and, when he’s locked in on the defensive end of the floor, he has the ability to shut down anyone he’s matched up with. With what we’ve seen from Gordon so far, I think this deal is an overpay, but, if he can take advantage of the offensive system, this deal could become an overpay.
The Nuggets are locked in with this core of players at their respective deals. Can this group win a title with the right pieces around them?
Blackburn: Absolutely. At full health, we saw what this group could be. There’s zero doubt in my mind that the Nuggets are set up to contend for years to come.
Gross: Yes, this group can win a title. To do it this year would likely require Murray to come back strong without missing much of a beat, but team health is really their only barrier to being legit contenders no matter who they face.
Bridgford: If this team can find a way to all be healthy at the same time, they absolutely can. Gordon is the defensive wing every team needs. Porter and Murray can shoot from anywhere, and Jokic is the superstar that ties it all together.