How would you grade the Denver Nuggets lack of moves at the trade deadline?
Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): I would give it a B, but I actually like the Nuggets staying silent here. It would have been nice to acquire a wing defender or a big to fortify the bench, but amidst all the rumors around the deadline, I feel like the players are happy to stay with each other which can breed more chemistry and confidence moving forward.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): C-minus. It’s hard to give a failing grade because the Nuggets didn’t “fail” specifically, but there were holes on the roster that they didn’t fill. They had an opportunity to get better and decided that the prices were too high and the deals they COULD get just weren’t good enough. It doesn’t offer a ton of confidence for the outlook of the team this season specifically.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I fall in a similar vein as Ryan on this one, but I’m giving them a C instead of the C-minus. I felt the Nuggets had areas to improve upon and assets they could use to make those improvements. I also understand that Denver doesn’t have the same assets as other teams when it comes to making moves at the deadline. Ultimately, this team did more or less what I expected them to do which was nothing at all.
The Nuggets entered the trade deadline 30-24 and in sixth place in the Western Conference. Do you think they should have been more aggressive to improve the roster at the deadline?
Knowlton: No, because with the injuries they dealt with this year, I think it is smart to maintain your assets and make a run at it next year. Of course, it would have been nice to make a splash move to contend this year, but this is still a young Nuggets squad and when healthy, they are contenders in the West. Even without Murray and Porter, I think the Nuggets have a decent chance to make it out of the first round, so I think it’s a shrewd move to avoid sacrificing assets this year in hopes everybody will be healthy for a championship run next season.
Blackburn: It’s entirely contingent on the returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. at this point. If the plan was for both of those guys to be back at some point this season, then I’m surprised a deal didn’t get done to improve the rest of the roster. The Nuggets know how good they can be when their full contingent of players is available, but there are legitimate holes that a team with true championship aspirations this season would have addressed. That leads me to believe that expectations have been pushed back a bit, and that’s not a fun (if not unexpected) place to be.
Bridgford: As I said in the previous section, I expected Denver to stay passive at the deadline, so it wasn’t at all surprising when they didn’t make any moves. While there is a chance that MPJ will be back at some point this season, I imagine that Denver is operating with caution. Without him, their chances at a championship are severely hampered, and they know that. Rather than pushing all of their chips in at the deadline, they chose to stand pat and work with the roster they had. If Murray is close to the player he was before getting hurt last season, we won’t even notice the moves they didn’t make today.
Where would you rank the Nuggets in the Western Conference hierarchy once Jamal Murray gets back following the rest of the league’s moves today?
Knowlton: That’s a tough question to answer because we don’t know how Murray will return from his injury. It can take several weeks for a player to fully obtain basketball shape, so I think the Nuggets are perfectly placed among the hierarchy at the 6th spot right now and moving forward. This season, Denver has beaten the teams they need to beat usually, but when it comes to more elite teams they struggle. They are 4-8 within the division and 17-17 in the Western Conference. Those numbers are by far the worst of any team ranked above them in the West right now. With Murray back, that will likely change, but again we don't know which version of Murray we will see.
Blackburn: Denver’s still a tier below the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors even if Murray returns. There are too many weapons on each of those teams for the Nuggets to competently guard all of them, and the Nuggets are going to have a difficult time reaching maximum firepower themselves. The margins matter here, and while the difference between Justin Holiday and Davon Reed or Austin Rivers may not be massive in a vacuum, it matters when guarding the top teams in the NBA.
Bridgford: I would put Denver in the fourth spot. I think they are below the Suns, Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, but I think they still have the pieces to make some noise. They didn’t improve their bench, which has been their biggest weakness all season, which hurts, but the only team ahead of them that got notably better was Phoenix. Even if they made no moves, it wasn’t like they went backward.
Of the players that were moved at the deadline, who is one that you wish Denver would have been more aggressive in their pursuit of him?
Knowlton: I was really pushing for Montrezl Harrell. I think he would have been a great addition to the bench and would help cultivate a more physical, intense group. The Hornets got him for Vernon Carey and Ish Smith, which I thought the Nuggets might have been able to create a better package to get him. With that being said, this is Harrell’s 5th team since entering the league, and he has been involved in locker room confrontations, so it might have been better for the chemistry of the team to avoid this trade.
Blackburn: Justin Holiday is the player that comes to mind. The Kings foolishly are pushing for a play-in spot and snagged Holiday in the process to be a 3&D wing for them. It’s irritating to see a possible contributor go to a team with no real prospects for competing this year. The same goes for Josh Richardson, who was moved to the San Antonio Spurs in a package for Derrick White.
Bridgford: I would have been in the Josh Richardson basket more than either of the other two guys. Richardson has been a strong contributor in two of his last three spots, and he would have slid in perfectly on this roster to bolster the bench along with giving occasional spot-start minutes.
Assuming Denver doesn’t add any significant players in the buyout market, the Nuggets’ roster will be set once Murray returns. What is the team’s ceiling for this season with that in mind?
Knowlton: I think the ceiling is the 4th of 5th spot in the West, but as I stated earlier, the Nuggets have not played well against the better Western Conference teams. Although Utah struggled for a while, they have Donovan Mitchell back, so I expect them to increase their standing. Furthermore, I think the Mavericks are one of the most underrated teams in the league. How good their defense has been this season is being ignored, and although they got rid of Porzingis, they received Dinwiddie and Bertans. Those two have been a bit underwhelming this season, but with a new team identity, I think they can rekindle the success they once had. So the ceiling for Denver at the absolute best is the 4th or 5th seed, but realistically I do not see them getting there. I hope I am wrong.
Blackburn: This team isn’t winning a title this year. I feel pretty comfortable saying that. They will be lucky to win a round in the playoffs because they’re likely to go on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, or Dallas Mavericks. They can beat all of those teams, but Nikola Jokić will almost certainly be drained by the second round of the playoffs, let alone the third round if the Nuggets are able to advance again. The playoffs are hard, and every player needs to be able to contribute toward that goal. I don’t see the Nuggets having enough positive impact players on the roster to advance far.
Bridgford: I think Denver can push for the fourth seed in the West. If that happens, I think they should be a near-lock to make the second round after what we’ve seen at the deadline. Teams ahead of them got worse, and they can swing their way into a home playoff series with a strong push to the end of the season. This team isn’t going to win a title, but they have the pieces to make life difficult for teams in a full series.