Thank you everyone for the questions this week. Let’s hop straight into it.

So, this was an interesting plot point that cropped up during media day across the league and has been brewing for a few weeks: the states of California and New York have placed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on professional athletes practicing and playing in those states. During media day, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins each faced scrutiny over publicly denying they have received a vaccine, and as a result, both players are questionable for their upcoming seasons with the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors respectively.

Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t face the same risk in Denver yet. The state of Colorado has yet to put forth a vaccine mandate for athletes, and both California and New York have made exceptions to vaccine mandates for visiting teams (i.e. players located in states outside California and New York). That means that Porter doesn’t have to take the vaccine in order to play road games in those states.

Still, there are other reasons that Porter may be putting himself and the Nuggets at a serious disadvantage by holding out. If the state of Colorado ever enacts such a mandate for athletes in their own state, then Porter will face similar questions. If he gets COVID again, he will be placed in health and safety protocols and miss games, and he won’t be paid for those missed games under the terms of a new mandate put forth by the NBA on Wednesday.

There are other reasons to get the vaccine when operating in a team setting at close proximity to other teammates, coaches, and their family members, but I will leave it there. It is Porter’s choice to do what he wants, but every choice has consequences that must be measured accordingly.

The extensions to Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon have clarified Denver’s financial position for the foreseeable future. Both have signed contracts that will keep them in Denver until at least the 2024-25 season if the Nuggets see it. Gordon has a player option in 2025-26. Porter has a partial guarantee in 2026-27 for $12 million out of a possible $39.3 million with award incentives that could help fully guarantee the deal, per Shams Charania. There are no injury clauses in Porter’s contract to my knowledge, which seems to be a good sign for Porter’s ongoing healthy prospects.

That financial clarity also shows itself in Denver’s salary cap situation as a team. At the start of the 2022-23 season, Porter, Gordon, Nikola Jokić, and Jamal Murray will earn just under $115 million in combined salary, which would exceed the 2021-22 salary cap by itself. Add in Will Barton, Monte Morris, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green, and other potential salary figures, and it’s clear that Denver will not just operate over the salary cap, but over the luxury tax as well. Right now, the Nuggets have a projected $155.9 million committed to 10 players for the 2022-23 season, a full $10.9 million over the projected luxury tax line.

Depending on how high the Nuggets go on the luxury tax, they could have some salary exceptions taken away from them. The Mid-Level Exception (MLE) could be reduced from over $10 million to right around $6 million, while the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) would be removed altogether. The Nuggets will be forced to make difficult financial decisions, meaning the retention of their draft picks is essential to maintaining smaller salary numbers on a very expensive roster. The Nuggets have their 2022 first round draft pick, but they don’t have a second round pick, nor any draft picks in 2023, nor a 2025 first rounder either.

Things are about to get difficult for Tim Connelly and Co. to navigate.

As of now, there have been no updates to the Comcast situation. The preseason games won’t be on television for the Nuggets. The plan hasn’t changed for KSE: they plan to wait it out for a better deal than what Comcast is offering, and barring any major changes, this seems like a problem with no solution in sight.

As we reach the third season of not being able to watch the Denver Nuggets on Comcast, there’s a certain barrier that has been crossed by ownership that simply says: we don’t care about the fans of our team. The Nuggets had an opportunity during the last two years to find more creative solutions to circumvent the problems they have had with Comcast. They got DirecTV to crack in the first year, but the carriage dispute between KSE and Comcast will probably continue well into this coming season, if not beyond.

The Nuggets certainly deserve credit for paying for their talented players and keeping them in Denver, but that’s also what a competent organization is supposed to do. For the past two seasons, the Nuggets have lost their opportunity to successfully market an MVP winner in Nikola Jokić, two exciting young stars in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., and an entire Nuggets team that could seriously contend for a championship upon Murray’s return to health. Half of Denver’s local audience has been cut off, and the Nuggets have lost a lot of sympathy with fans over the continued dispute.

It would be different if the number of fans relying on Comcast to watch Nuggets games wasn’t so high. Some fans have made a conscious choice to switch their television coverage to DirecTV. Others have taken a more…circuitous route to ensure they never miss a Nuggets game. Still, over 50% of the televisions in the city of Denver use Comcast as their primary cable provider. Half.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Fans that use Comcast as their cable provider simply don’t care about the details anymore. They just want to see their favorite team play.

I guess this is in response to Barton rolling his ankle in practice on Wednesday. This was the first injury incident the Nuggets have had in training camp to my knowledge, and it probably won’t be the last. That’s Denver’s luck after all.

But to prescribe a rolled ankle in the second practice of the season as a reason that Barton was a bad re-signing is a bridge too far in my book. A rolled ankle could have happened to everyone. It HAS happened to everyone. This is basketball after all. If a basketball player hasn’t rolled his or her ankle while playing, then they’re one of the lucky few.

The Nuggets, however, are lucky to have Barton back. He took less money than he could have earned on the open market to help bolster Denver’s guard rotation in the absence of Murray. He’s an excellent fit offensively as a jack-of-all-trades type that can shoot, pass, handle, and rebound. He says he feels better than he’s felt in a long time, and it’s very possible that he’s in line for a career year with a defined role as a starter and the confidence to execute what the Nuggets need from him.

It’s just a rolled ankle. Nothing more. He will be back.

The Bones Hyland conversation is a fascinating one. I was initially opposed to the idea of adding an offensive-minded guard to a team that ultimately needs defenders to become the best version of themselves; however, I’ve warmed up to the idea that every rotation player outside of Jokić, Murray, and Porter doesn’t HAVE to be a good defender for the Nuggets to win a title. Bones isn’t likely to be an elite defender, but at his ceiling, he could be an elite offensive player. Truly.

Where that places him in the pecking order for guards this year remains to be seen. In a year where the rotation has been thrown out of balance by a major injury, anything can happen, including Bones playing a major role. Is it likely? No, but there’s a world where the Nuggets need to find bench offense that’s more potent and sustainable than simply staggering Jokić and Porter with the bench unit.

Still, the most likely scenario is Bones filling a developmental role on the roster, whether he goes down to the Grand Rapids Gold G-League team or fills in sporadically during garbage time. Austin Rivers was brought back specifically to allow for some stability in the backcourt rotation. Rivers is a good player who will execute what the Nuggets need from him, and Denver will likely be a better regular season team for it.

And yet, Bones could still surprise us all and win the job outright.

I mentioned this in the roundtable that’s coming out later today, but I believe P.J. Dozier has been overlooked by Nuggets fans in their rush to see Bones play. Dozier has yet to play 100 regular season games in his entire NBA career. Last season was his first in which he saw legitimate rotation minutes, and Dozier did not disappoint, flourishing as Denver’s defensive-minded wing with the ability to shoot, pass, and handle his fair share of offense.

Dozier is looking to do more of the same this year, and that willingness to fill a role and become what the Nuggets need him to be could be exactly how he earns an extended role. He’s in line to become Denver’s sixth man with his versatile skill set, and if he makes a leap as a shooter and decision maker (a big but reasonable leap) then there’s no reason Dozier can’t be the player who sees heavy minutes. I’m predicting at least 10 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds in 25+ minutes per game for the 6’6” guard.

This is a fascinating question and one that requires some foresight into Denver’s plans and development. This year’s roster is a good one, but with Murray’s recovery and Porter’s newfound role, it’s possible that this simply isn’t the year to project Denver will hit their ceiling.

However, the answer is easier than many might realize: the 2022-23 season.

The Nuggets aren’t going to pay the tax this year, the 2021-22 season. They have planned and orchestrated their contracts around that tenet. Looking back on it, the Nuggets could have started paying the tax in the 2020-21 season, the year Jamal Murray’s max contract kicked in, if Jerami Grant had agreed to a new contract, but his decision to leave torpedoed Denver’s initial plans. They decided to pivot to a new date where the tax would be inevitable: after Michael Porter Jr.’s max extension kicks in next year.

The 2022-23 season now marks the time when the Nuggets will look to peak as an organization. The Nuggets locked in their entire core with the hope that Murray returns to full health and Porter begins to realize his full potential. They ensured that Gordon would stick around. They locked in Will Barton to a two-year contract that keeps him through 2022-23. They already locked in Monte Morris through 2023-24.

The 2022-23 season also marks the last year of Nikola Jokić’s contract with the Nuggets, and that isn’t an accident. If, for whatever reason, Jokić decided not to sign the super max extension with Denver, they would have him for the most important year of their tenure, the 2022-23 season. I firmly believe that Jokić will be a Nugget for the rest of his NBA career, but it’s fairly easy to connect the dots on how the Nuggets have operated and how they are loading up to ensure that 2022-23 is the absolute best shot they can take at winning the first championship in franchise history.

They very well might win a title this year. Even if they don’t, Denver is still set up for success in a big way next season.

Three-point contest is difficult. Porter, Murray, and Markus Howard all seem like the best candidates. When they achieve that level of rhythm, they are almost completely unflappable. I’m sure the competitions held behind closed doors are epic and filled with some big-time trash talk.

It’s hard not to take Porter though. As Michael Malone said to Nuggets media: “[Porter] shoots a corner three like a layup.” If he gets into a shooting zone, he’s one of the very best shooters in the NBA.

As for the dunk contest? It’s gotta be Mr. 50, right? Aaron Gordon didn’t show off his lift to Nuggets fans last year while dealing with injuries, but he’s still one of the best dunkers in the NBA. He may not get up like he did in 2016, but he’s still a threat to posterize every single night.