Now that free agency is all but done and the headline deals were made weeks ago (no offense to Mike Miller) the Denver Nuggets are left facing the potential of another season where the major roster improvements are expected to come from getting players healthy and improving the returning members of the team. While the Golden State Warriors made a free agent signing that will be talked about in the annals of NBA history and the Chicago Bulls were bringing an aging star home, the Nuggets were left either unable to secure a meeting with a star or to spin a failed one as good for the organization. Meanwhile, despite the promise of Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and a handful of other barely old enough to legally drink alcohol prospects, Denver remains a basketball wasteland, at least from a notoriety and championships standpoint.

And yet, perhaps there is another way. Certainly, drafting smart and developing from within is necessary for success but it doesn’t exactly put butts in the seats, at least not in year two of a rebuild which is essentially where the Nuggets are at. It also doesn’t guarantee success. The Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Greene which set them up for years of chasing titles, but in the same time period the Toronto Raptors drafted DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. All three are solid picks, smart picks but no one is confusing them with a trio that’s going to bring the first NBA title to Canada. So while Mudiay, Murray and Jokic may all pan out into fine players, if the Nuggets have an opportunity to land a proven star they should take it.

The fallout of Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State has made Russell Westbrook the most talented player on the trade market and while other “superstars” like Kevin Love or Blake Griffin might be available, only Westbrook is arguably a top five player in the world. A player of his caliber doesn’t become available on the trade market very often so it behooves the Nuggets to do everything they can to get him. Just exactly what would that take?

In the past decade there have been a handful of "superstar" trades, some were for players of similar caliber to Westbrook and others were for players slightly less talented, but for the basis of comparison, the following trades will be used:

The table below breaks down the relative haul each team received for trading their star player but for the most part they received a starting caliber player, a solid role player, a young role player or top flight prospect, a long shot prospect and draft picks as compensation. IT also shows the cumulative VORP (value over replacement player) as a way to try and measure the value each team received for their superstar. It's not a perfect method as VORP doesn't take into account for rookies or young player's potential and upside, but it gives a basis for measurement to help discern what level of talent the Nuggets would have to ship out in a deal for Westbrook.

Trade partners NBA starter NBA role player Young role player/prospect Long shot prospect Cumulative VORP
Nuggets and Knicks Danilo Gallinari Raymond Felton Wilson Chandler Timofey Mozgov 3.5
Hornets and Lakers Lamar Odom Luis Scola Kevin Martin Goran Dragic 7.4
Hornets and Clippers Eric Gordon Chris Kaman Al-Farouq Aminu Austin Rivers* 1.2
Magic and Lakers Arron Afflalo Al Harrington Nikola Vucevic Josh McRoberts 2.4
Cavaliers and Timberwolves Thaddeus Young none Andrew Wiggins Anthony Bennett 0.3

There's some serious outliers when it comes to the cumulative VORP in this table. The Hornets/Lakers deal was actually a really good one for New Orleans, but what the number doesn't tell you is the three main pieces of the deal (Odom, Scola, Martin) fell of a cliff shortly thereafter. The Cavaliers/Timberwolves trade is extremely low because Wiggins was a rookie and thus had a 0 VORP, and then there was Bennet who was…in a word, yikes the season prior to being traded. Since the Nuggets don't own the #1 overall pick as a trade asset and since they don't have any aging veterans on their last legs, let's throw out those two numbers and assume that somewhere between 2.0 and 4.0 cumulative VORP is where they would need to be to land Westbrook.

The Nuggets are in an advantageous position to make this type of deal, and in fact have been building their roster/compiling assets for the past three years with this type of deal in mind as the end game. In a trade for Westbrook I imagine no one is untouchable, though in the interest of Denver, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would be two players they should avoid adding if at all possible. In the most ideal situation, Kenneth Faried fills the role of NBA starter as he seems to have the best ratio of not in the Nuggets long term plans to perceived value around the league. The question is just where does Oklahoma City place his value, do they consider him a key piece of the roster or is he simply a good role player? He would likely start right away for OKC,so the Nuggets have the need part going for them. Would a package like this be enough to get OKC to budge?

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The cumulative VORP of that package is only 1.0, mainly due to the fact that Mudiay performs very poorly in that statistic. In some ways that is similar to Wiggins and the Cav/T-Wolves deal, with the future promise of the player outweighshe current production. For the sake of argument though, let's say that deal is not enough to have the Thunder embrace the re-build. Arguably the most talented player on the Nuggets right now is Danilo Gallinari, and with the Thunder just losing their small forward to the Warriors, they could do a lot worse than Gallo as a replacement.

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The Thunder have to thrown in Kyle Singler here because while they do have some space in the cap, there’s not enough to absorb both Gallinari and Faried’s contract by sending out Westbrook alone. This deal fills a much bigger hole than the previous one by bringing in Gallo, but it only has a cumulative VORP of 1.4. Plus, with the Thunder bringing on Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, adding Faried as well creates a major log jam at the four. In order to really make the Thunder think, Denver needs to be able to provide help at the small forward position plus offer an upgrade to both the starting power forward position and the OKC bench.

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Now we're talking. This deal brings in Gallo to fill the void at small forward, helps keep the log jam at power forward clear while providing an upgrade, replaces Westbrook with a bright young point guard prospect and gives the Thunder some scoring punch in the form of a legitimate, young NBA role player in Will Barton.Throw in some sweetening from the Nuggets in the form of additional draft picks, including Memphis' 1-5 protected 1st rounder next season,m and it's an enticing package indeed. As for the numbers, the cumulative VORP for this package is 2.6, and if you take into account the anticipated boost in Mudiay's play as he develops then this deal is generally in line value wise for what historically been the price for a superstar. There would be some red tape to get through because Ilyasova currently can't be packaged with other players and Barton would have to be a straight up trade for an exception but the deal would be possible (even though the trade machine says it's not) it would essentially be three separate but simultaneous deals.

Nuggets fans likely feel like thats a lot to give up, but when you consider what the roster would look like, it's still quite promising.

  • PG: Russel Westbrook, Jameer Nelson
  • SG: Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley
  • SF: Wilson Chandler, Mike Miller, Axel Toupane, Jakarr Sampson
  • PF: Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez, Ersan Ilyasova
  • C: Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne

Meanwhile on Oklahoma City's side they have a nice blend of vets and young talent along with additional draft picks to fast track their inevitable re-build.

The question for the Nuggets with this trade though is would it really make them any more of a contender to win a championship? While Westbrook almost undoubtedly could carry that line-up to the playoffs, unless Murray becomes a star player or Jokic continues to keep up his torrid pace as the league adjusts to him, there’s little reason to believe that Nuggets lineup is capable of being anything more than a first round exit. With his deal expiring at the end of the season and the wounds of Andre Iguodala moleing his way out of Denver after just one season still fresh, the Nuggets would almost definitely need some assurances that Westbrook intended to stay and sign a new deal with the team and unfortunately, there’s little reason to believe that would be the case.
Still, while making a big deal for Westbrook may not instantly make the Nuggets contenders, it would make the team far more competitve and likely much more exciting to watch as well. With a little luck on some of their prospects, the Nuggets could quickly have stars to surround Westbrook, or even be able to finally successfully recruit some in free agency. Frankly, the team should absolutely be exploring trade options with OKC if they are available. There may be a heavy price to pay, but the reward of a top five player in the NBA is worth the risk