Now that the Denver Nuggets have been eliminated from the 2019 NBA Playoffs, it’s time to look toward the offseason. Let the game-within-the-game begin!
Denver Nuggets fans are still disappointed by the Game 7 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. And who wouldn’t be? Denver built what turned into a false sense of security, mounting an early 17-point advantage before losing the game in a mudslide of passive play and poor shooting.
But let’s not dampen a season of head-turning success. The squad rode Nikola Jokic‘s broad shoulders through the brush of the Western fray, coming within one game of the conference finals. Anyone predicting this type of success last summer would’ve been tarred, feathered and stripped of any credibility.
In the same chorus, the Nuggets were labeled a “fraudulent” 2-seed entering the playoffs. But Jokic, undeterred by the constant whispers, averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game in the postseason, leading the Nuggets in MVP-worthy fashion.
Meanwhile, Jamal Murray proved himself a gamer, even while battling inconsistency. He averaged 21.3 points per game in the playoffs, showing he is unafraid of the bright lights. Defensively, he’ll have his offseason work cut out for him.
Paul Millsap and Gary Harris demonstrated themselves to be strong two-way contributors. The duo joined forces to completely revamp Denver’s Swiss cheese defense of old, giving it an impressive look in the postseason. Offensively, either is capable of taking over a game.
The Nuggets’ core is for real. Depending on what happens to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, Denver may be one piece away from championship contention. The desired player would be a tall, two-way, catch-and-shoot wing.
Let the game-within-the-game begin.
Excitement has been bubbling, as reports of a healthy Michael Porter Jr. have emerged. He could fit the puzzle precisely, although he is likely a year or two away in development. Health and maturity pending, he would immediately be a top shooter, with great size at the small forward spot.
Tobias Harris, Trevor Ariza, Khris Middleton and Bojan Bogdanovic would also help the Nuggets immediately from the wing. The larger, catch-and shoot variety each provides would space the floor offensively, and steady the matchups on defense.
Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler would provide an even greater lift, but neither will likely entertain Denver as his next destination and Butler’s attitude could singlehandedly obliterate the locker room.
Will Barton and Torrey Craig are great situational players, but each lacks the two-way ability to start at small forward. An improvement is needed here in order to contend. Barton plays better off the bench anyway, where he is a focal point offensively.
Another top priority involves the contracts of Millsap and Murray.
Millsap has a team option at just over $30 million, which would frankly be an overpay. The likely scenario is that the option is declined, with a cheaper, multi-year deal agreed upon. This way, Millsap secures a longer-term home as he ages, while the Nuggets keep a solid starter without funding a ridiculous salary.
Murray, meanwhile, is eligible to re-up this summer, despite having one year remaining on his rookie deal. He is obviously valuable to the Nuggets for his supreme scoring ability. Denver will likely shell out for him, although hopefully the maximum isn’t in the discussion.
On another note, the Nuggets might pursue a defensive-minded wing or backup big to contribute from the bench. A pine improvement should be in store after a disappointing postseason by the reserves. Could Brook Lopez or Patrick Beverley be possible?
Denver may not require both Barton and Malik Beasley, so one could be traded if the return value is worthwhile. Trey Lyles and Juan Hernangomez are out of the rotation, so each is definitely expendable if an opportunity presents itself.
And of course, they’ll be a few significant trade rumors — always expect a marginal chance of Denver joining the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. It may not hold long-term value, but Davis and Jokic would make a stellar frontcourt pairing.
Overall, the Nuggets seem happy with their core. This season proved a swell enough experience to keep the main characters in-house, but Denver will certainly explore the wing market, which should be worth tracking this offseason.
It’s time for a juicy summer, Mile High. Let the game-within-the-game begin!