Denver Nuggets: Space-clearing trade that completely failed

Denver Nuggets’ rookie Michael Porter Jr. has topped 20 minutes of play just once since the Nuggets dealt Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez.

It’s the Denver Nuggets Charitable Foundation, established Feb. 4, 2020.

How else could such a gift be described, as the squad dealt Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez – both of whom are starting and thriving – to the division-rival Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for non-rotation players and a draft pick projected in the mid-to-late 20’s?

Beasley’s already averaging over 20 points per game with Minnesota, and will likely start long-term for the T-Wolves.

It was a nauseating step in the wrong direction for Denver, if not for the larger presumed purpose. The move was about Michael Porter Jr., his progression, and his eventual development into a Kevin Durant-like scorer to form the NBA’s next Big 3 with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Or that was the idea, anyway.

But Porter’s played under 10 minutes three times in the past six games, a decision that flies in the very face of the strategy and renders the trade completely damaging.

Meanwhile, Torrey Craig, whose playing time was inconsistent before the trade, has averaged 20.9 minutes per game in 10 contests since the move. Not that anything’s wrong with Craig, but he’s a situational defender…certainly not a guy you clear space for with bad trades. He helps slow strong opposing guards but isn’t enough to raise Denver’s ceiling.

Craig is what he is, and the Nuggets are what they are. The squad is good – deserving of their current 3-seed, and likely to win their first-round series in six or seven games.

That’s where it ends, however, as they’ll get bounced by the Los Angeles Lakers or LA Clippers in the second round. Denver simply isn’t good enough yet to overcome the LeBron JamesAnthony Davis pairing or the Kawhi LeonardPaul George tandem in the playoffs.

A 6’11” wing, Porter could be a game-changer, the x-factor that pushes the Nuggets into legitimate championship contention. He possesses tough-shot making ability, shoots 43 percent from 3-point range, and displays an uncanny knack for cutting and rebounding. He boasts superstar potential as he heats up in a hurry, has the athleticism to get off any shot, and even makes nifty passes in the lane to punish help defenses.

Fans have long been restless for Porter to see the court, clamoring from early on for Denver to run with its tantalizing asset.

Recently this anxious group has been joined by much of the media, including beat writers, broadcasters, insiders, podcasters and bloggers. Even coach Mike Malone’s biggest fans struggle to understand why Porter isn’t playing. No one gets it.

Beasley and Hernangomez stood in the way, but now they are gone. Porter has shown his worth when receiving ample minutes, but now his leash is seemingly so short that any sign of a mistake results in his immediate yanking.

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If Porter doesn’t play regular minutes, Beasley had legitimate playoff value and shouldn’t have been shuffled off so cheaply. How well was this sequence of events pondered before the trade trigger was pulled?

And now Denver’s lost three of its five games after the All-Star break. Despite Torrey Craig’s presence, opponents have averaged 119 points per contest in this five-game stint. The “Porter-hurts-the-defense” argument is not valid when the defense looks just as bad without him.

At this point in the season, Denver must decide who it wants to be. The Denver Nuggets can probably grind out a first-round series win without Porter.

To go deeper, the squad needs a high-octane, smooth-shooting wing scorer to accompany Jokic and Murray. It isn’t Torrey Craig.

It’s time for Malone to give Porter a shot. He’s their best shot at sneaking past the elites.

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