COLUMNS

It’s time for Michael Porter Jr. to prove that he deserved a big contract

Oct 28, 2021, 8:37 PM | Updated: Oct 29, 2021, 8:55 am
Michael Porter Jr....
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Nuggets have committed over $150 million guaranteed to Michael Porter Jr. That’s more money than they owe Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Bones Hyland combined.

Porter’s recently signed max extension doesn’t kick in until next season, but he needs to start earning that money now.

Denver is one of four teams in the NBA with three players signed to max contracts. The other three are all favored by oddsmakers ahead of the Nuggets to win the title: Brooklyn, Golden State and the Lakers.

What do those three teams have in common? Missing players. Brooklyn is still heavily favored to win the championship despite Kyrie Irving not playing. Golden State isn’t making any excuses for Klay Thompson’s absence the last two seasons. And the Lakers’ expectations won’t change with LeBron’s load management when Anthony Davis inevitably is out at some point this season.

The Nuggets shouldn’t have any excuses with Jamal Murray out, either.

Before last season, the Nuggets’ most recent best chance to contend was 11 years ago. Coming off of a Western Conference Finals loss to the Lakers, Denver ran it back with the NBA’s eighth-highest payroll. The Kroenkes spent more than ever when they committed almost $54 million to Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups and Nene in 2009-10.

At the time, a senior Nuggets executive told me, “We’ve got the team to do it. Now, Nene needs to start earning his money.”

Knowing Nene would be a highly courted free agent the following season, the Nuggets knew Nene outplaying his $10.5 million salary was the key to a title. The Kroenkes have been heavily criticized for not spending what it takes to legitimately contend, but when they do shell out the cash, the players have to live up to their contracts.

That season, Nene played a career-high 33 minutes per game and averaged almost 14 points and eight rebounds per night. He was earning his money, but the Nuggets front line was banged up for their first-round series with Utah. Nene struggled in key losses in Games 3 and 4. Then, a knee injury in the second quarter of Game 5 knocked him out for the rest of the playoffs. When he disappeared, so did any hopes of a deep playoff run. Denver lost the first-round series in six games.

Coming into this season, MPJ talked about working out with Steph Curry in the summer and improving his handle. He marveled at Curry’s conditioning and how his movement off the ball was such a key to his success. Porter promised to utilize what he learned to be a better leader for the Nuggets.

But through four games, we haven’t seen it. Porter is still floating on offense, waiting behind the three-point arc and settling for step-back jumpers. He’s not running defenders ragged off of screens. There’s no improved handle to attack off the dribble. He’s not doing anything to get to the free-throw line when his shot isn’t falling.

If the Nuggets and their big three max contracts are truly going to contend for a title at any point, Porter can’t continue to be the player we’ve seen to start the season.

The Nuggets went all-in on MPJ. Now, he needs to go all-in too. It’s time for MPJ to start earning his money.

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It’s time for Michael Porter Jr. to prove that he deserved a big contract