NUGGETS

The Nuggets standing pat at the trade deadline sends a clear message

Feb 11, 2022, 7:02 AM | Updated: 7:04 am
Jamal Murray...
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Two days on the NBA calendar get fans overly excited, even when their teams aren’t playing a game. Draft night and the NBA trade deadline are highly anticipated every year, and most fan bases leave disappointed more often than not.

Nuggets fans are no exception, spending the better part of the last 20 years complaining that our hometown team didn’t pull off some blockbuster deal for a superstar. When Thursday’s deadline came and went without any Nuggets Woj Bombs or Sham Wows, complaints aplenty again flooded social media.

Fans and media were quick to express their disappointment that Denver couldn’t add a wing defender or another reliable scorer despite seemingly every other team in the league being involved in some sort of transaction. Other teams made moves.

The Sixers and Nets completed franchise altering moves to chase a title. The Kings and Pacers swapped young studs. The Bucks and Mavericks bolstered their lineups for the playoffs. And the Wizards, Celtics and Blazers sold off half of their rosters. The action was fast and furious everywhere except Denver.

And to be honest, when I saw the players being traded that could have improved the Nuggets, I was a little bummed out too. Given the deals that went down, Denver could have been in the mix for any of the following players without having to give up one of their core four of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon or Michael Porter Jr:

• Norman Powell
• Robert Covington
• Derrick White
• Torrey Craig
• Serge Ibaka
• Spencer Dinwiddie
• Josh Richardson

I would add Seth Curry to this list too, but he likely wouldn’t have been available if not in the deal to Brooklyn for James Harden.

Denver’s inability or unwillingness to make any deals happen told me two things:

1. The Nuggets didn’t have much to offer in any deal

Thursday’s lack of deadline dealing was in part a direct result of making a huge splash last year in February. Denver scored big when they acquired Aaron Gordon from Orlando. He instantly fit into the starting lineup and has proven to be an ideal sidekick for Jokic and an elite, versatile defender. But Gordon came at a price, giving up a first-round pick, a young athletic wing in R.J. Hampton and Gary Harris.

After extending the contracts of both Gordon and Porter Jr. in the offseason, the Nuggets core four players were locked in. And when Porter was injured early on, the peak trade value he may have had after last season was completely lost for the time being.

When Denver used an injured P.J. Dozier and an out of the rotation Bol Bol to acquire Bryn Forbes in January, the cabinet was pretty much empty in terms of young talent to include in any deal.

Thus, on deadline day Denver didn’t have a lot left to offer without breaking up that core. Veterans Facu Campazzo, JaMychal Green and Austin Rivers could have been dangled, but none would bring a significant return. Plus, Green and Rivers could have vetoed any undesirable trade destination.

Will Barton makes $15 million and could have been included in a deal for a strong contributor. But he’s 31, inconsistent, hasn’t played great lately, and has another year on his contract.

The reality of the trade market was the Nuggets weren’t able to offer any package attractive enough to draw a return that would improve their roster.

2. Denver is extremely comfortable with the players they have

The good news is the Nuggets didn’t have to make a deal. Despite sitting sixth in the Western Conference, the organization is confident they’ve set themselves up for long term success. No team in the league has had to deal with two 19-plus point a game scorers lost to injury for basically the entire season. Even when Porter was playing, he wasn’t healthy.

Denver’s front office has been too proactive and is far too savvy to waste another MVP-caliber season from Jokic without giving themselves a real shot in the playoffs. While the Nuggets certainly faced challenges in getting significant deals done, the lack of activity also gives me hope that they’re confident in Murray returning sooner rather than later, and possibly Porter, as well.

There are several reasons why we didn’t see a fan favorite “all-in” trade for the Nuggets on Thursday, but the biggest one is because they’ve already put all their chips on the table. This team is going to ride with Jokic, Murray, Gordon, and Porter until they see what they can do in a playoff run when fully healthy. And the lack of any more additions at the deadline makes me think the Nuggets are confident we may see that as soon as April.

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