It was a historic playoff run for the Denver Nuggets. They did something no other team has done in the history of the NBA; come back from 3-1 deficits twice in a row, Jamal Murray blossomed into a superstar during his time in the bubble and Mike Malone silenced any notion that he wasn’t the right man to lead this team. While we certainly answered several burning questions surrounding this group, there’s still a few key ‘unknowns’ that must get sorted out if the Nuggets want to take the next step: qualifying for the NBA finals. Every year under Malone, Denver has improved. Year one – 33 wins. Year two – 40 wins. Year three – 46 wins. Year 4 – Playoffs and they advanced past the 1st round of the playoffs. And of course, 2020 saw Denver make it to its third Western Conference finals since joining the NBA. So that should all mean the Nuggets advance to the finals next season right? Not so fast. At the start of the 2019 season I predicted a championship for the mile high crew but the Lakers exposed the Nuggets and now it’s clear they will need to tweak the roster if they wish to win their first NBA title. Let’s delve into the top five roster “adjustments” the Nuggets must make before next season begins:
- Paul Millsap: That’s the big one. When he signed nearly 3 years ago, the move was touted as perhaps the best free agent acquisition in Nuggets history. However, his production has faded and injuries have kept him on the sidelines for a good portion of his time in Denver. It’s painfully obvious that he’s nowhere close to a $30 million player but can he take less, way less, and be willing to play the “veteran leader” card? Will he be good in a backup role or does it even make sense to retain him at this point?
- Jerami Grant: Regardless of what Denver does with Millsap, it has become clear that Grant should be the starting PF going forward. He has a player option and is likely to opt out but would like to stay with the Nuggets. In 2019/20 he was making just north of $9 million but after a breakout performance against the Lakers in the conference finals, he will demand a much healthier contract. So will the resigning of Grant seal Millsap’s fate or will they try to retain both and essentially swap roles between starter and 6th or 7th guy off the bench?
- Gary Harris: Harris is a fan favorite and his skill on the defensive side of the ball should never go unnoticed. Unfortunately, we have to face facts; his offensive production is below average. If Denver wants to compete with the likes of the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors (who will be healthy for next season) they will need another shooter and they need it to be at that 2 spot. Murray and Jokic are your constants but when defenses buckle down on the stars, it would be ideal to have a sharp shooter ready to fire at will. He is locked up through 2 more years but the Nuggets need to do some soul searching when it comes to the Michigan State star.
- Michael Porter Jr.: What can you say about this guy? He’s a must watch roller coaster of emotions. Most of the time, he simply looks lost on defense but his explosive scoring helps ease that pain. However, even on offense he has room to grow. Shot selection is, at times, suspect and he needs to move better without the ball especially when playing with a guy like Nikola Jokic. There’s no doubt he will remain a Nugget for the foreseeable future but they will need him to improve this short offseason if they expect him to start and make a REAL impact going forward.
- Mason Plumlee: At the beginning of the season, Malone praised his back up big man saying he wished he had more guys like him. However, in the playoffs, Plumlee just didn’t stack up well against the best teams in the West. He can’t score so if his defense and rebounding are subpar, he’s a liability to have out on the floor. He’ll be a free agent this offseason so will Denver find it necessary to keep him on board, will they let him walk and hope a guy like Bol Bol can become a solid big man? Or will they look outside the organization for more of a nasty, tough defensive big man more like a Dwight Howard?
These are the biggest offseason tasks, for me, that the Nuggets must address but I have other questions outside of these 5 such as; what will they do with free agent Torrey Craig? Does Will Barton still fit on this roster, especially if the hope is that MPJ takes over the starting spot at 3? Should the Nuggets go grocery shopping for a better shooter and another big defender? All in all, it was an amazing season and Denver fans should be proud of this team. I am confident this group will be a fixture in the playoffs for years to come but make no mistake, without a few tweaks here and there, the ceiling for this team might be to simply just get to the Western Conference Finals.