There’s never a good time to get swept in the NBA Playoffs. First round, second round, conference finals or the NBA Finals. Going 0-4 against anyone leaves a terrible taste in the mouth and of course, raises concerns and questions going forward. As we watch the Phoenix Suns continue to roll through the playoffs (as I write, the Suns just went up 2-0 over the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals) it perhaps lessens the sting of witnessing the Nuggets drop 4 in a row against them. But it still hurts. Good, Denver needs to feel that hurt. That pain is what SHOULD drive them to make the best decisions this offseason in order to take that next step.
It won’t get any easier from here as the Suns look like they’re here to stay, especially if Chris Paul sticks around. The Golden State Warriors will get Klay Thompson back next season so they’ll be back in playoff form. The LA Lakers, assuming LeBron has anything left in the tank, should be in the post season mix while Utah, Dallas and Portland will be hanging around as well. Who knows what the future holds for the LA Clippers but if constructed as is for 2021/22 they will still be a force. So, where does Denver stand in that mix of tough Western Conference foes? Without Jamal Murray it was difficult to truly assess where this team ranks but again, getting swept screams that some adjustments are needed; maybe minor, maybe major. Either way, Nuggets President of Basketball Operations, Tim Connelly, must take a hard look at his roster and decide how much “tweaking” is necessary.
I want to break it down to 4; four very important areas/players/contracts the Nuggets need to reevaluate. And number one on that list is something that is out of their control.
- Jamal Murray’s return and what impact his availability or lack thereof will have on the Nuggets off-season moves. Murray, while inconsistent at times, is still Denver’s number 2 guy on the roster. He’s still Robin to Nikola Jokic’s Batman and being without him against Phoenix was certainly a key factor in getting swept. It’s widely believed that it takes close to a year for an ACL injury like Murray suffered to heal. That would put his return closer to mid April. We know the Blue Arrow is a worker and will do what it takes to get back sooner but based on the history of that injury, the Nuggets will be in the second half of the season before he can get back in the swing of things. So, will the team be content with their current point guard setup of Faccundo Compazzo, Monte Morris, and Austin Rivers? Rivers had his moments but not sure if that’s the direction they should go moving forward. Morris is a starting caliber PG but his post-season performance didn’t blow anyone away. 30 year old rookie, Compazzo, was a spark plug all season long and seems to have found a nice fit with the Nuggets but will he and Morris be enough to hold you over until Murray’s return?
“I don’t think his injury will have too much bearing on how we view the next X amount of months, because we know he’s going to be back better than ever,” Connelly said when asked about how Murry’s injury will impact the offseason.
Assuming Jokic and company can hold down the fort for 5 or 6 months in the regular season, then sure, wait for Murray. The hope would be that Morris becomes a true starting PG and Facu takes a step forward as a reliable backup.
2. Will Barton has a $14.8 million player option heading into the offseason and just fired his agent, Aaron Goodwin, in March so he’s looking for someone to help him get the best situation possible now that he’s in his 30s. He could decline the option but that doesn’t mean he’s done. He might want to restructure a long term deal with the Nuggets. If so, the question will be whether Denver wants him past 2021/22. The best-case scenario for the team would be for him to pick up the option, start at the 2 guard alongside Morris, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic for one more season. He’s still a very productive guard and no doubt provided a spark for them in that Suns series. I’m not sold on him getting a 3-to-5-year deal at this point, but would like to see him healthy and perhaps earn a larger deal at the end of next season.
3. Is Michael Porter Jr. a max contract guy? His rookie contract ends next season and he’ll be a restricted free agent. While it’s not really a big issue now for Denver it could impact their interest in a big name free agent or possible trade. Murray and Jokic are already on big deals and now the Joker is eligible to sign a super max contract in either 2022 or 2023 so, it’s safe to assume the Nuggets can only handle 3 monster contracts. Will that be MPJ? If you are wanting a guy like DeMar DeRozan for much past next season, could you really afford MPJ? More than likely, Connelly and company believe he is the 3rd man to their BIG 3 so I wouldn’t expect any huge names signing with the Nuggets or acquired via trade.
“We’ll sit down with Michael representation [to discuss a potential deal],” Connelly said.
“Our M.O. is when we can, we try to lock guys up and reward them for what they’ve done. We’ve had a lot of luck in getting things done earlier than later and I think it’s up to our culture.”
4. Aaron Gordon. Before Murray got injured it appeared the Nuggets were a true favorite to win it all. Gordon fit in like a glove and team chemistry was off the charts. After the Blue Arrow went down, so did Gordon’s production, especially in the playoffs. His offense just wasn’t there and when Denver needed a defensive enforcer, Gordon failed to answer the call. He will be a free agent at the end of next season so again, a decision about the starting Power Forward isn’t critical but how they build around Jokic is. Is Gordon good enough to hang with the Joker? Should Denver be digging for his replacement in the draft, free agency or in seeking a trade?
There’s WAY more than just 4 items for Connelly to look over this offseason but if you want a priority list, I’d start there. Murray, Barton, MPJ and Gordon. In a perfect world, that’s your starting 4 alongside Jokic. It’s kind of a scary thought when there’s so many big questions around your biggest players, your core. Don’t blink, Nuggets fans, this summer should be very interesting.