Expectations were fairly high at the beginning of the season compared to recent years. Michael Malone had a season under his belt as Nuggets’ head coach. Denver seemed to have another solid draft ,adding three more first-round picks in Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley to go with young talent they already had on their roster, in Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets have established in the first 56 games what they want to be. A high-tempo offensive team that does just enough defensively in order to win. The question over the next six days is does Denver currently have the roster they need to make it back into the postseason for the first time since the 2012-2013 season?
If the Nuggets just want to get into the postseason, the answer is yes. Despite a record of 25-31, Denver currently holds a game and half lead over the Sacramento Kings for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets should get enough support around Jokic in the second half of the season, in order to hold off all traffic from other teams contending for the eighth spot, assuming there are no major injuries.
If Denver wants to elevate itself into a higher seed in the postseason and put itself in position for a potential upset, they must make another deal on top of the deal they just struck for Mason Plumlee.
The players currently on the roster that have a clear future with the team are Jokic, Murray, Hernangomez and Harris. It would be a good idea for Denver to keep Darrell Arthur and Jameer Nelson for the stretch run for leadership. This leaves Gallinari, Faried, Chandler, Barton and Mudiay as expendable. Malik Beasley, Mike Miller, Plumlee and Johnny O’Bryant would be holdovers until the end of the year, when the team can make a decision what to do with them.
It would be almost impossible for Denver to move Gallinari, Faried, Chandler, Barton and Mudiay before the deadline; however, if the Nuggets can package perhaps two or three of them along with their upcoming first round draft pick, it could land them another key piece to go along with Jokic.
Specifically, here is what I have in mind. The Chicago Bulls are struggling this season, though they had high expectations after they acquired Dwayne Wade in free agency over the summer. The Bulls will be going into rebuild mode very soon, postseason or not.
Denver could send Chicago Mudiay, Barton, Gallinari and a first-round pick in 2017 for Jimmy Butler and Jerian Grant. This would leave Denver with a starting lineup of Nelson, Harris, Butler, Chandler and Jokic. Murray, Plumlee, Grant, Faried, Hernangomez, Arthur, Miller, Beasley and O’Bryant would come off the bench and Denver would be able to add another player to their roster.
Gallinari would add a big name to the return, perhaps softening the blow for Chicago. Also, with Butler moving, they would have some money to spend, and could extend him. He represents a need for the Bulls: a big that can space the floor and knock down shots.
The Bulls would also get a young point guard, who, has potential, a good shooting guard who is cost effective, and a first-round pick.
This would immediately allow Denver to compete for at least the sixth seed. It would also set this team up nice for more additions during free agency without jeopardizing the future. It would also save the Nuggets from having to make a long-term decision on Gallinari, who is sure to opt out of his deal at the end of the season.
Sure, the Bulls might balk at Gallinari, due to his injury history and likely desire for big-time money; but they would probably be more likely to pony up than the Nuggets would. No dice? Fine. Replace him with Wilson Chandler if need be.
Like the deal or not, the Nuggets needs to seriously consolidate its roster. There is an overflow of young talent and proven veterans. What the Nuggets need is a nice balance. Denver also has too many players stacked up at the shooting guard position and at power forward.
If this deal were to take place, Nelson would be holding the starting point guard position while Denver gets Murray ready for the position. Grant would be in position to back up Murray eventually. The Nuggets would have room at shooting guard for Beasley to develop behind Harris, and the power forward position would not be so clogged up with Faried backing up Chandler (unless they’d rather him than Gallinari) with Hernangomez as a third option. Not to mention, the Nuggets would have a legitimate All-Star starting at small forward in Butler.
The deal seems like a longshot; however, this is the type of deal that Tim Connelly needs to make in order for the Nuggets to get better, free up roster space, save money and not jeopardize the future. It sounds strange, but the Nuggets are just one big move away from being exactly where they want to be heading into the stretch run and the future.