Mile High Sports mailbag: Denver Nuggets 2018 offseason

Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly answers questions during a press conference during the media day at Pepsi Center
Sep 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly answers questions during a press conference during the media day at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With the majority of the NBA offseason insanity coming to a close for the Denver Nuggets, it is time to reach out to you, the reader, to answer any questions you may have.

Here are five questions sent in through twitter by various readers that need answering so, without further ado, here is the inaugural edition of the Mile High Sports Nuggets mailbag.

How should expectations for the playoffs change after the most recent moves?

– @Jibblesandbitz via Twitter

If there is one common thought process that connects both the Nuggets signing of Isaiah Thomas and the salary dump deal sending Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur to the Brooklyn Nets, it is that the Nuggets are going all in on winning now.

That makes the playoffs an absolute requirement.

The Nuggets have missed the playoffs for five-straight years and by just one singular game each of the past two seasons. While injuries have without a doubt derailed many of the Nuggets perfectly laid plans, time is running out for any excuse to be viable. Plus, the expectations of the Nuggets’ ownership are sky-high.

When the Nuggets released their full rebrand during game three of the 2018 NBA Finals, Josh Kroenke spoke to the media and reflected on where the Nuggets were and where they are headed while also shining a light on where he sees his Nuggets franchise compared to the rest of the league.

“We are sitting here with the narrative that we just missed out, but I am also very confident in this group because I can sit here and tell you guys that, without an injury or two, I think we are firmly the three-seed in the West and we’ve won 50 games,” Kroenke claimed. “That is with the group that we currently have without any internal improvement or outside additions. We are very confident in the group we have.”

Hearing Kroenke explain that if the Nuggets had stayed healthy last year, he felt they should have won 50 wins and had home-court advantage in the playoffs changes the dynamic internally. For so long, the Nuggets were just cultivating their youth into star-caliber talent, but now it is time for those young players to carry the Nuggets back to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.

If that does not happen and Denver misses the playoffs for a sixth-consecutive season, prepare for changes to the coaching staff and even possibly the front office. With both Michael Malone and Tim Connelly in the final years of their respective contracts, the pressure is on to end the Nuggets’ playoff drought or face the consequences.

What do you believe will be the Nuggets’ lineup to close games?

– @yung_ztz via Twitter

This is a more interesting question than meets the eye.

The low-hanging fruit would be to just say that the expected starting lineup would be the five-man pairing to close out games. A group of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic just makes the most sense, but there is one variable that has not been discussed enough.

Isaiah Thomas, the Nuggets’ newest free agent acquisition, is one of the most clutch players in the Association. Back in 2016-17, Thomas was second in the league in fourth-quarter scoring averaging 9.8 points in the final frame on 46.7 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three-point distance. He single-handedly won multiple games for the Boston Celtics in 2016-17 by turning into a human inferno when clutch time came around. There could be a very real scenario in which Thomas does close out games for the Nuggets from time to time.

The real question is who will Malone elect to bench if Thomas is firing on all cylinders heading into the fourth and final quarter. A three-guard lineup of Thomas, Harris, and Murray is likely too diminutive to play many clutch minutes together making it hard to imagine Barton being the player watching from the sidelines. Harris has been the most steady player for the Nuggets over the past two years so removing him from the closing group seems a ludicrous. That leaves just Murray as the only other player who could potentially see himself on the bench watching the Nuggets close games — which may be much more plausible than previously imagined.

Thomas may close games if he is on fire heading into the fourth quarter, but Murray should be the unquestioned starting point guard of the Nuggets and he should be the player getting late-game reps over Thomas. What makes this an interesting discussion is that Malone and Thomas go back much further than Malone and Murray do. Malone was the first coach to fully believe in Thomas and their affinity for each other is very real. With Malone coaching for his job in the final year of his contract, could there be a scenario in which he sticks with the player he has known for six years — a player who was a top-five vote-getter in the MVP voting just a year ago? That is a question that will only be answered over time.

What will the focus be for the last roster spot? Monte Morris? A veteran? Neither? 

– @Realicculus via Twitter

Denver does not have tons of options for their 15th roster spot, but they are not without opportunities.

First and foremost, Denver is armed with $2.5 million to spend of their taxpayer mid-level exception. That is not too much money, but considering how tight the cap landscape is around the NBA, Denver may be able to sign a low-risk, high-reward type player in the same way that they did with Thomas. Denver could potentially reach out to players like Rodney Hood, Michael Beasley, or David Nwaba; all of whom could be potentially convinced to come to Denver for just $2.5 million on a one-year deal.

Another option would be to see if Dwyane Wade would be interested in joining up with the Nuggets. Wade was impressed by the Nuggets when they tried to convince him to sign with Denver back in 2016. Wade said that Tim Connelly and his staff, “really sold me on them,” during their recruitment of him, and if Wade does not feel like Miami is making a strong enough offer to keep him, Denver has a backup small forward role just waiting for him. This is a long shot, but the odds of bringing Wade to Denver are not zero.

The last option would be to keep the roster spot open to either convert Monte Morris to a full NBA contract or to test the buy-out market. The Nuggets do not feel the need to convert Monte Morris to a full NBA contract at this time being that he is allowed of 45-days of NBA service. Now that Thomas is in the fold, Morris can continue getting reps in the G-League while being the ideal third point guard to be called upon when needed. If things with Thomas end up falling through for any reason and he is not the player they hoped for, Morris could easily be converted to a full NBA deal at any time. If Thomas does pan out and plays well, Denver could use the 15th roster spot to sign a playoff-tested veteran that gets a buy-out agreement from a bad team. Considering how young the Nuggets core group is, the more playoff experience on the roster, the better the potential transition into the playoffs will be.

Are there any instant concerns about Isaiah Thomas coming into the Nuggets’ locker room?

– @MrSpenster via Twitter

This question is fantastic because of the differences between Thomas’ thought process and the way that the rest of the locker room operates.

Denver’s roster is generally a somewhat-boring group. Yes, each and every player is fascinating in their won unique way, but there are no loud or boisterous personalities outside of Barton. Injecting Thomas’ bravado and confidence into the Denver locker room could be a great or a bad thing depending on who you ask.

On one hand, Thomas’ confidence and outspoken ways could be a phenomenal boost for the less emphatic young Nuggets. Denver’s roster could use more of an edge to them and Thomas is the embodiment of ‘carrying a chip on your shoulder’. If his killer mentality begins to percolate into the perspectives of Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, that could be a very good thing down the line.

On the other hand, if Thomas’ self confidence becomes too overzealous, it could also take a toll on the Nuggets roster. If Thomas begins closing games from time to time and is not in a friendly place with Murray, there could be issues there. The nonchalant attitude of Nikola Jokic could clash with the intensity that Thomas brings. There are ways that bringing Thomas into the locker room could lead to arguments.

What has not been discussed enough is that Thomas is not in a place to go too crazy or cause too much of a ruckus. He is currently doing everything he can to bolster his value around the league and hurting the culture that has been cultivated in Denver would only hurt him. Also, it is important to note is that Malone and Thomas get along very well. The likelihood is that Thomas would listen to Malone if things got out of hand and they needed to sit down and talk.

What is important to remember is that passion is generally a good thing for a younger and quieter locker room like Denver’s. Every single team goes through spats of disagreements each season and no locker room is perfect. There are ways for Thomas to hurt the locker room, but the odds lean in favor of him bringing more passion and intensity to a calmer Nuggets team as opposed to fracturing the locker room.

What should be realistically expected from Michael Porter Jr. this season?

– @THEYHE via Twitter

If you are coming into the 2018-19 season with any expectations for Michael Porter Jr., you may want to re-evaluate.

There has been no update on the health of Porter. There has been no update on the timeline for Porter. There has been no update on what the plan of attack is to get Porter back to fully healthy. The Nuggets are working on answering all of theses questions, but so far all we know is that Porter is an incredible shooter when not being defended in practice and that he sometimes shoots in just socks without shoes.

Unfortunately, there is nothing else to really be said. Porter could be ready by training camp or he could red shirt his entire rookie season. Until we get closer to the season, there should be little to no expectations set on Porter’s shoulders.

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