Trade season is officially upon us.
Yes, the Denver Nuggets got things started early when they acquired Bryn Forbes from the San Antonio Spurs in a three-team deal that also included sending to P.J. Dozier and Bol Bol to the Boston Celtics, but with the trade deadline just over a week away, things are about to ramp up in a major way.
What goals should the Nuggets have leading up to Feb. 10? Who could Denver look to trade for? Who might they trade in order to upgrade the roster?
Well, let’s dive in.
Trade Deadline Goals
Before even getting into which players could get traded for who and how the deals could be structured, it is important to understand where the Nuggets are at, how good they believe they can be this season, and what goals they might have.
The place we should start is where the Nuggets are trending and where they stand in the Western Conference. Denver just completed a six-game road trip by going 4-2 to continue its winning ways recently. The Nuggets are 10-5 in their last 15 games and boast the third-highest net rating over that span. Nikola Jokic is demolishing any who oppose him and is currently second in MVP odds at +330 according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Denver is now 28-23 after 51 games and sit just two losses behind the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver’s three-team trade to acquire Forbes is the perfect illustration of how the Nuggets organization views their immediate future. Choosing to trade away the injured Dozier — who the Nuggets valued highly on and off the court — and a second-round pick in addition to Bol Bol for essentially a half-season rental of Forbes means Denver believes they can make noise in the playoffs this year.
Denver does not have Forbes’ bird rights which makes it difficult to retain him if the Nuggets decided they wanted to do so after this season. They could see if Forbes would be willing to take the bi-annual exception, but it seems more likely that he is in another uniform after this season. That makes the deal to acquire Forbes a win-now move. Denver traded away draft capital to acquire him for this season which means the Nuggets believe they have a chance to go further in the playoffs than their play thus far suggests.
Whether or not that means Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr. will be able to return from their respective injuries is another question entirely. On one hand, Denver did not send out anything resembling a haul for Forbes. They had been looking to trade Bol for a long time before the deal was completed, Dozier had torn his ACL and was lost for the year, and the second-round pick they sent out will not convey until 2028. But if Denver did not believe they had the chance to make a run, they would not have needlessly made such a trade to simply move on from Bol. That fact in itself projects some level of organizational confidence that one or both of Murray or Porter could be back this season.
Every indication points to Murray’s rehab from his left ACL tear going extremely well. There has been no timetable put on Murray’s return and there likely will not be for a while, but he can be seen warming up on the court before every home game stroking 3-pointers, dunking on occasion, and even cutting off his surgically repaired left knee. It is becoming hard not to wonder just how close Murray is to returning.
Michael Porter Jr. is a bit more uncertain. On one hand, Mike Singer of the Denver Post reported on Jan. 13 that Porter has not been ruled out this season and that the Nuggets have been encouraged by his rehab so far. On the other hand, the Nuggets were awarded a disabled player exception because of his back injury. The prerequisite for a disabled player exception is a non-team doctor confirming that Porter is unlikely to return before June 15, but it does not rule out the injured player from returning. So is it more or less likely Porter returns? Only time will tell.
So with all of that being said, what goals will the Nuggets likely have entering trade season?
In terms of roster additions, the Nuggets are not much different than other playoff teams; they could use a backup big man to handle second-unit centers and wing who can space the floor and help defensively. Being able to play big or small is important; especially when the playoffs roll around. While Jeff Green, JaMychal Green and Zeke Nnaji can play as centers against some matchups, having a true center behind Jokic would give Denver the lineup flexibility it needs to matchup with anyone; so long as it can get healthy. Also, what team does not need a wing who can defend and hit 3-pointers?
Lastly, Denver will more than likely be attempting to avoid the luxury tax this season. It’s just $978k below the luxury tax line right now and, with how expensive their roster is set to become when Porter’s extension hits, avoiding the repeater tax for one more year makes sense from a governorship point of view.
Who might the Nuggets trade if they identified a player they wanted to trade for?
Before getting into some hypothetical trades, outlining who the Nuggets could trade is important. There are limitations to how much shakeup they could put the roster through.
Being above the salary cap and so close to the luxury tax means the Nuggets can only take back up to 125% of the salary they send out in a trade. So if the Nuggets wanted to trade for a player with a sizable salary, they would be forced to include a player like Barton or Morris in order to make the deal finiacially legal which makes finding a deal that makes sense even more difficult than normal. Denver relies heavily on both Barton and Morris so if either of them were moved, the deal would have to be a clear upgrade for the Nuggets and not many of those deals, if any, exist on the market currently.
Yes, they could look to include JaMychal Green — who is making $8.2 million this season and has a player option next year — in deals, but he has a no-trade clause and could veto any deal he does not approve. Jeff Green’s contract, worth a total of $4.5 million this season with a player option next year as well, also has the same no-trade clause.
Additionally, Denver is unlikely to move any of their young players in a deal that does not clearly improve their title chances for the immediate future which removes Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji from the equation. Porter’s deal is currently a poison pill which requires the team receiving him to have the requisite cap space to absorb his full max contract extension which kicks in next year making him virtually unable to be traded until this summer. Gordon just signed an extension proving the Nuggets commitment to him and Forbes was just traded taking both of them off the board as well.
So, if the Nuggets are almost assuredly not trading any of Barton, Forbes, Gordon, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green, Hyland, Jokic, Morris, Murray, Nnaji or Porter, who can they look to move to try and improve the roster?
The most likely trade candidates are Facu Campazzo ($3.2 million expiring contract), Vlatko Cancar ($1.7 million expiring contract), and Austin Rivers ($1.6 million expiring contact). Denver also has their own first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and every year after 2026 as well as their own second-round picks in 2024, 2025, and 2026 to use as trade pieces if they so desire.
With that arsenal, who could the Nuggets look to add?
Trade targets for the Nuggets
If it is not obvious by now, let me spell it out; the Nuggets will likely only make a smaller trade or two if any at all. They are still without Murray and Porter, do not have much movable salary given their circumstance, and no intention of uploading future assets or young players in a deal unless they get back a player who is a clear upgrade.
So with those constraints, who might they target?
Nuggets acquire: Justin Holiday
Pacers acquire: Facu Campazzo, Austin Rivers, 2026 second-round pick
Denver adding Holiday’s 3-point shooting — 38% from deep on nearly seven attempts per game — and his defensive versatility for Campazzo, Rivers and a second-round pick would be quite the win. Holiday would be able to blend with the starting unit or bench unit, can play small or big on the wing, and play multiple defensive styles. He would provide a level of versatility on both ends of the floor that Denver needs from a wing.
Now that Denver has Hyland stepping into a bigger ball-handling role and they have the recently acquired Forbes, losing both of Campazzo and Rivers won’t hurt as much as it would have two weeks ago. Plus, getting Holiday back who can play with both Forbes and Hyland gives Denver three perimeter players they can rely on off the bench. This deal would also keep Denver under the tax.
For the Pacers, who are very publicly open for business this trade deadline, they move on from Holiday, but receive two expiring deals and a second-round pick in return. Denver could also sweeten the deal by including an additional second round pick in either 2024 or 2025 if needed.
Nuggets acquire: Tony Snell
Trail Blazers acquire: Austin Rivers, 2025 second-round pick
If the Nuggets are unable to get Holiday, this would be a decent fallback option. Denver would look to add Snell for many of the same reasons they would want Holiday; 3-point shooting, defensive versatility, and acquiring him would not break the bank.
Snell has not had a strong year for the Trail Blazers. He is shooting under 30% from 3-point range and playing just over 13 minutes per game. For a career 39.4% shooter from 3-point range who is just 30 years old and stands 6-foot-6, it seems weird he is playing so little, but that makes him more obtainable even if it would require the Nuggets trading within their division with Portland.
The Trail Blazers clearly need to find a new path forward if they hope to contend while Damien Lillard is still in Portland. If Snell is not part of that future, trading him for Austin Rivers — who makes virtually the same amount of money and is also on an expiring deal — while also getting a second-round pick could be a decent trade to help restock their assets a little bit while keeping their books clean going forward.
Nuggets acquire: Robin Lopez
Magic acquire: Vlatko Cancar, Facu Campazzo, 2026 second-round pick
The Orlando Magic are once again at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and are tied for the least wins in the NBA making them clear sellers this trade deadline and Denver still needs a backup center.
Why wouldn’t Denver poke around and see if the always jovial Robin Lopez is available? He is on an expiring contract, he makes just $5 million this season, and he knows how to play his role well. Lopez is still 7-feet tall, weighs over 280 pounds and knows where to be on both ends of the floor. That is exactly the type of bang-for-your-buck center the Nuggets need to add to their roster.
Cancar broke his foot on Jan. 7 and will not be reevaluated until early-March. Campazzo has struggled for the Nuggets to the extent of falling out of the rotation as of late. Moving both of those players and their expiring contracts with a second-round pick seems like a win for both sides.