Strike 1: Now the season of hard decisions begins.

As frustrating as it was to watch the Denver Nuggets season end, there’s no shame in losing a Game 7 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who may indeed win their first NBA championship now that they’ve taken down the defending champs. This Nuggets season won’t be viewed as a success like the last one, when things were capped with a parade through downtown Denver. But considering they won more regular season games this year than last, and that they did so with a much thinner and less experienced roster, it wasn’t all bad.

But it wasn’t good enough, to be sure. Nuggets Nation now expects more, especially when you suit up a three-time MVP and a stellar (starting) supporting cast, most still in their prime.

That includes three “max” contract players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. But that wasn’t enough against the much deeper T-Wolves.

Still, the Nuggets championship window hasn’t closed.

There’s no question about the long-term status or value of Jokic or Murray. Add Aaron Gordon to that short list, and Denver still has a championship caliber core. But that third max guy? Is he really an indispensable part of the Nuggets immediate future?

MPJ is a supremely talented basketball player. He’s a study in perseverance and how to overcome (injury) adversity. If the best ability is availability, then he was one of Denver’s top players this season, missing just one game all year. He’s also a world champion and one of the best shooters in the league.

But ask yourself, is MPJ truly a “max” contract player in the salary cap era?

The answer is no, he’s not. When the Nuggets needed him most in the Minnesota series, MPJ was pretty much a no-show.

Max players are guys that are at the very least on the cusp of being an All-Star, like Murray, for example. MPJ hasn’t been close to that. He wasn’t even on the long list of candidates for Team USA (for the upcoming Summer Olympics) during a period of time when roughly half of the top players in the NBA aren’t American.

As outstanding as Michael Porter Jr is, he’s not producing at the level he needs to be producing at in order to justify the amount of salary cap space he’s taking up.

If the Nuggets are going to return to the top of the NBA mountain, they need some roster revamping and an infusion of new blood. With their salary cap pretty much maxed out, they need to clear space before they can make any sort of meaningful addition. The only way to clear space is to bite down hard and trade your most tradeable asset, MPJ.

Can they get value back in return? That’s Calvin Booth’s challenge. Can they bring back quality players that make them better? Can they somehow improve that well below average bench? Denver’s lack of depth was their downfall and the difference in Nuggets Nation getting a chance at another parade.

It’s broken now. Time to start the fixing.