Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly conceded what was fair to assume in the wake of a quiet NBA trade deadline. Speaking on Altitude Radio on Friday morning, he admitted slight disappointment that the Nuggets weren’t able to cross the finish line on any trades that would’ve, ostensibly, made the roster better.
The Nuggets explored several deals that they hoped would have addressed needs on the perimeter and in the reserve frontcourt, one league source said, but nothing came to fruition as Thursday’s deadline passed.
The biggest additions that could, possibly, maybe aid Denver’s playoff push were already in-house.
Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are expected to each be physically cleared to return before the end of the regular season, a source said. Murray’s rehab from a torn ACL is different than Porter’s rehab from early-season back surgery. The two — and their respective timelines — shouldn’t be compared.
Murray has never had a major injury and never had to endure the grind of an extended rehab before. The process, according to a person familiar with Murray’s thinking, has been harder than he anticipated.
Just because Murray will eventually be physically cleared to return does not mean he’ll be mentally ready to be back this season. There’s nuance and patience he’ll need to employ before stepping back on the court. The Nuggets have been adamant that he’ll return when he feels comfortable, which could be this season or next season. Any apprehension will be met with patience, echoing a stance that’s been vocalized both publicly and privately.
The Nuggets have consistently taken the long view this season. No trade was ever considered that would’ve complicated their individual returns.
As for Porter, he’s been through similar rehabs before and knows how his body responds and feels in such circumstances.
His glistening jumper looked every bit as dangerous as it normally is following the Nuggets’ practice Thursday, when Porter commanded one basket on the team’s practice court and barely missed. He ran his patented catch-and-shoots, feigned coming off screens and hung around the 3-point line like the Nuggets eventually envision for him. He even ran a drill where he sharpened his baseline jumper, taking off numerous times from just one foot.
It was only a few weeks ago that Porter was cautioned not to lift off on his jumper.
“We couldn’t be happier with where he’s at in terms of his recovery from surgery and his progression towards playing,” Mark Bartelstein, Porter’s agent, told The Denver Post. “He badly wants to play, but we need to check all the boxes before that happens. He’s in as good of a place as we could’ve imagined.”
In some ways, the Nuggets have needed to pump the brakes on Porter’s eventual return. As with everything this season, the long view is essential. Nuggets coach Michael Malone described the team’s collective mindset ahead of the trade deadline and acknowledged that this season, so far without Murray and Porter, is different than most. To any observant on-lookers, that much was obvious.
But Connelly said something else on the radio Friday that shouldn’t be overlooked. He called it “irresponsible” if the Nuggets didn’t do everything in their power to take advantage of Nikola Jokic’s prime. While they can only be patient with injuries, they can be aggressive with transactions.
The Post reported the Nuggets were open to trading their 2027 first-round pick in order to improve their roster. That pick – and whatever talent it might yield in the future – isn’t going anywhere. Even though injuries have delayed their title window, Jokic’s mere presence mandates that they do everything to surround him.
Soon enough, the Nuggets will return two pieces that will add more value than anything the Nuggets could’ve considered on the trade market or come free agency. But when those two arrive, dancing in the pick-and-roll or splashing 3-pointers, is anybody’s guess.