Nuggets Journal: Offseason of uncomfortable decisions has arrived

Welcome to the summer of uncomfortable decisions.

In the past two years, the Nuggets had done everything right only to be snake-bitten by devastating injuries. But with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. on the mend, and Denver facing the “biggest offseason,” of coach Michael Malone’s tenure, the decisions sitting on the doorstep of the Nuggets’ front office will be some of the most grueling of their championship climb.

There are luxury tax implications, with the Nuggets set to top the $149 million tax line for the first time in more than a decade. The high-stakes game of championship chasing is about to get extremely expensive for the Kroenkes. How skittish will they be about their bloated bill?

Outside of the money – how does tying up $113 million in just four players sound? – there are unnerving roster decisions to be made. While Nikola Jokic has made huge defensive strides and is hardly the target he used to be, and there’s cautious optimism Murray, once he recovers fully from his ACL tear, can re-establish himself as a plus-defender, the Nuggets are lacking on the defensive end. Porter, for all his basketball gifts, isn’t going to be a stopper there, either, once he gets healthy.

Aaron Gordon was Denver’s “fire extinguisher,” as Malone referred to him, but even he looked spent as this past season and first-round playoff series wore on.

Among the starters, that leaves Will Barton, whose eight seasons in Denver makes him the longest-tenured Nugget. With an expiring $14 million deal for this upcoming season, Barton could be an integral trade chip if the Nuggets wanted to improve defensively in their backcourt. One, that would help insulate Murray as he gets more comfortable on his repaired knee, and two, that would ease the nightly stress on Gordon.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly has had a good relationship with Barton for years, stemming from their shared Baltimore roots. Any transaction would inevitably sting and would remove one of the longstanding pillars in Denver’s locker room.

That might be the cost of entering championship contention. If not him, it might be others who are on the move.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved member of the organization than Monte Morris, one of the most noteworthy success stories of Denver’s recent rise. The 2017 51st overall pick worked his way through the G League, established himself as an NBA player and then assumed the starting job in Murray’s absence. The 26-year-old more than held his own, too. With two years and $18 million left on his deal, few players are as attractive to outside teams as Morris.

Could the Nuggets stomach trading Morris, whose confident demeanor is a hallmark of his steady play? In the name of inching closer to a championship, shouldn’t all options be considered?

The conversation changed with the emergence of guard Bones Hyland, who established himself as a playmaking and scoring threat in his first NBA season. When Murray returns, who’s the primary backup point guard? And how would a backcourt of Morris and Hyland hold up defensively?

In terms of trade chips, JaMychal Green’s $8.2 million salary (if he opts in this summer) is another that could be utilized in a larger deal. Green could become more expendable if the Nuggets are confident Zeke Nnaji can stay healthy all season.

The Nuggets aren’t “married” to their first-round pick this year, according to general manager Calvin Booth, but there are prospects they feel could fill a void. Could the Nuggets really strike gold again, finding a similarly impactful player as they did with Hyland a year ago?

As the Nuggets’ tax bill increases, finding young, inexpensive talent is a priority. But that draft pick, paired with one of the aforementioned salaries, could also yield a player of immediate impact in a trade. These aren’t easy decisions, and they could well mean the difference between maximizing their title window vs. missing an opportunity.

The truth is, Denver’s front office doesn’t know what will come of the June draft, nor do they know what type of trade proposals could come their way.

But, with a championship in mind, it’s incumbent on them to explore all options as unsettling and painful as they might be.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com