Has the DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed in Denver? It certainly hasn’t been seamless.
As the Nuggets prepare for Thursday’s trade deadline, they’ve got a few questions that need to be answered. Let’s start with Boogie, whose latest 10-day contract is set to expire after Sunday.
The Nuggets brought in Cousins to bolster the team’s second unit and provide a physical presence inside. He hasn’t played the last four games due to a right foot sprain, and when he has been available, his numbers have been underwhelming, at best. In four games, he’s averaged 6.3 points on 24% shooting, and 6.5 rebounds. His work on the glass is noteworthy, as is his glaring lack of efficiency.
Cousins has also let his emotions override his availability. Against Brooklyn, despite coach Michael Malone’s plea not to pick up a fourth-quarter technical foul, Cousins did and was subsequently ejected.
If the Nuggets had designs on Cousins anchoring the backup center position, how trustworthy has the 31-year-old proven to be? And that’s aside from his health factor.
Depending on what happens with Cousins, the Nuggets could consider different options at the backup center, sources told The Denver Post.
It’s a glaring need alongside reserve forwards Zeke Nnaji and JaMychal Green.
As The Post has reported on several occasions, the Nuggets are also on the hunt for a defensive-oriented small forward, sources said.
Think of guys like Indiana’s Justin Holiday, former Nugget Torrey Craig, New York’s Alec Burks, Philadelphia’s Danny Green, New Orleans’ Josh Hart, and, perhaps, Memphis’ Kyle Anderson.
After Will Barton and two-way Davon Reed, whose value is rising as Malone entrusts him more in the rotation, the Nuggets don’t have any more legitimate wings. Any of the players on the aforementioned list would boost Denver’s second unit, which recently got a jolt with the addition of Bryn Forbes.
Having established what the Nuggets need, we need to discuss what pieces they actually have.
If you consider the current roster, Denver has some depth at guard with Monte Morris, Bones Hyland, Austin Rivers, Facu Campazzo and Markus Howard. And that’s before the potential return of Jamal Murray, which will likely oust three of those guards from the rotation completely.
In terms of trade candidates, Morris and Hyland are highly unlikely to be moved given how important they are to the current and future iterations of the team. Morris’ bridge play — having saved the Nuggets in the wake of Murray’s rehab — has been an underrated part of their success. Hyland, at just 21, is on an affordable contract and has the appearance of another draft-day steal.
That’s not to say the Nuggets don’t value Campazzo and Rivers, but of the guards, they’re likely the most available. Rivers, like JaMychal Green, has veto power on any trade. The team values his defense, 3-point shooting and veteran experience.
The problem with moving one of the guards, however, is that neither makes much money. Rivers is making $2.4 million, and Campazzo’s making $3.1 million. For matching salary purposes, that won’t return much in talent.
The Nuggets also have some depth in the frontcourt. Outside of Nikola Jokic, perhaps no player has outplayed his contract ($4.5 million this season) more than Jeff Green. The heady veteran has stabilized the power forward position as Michael Porter Jr. rehabs from back surgery. There’s no telling where the Nuggets would be without Green, who despite a recent slump, has been instrumental in climbing toward homecourt advantage in the first round.
If the Nuggets wanted to move Green, he might be so valuable as to return a future first-round pick. But given how comfortable he is, and how badly the Nuggets have needed him, don’t expect him to be traded. Also, a future first-round pick doesn’t do much to help Denver’s immediate title chances.
The game has slowed down for Nnaji, and his ceiling is rising. His 3-point shooting is among the best in the NBA for his volume, and the Nuggets’ coaches love his defensive versatility. Similar to Hyland, Nnaji should be viewed as a foundational piece in the years to come.
That leaves JaMychal Green, whose $8.2 million salary could yield the most in return for an upgrade on the wing. Green’s been inconsistent this season but is still a favorite of Malone and Jokic. But how do other teams perceive his value? Green, who has veto power on a trade, wouldn’t accept a trade to a non-contender, a source said. That inevitably makes finding a trade partner even harder.
And looming over all of Denver’s discussions remains the eventual returns of Murray and Porter. As Malone has said, any potential trades have to be made with their returns in mind. The Nuggets need to be thinking on simultaneous tracks, both for this season and next.
It’s possible the Nuggets have the same team this time next week. It’s also incumbent of them to explore all their options.