Why the Nuggets stood pat at the trade deadline: “I love our group, I really do”

Before the Nuggets opened one of their rare practices on Thursday morning, head coach Michael Malone gathered his team and tried to ease their minds.

Just hours before the trade deadline, as rumors circulated about the since-completed James Harden-Ben Simmons blockbuster deal, Malone told his guys not to fret.

“As we started, I said, ‘I’m not saying nothing can’t happen in the next couple of hours, this is the NBA, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing going on,’” Malone conveyed to his team before they flew out to Boston.

Despite many discussions, including frameworks that fell through, according to league sources, the Nuggets stood pat. That meant not moving JaMychal Green’s $8.2 million salary for a defensive-oriented wing, as The Post reported they’d targeted, and opting not to trade any of the expiring contracts of Facundo Campazzo, Vlatko Cancar or Austin Rivers.

As Rivers headed off the practice court Thursday, he jokingly asked a group of reporters whether he’d been traded. Campazzo, another player whom the Nuggets had discussions about, sources said, bolted off the court before reporters could trickle onto it.

The Nuggets didn’t move Green, Campazzo, Rivers or Cancar because they didn’t have to. The Nuggets have, somewhat unbelievably, punched above their weight in the Western Conference considering all the injuries they’ve sustained. At 30-24, the Nuggets opened Thursday only 3.5 games out of the No. 4 seed and with a favorable schedule to close the season.

“We’re not in a situation where we feel we need to make a move,” Malone said. “… We understand that this year, without Jamal (Murray) and Michael (Porter Jr.), it’s different than most.”

Rather than sweat the trade deadline, Malone said he spent Wednesday playing pickleball. He joked — though he probably wasn’t joking — about his two-man book club with close friend Nathaniel Rateliff. Their book of choice? All the Pretty Horses.

Malone, team president Tim Connelly and Denver’s ownership had the luxury of not forcing anything because of the stability they’ve built the past several years. With extended rehabs for Murray and Porter, not to mention since-traded P.J. Dozier’s torn ACL, the stars were hardly aligning for this season to be Denver’s best chance at a championship.

Still, it didn’t mean they weren’t active or trying to improve. Adding Bryn Forbes a few weeks ago addressed their biggest need — outside shooting. Their attempts at finding a defensive wing weren’t hollow. Their need for a backup center will be filled, at least temporarily, with DeMarcus Cousins, whom the Nuggets plan to sign to a second 10-day contract. Cousins, according to a league source, is expected to be available for Friday’s game at Boston.

And yet as much as the Nuggets have endured, one can’t help but envision how dangerous Denver will be once they get healthy.

As Malone was explaining the rationale for the team’s deadline patience, there was Porter working with developmental coaches on the far end of the court, going through shooting drills and raining in 3-pointers.

“It is under the realm of possibility that Michael Porter and Jamal Murray return this year,” Malone said. “It is also just as likely that they don’t.”

It’s a refrain Malone has said on several occasions, emphasizing how neither he nor the front office has put any pressure on either player to return. Both have participated in specific drills, according to Malone, but have yet to progress to contact or anything live at practice.

Not only do their eventual returns decrease the immediate pressure, but they also leave sizable gaps in terms of what form the Nuggets ultimately take. Malone and Connelly talked on several occasions about what their team looks like and reached a conclusion that it’s impossible to know until they’re healthy.

And so without any substantial movement, the team that’s won 7 of its last 10 games will be the same one that heads to Boston and Toronto.

“I love our group, I really do,” Malone said.

Veteran Will Barton agreed.

“I think we got everything we need in this locker room,” he said.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com