Keeler: Nuggets got cute with Michael Porter Jr. extension. Now they might waste Nikola Jokic’s MVP prime.

They should’ve traded him last winter. The Nuggets should’ve traded Michael Porter Jr. at his apex, when the kid could still make a layup in the open court without tensing up in pain.

And yet you wonder if anybody would’ve given general manager Tim Connelly the time of day on that one, if he’d called. Let alone a fair return.

They knew. Those other front offices? Those other GMs? Those other doctors? They all knew.

They knew it was only a matter of time before it all went wrong again. They knew that the clock was ticking on the surgical tangle that is MPJ’s back. They knew that once that bomb went off, you were going to be left with all that promise unfulfilled, wasting away on the bench.

They knew that the MPJ story was going to finish, and maybe sooner than anyone would’ve expected, just like it started. They knew the latest maddening Porter injury scoop from The Post’s Mike Singer, that Porter is dealing with nerve issues in his back, was a when … not an if.

The sin was not drafting Porter out of Mizzou in 2018 when a top-3-in-his-rookie-class talent had slipped all the way down to pick No. 14. Connelly needed layers to add to the foundation. MPJ, with all that upside, was always worth a flyer. Initially. Especially for a market that can’t lure that kind of raw scoring talent, a pure shooter of that size, from the cream of the free-agent crop.

No, the sin was doubling down. The sin was getting cute. Pressing your luck. Taunting the basketball gods. Operations? What operations? See? We can keep him on the floor. We can make this work.

The sin was the max contract extension announced two months ago, the one worth a minimum of $172 million. Especially for a franchise that can’t afford to swing and miss during those blessed moments when it does swing for the fences.

Porter, 23, was slated to become a restricted free agent after this season. The Nuggets could’ve turned ’21-22 into a prove-it year for their 6-foot-10 forward before doling out the big bucks.

They could’ve waited. In hindsight, they probably should have waited.

Ask yourself this: As of this past September, what had MPJ proven? That he’d raised his floor? That he’d learned to play a little defense? That he could be great in bursts? That he could play through pain?

Maybe Jamal Murray’s knee injury last April, the curveball no one saw coming, changed the equation. MPJ was always going to get paid. Cynics would say Connelly looks like a man who just got fleeced. At best, the big contract felt rushed. By doing it when they did, the Nuggets elected to roll the dice. And those bones keep coming up snake eyes.

Although latest news on MPJ’s cranky back probably explains the flubbed layup against Houston three Saturdays ago. It might also explain the kid’s hesitation, at times, to go to the rim with authority. It’s hard to take advantage of a 7-foot wingspan if your back flares up like a neon sign in the rain every time you launch.

You wonder what the Nuggets knew. And when they knew it. You wonder if they’re destined to remain a small-banner team — look at all those division titles! — in a city that reveres the big ones.

The Broncos and Avs, when they’re right, throw parades. The Nuggets, at their peak, throw salt over their left shoulders and hope for the best. Alex English’s thumb in 1985. Anthony Carter’s inbound pass in 2009. Danilo Gallinari’s ACL in 2013. Murray’s ACL.

The Nuggs aren’t cursed. Not in the classic, Chicago-Cubs-esque sense of the term. But Lordy, they’re a billy goat away.

Meanwhile, center Nikola Jokic can become an unrestricted free agent in 18 months. Season after next. Summer of 2023. Do you want to be the one who has to tell him you’re tanking?

The MVP needs help. He needs shooters surrounding him. Scorers to feed. Imagine if the best basketball player in the world called Denver home. Imagine you couldn’t build around him. Imagine he retired without a ring. Or worse, imagine he left and got it somewhere else.

Jokic made the Nuggets look clever. Second-round draft pick becomes All-Star. Second-round pick becomes NBA MVP, the first ever to do so in the common draft era.

But even for the best front offices, there’s a fine line between clever and cute. The Nuggets got cute with Porter. Too dang cute. Suddenly, MPJ’s contract is the gift that keeps on taking. All the way to the cleaners.

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