Beat writer Mike Singer opens up the Nuggets Mailbag periodically during the season. Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question here.
With season-ending injuries to P.J. Dozier and Michael Porter Jr. severely impacting our wing/forward depth, what are some of the potential moves the Nuggets can make? Is there an NBA rule that allows teams to replace players with season-ending injuries that won’t impact the salary cap? We are a versatile wing and roll-to-the-basket big away from being competitive again once Jamal Murray comes back.
— Dragan, Sydney
This is the right question, Dragan. The Nuggets are actively looking for a wing to help replace Dozier and Porter, two league sources told The Denver Post. As of right now, they don’t have any traditional wings on the roster. Will Barton played the three last year, but he’s more a shooting guard. Aaron Gordon is a power forward moonlighting as a three in a bigger starting lineup. On the bench, there’s no one you could reasonably deem a “wing.”
Davon Reed made a positive impression on a lot of people within the organization on his 10-day contract before heading back to Grand Rapids. He’s a plus defender with no ego, something the team clearly prioritized when deciding to bring up Reed and not Lance Stephenson. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Reed back in Denver at some point, especially since Markus Howard’s knee sprain (re-evaluated in six weeks) will open up the possibility of another hardship exception. (This is triggered when at least four guys are expected out for at least two weeks).
As for other names, I’d monitor wings on non-contending teams. Perhaps there’s a deal to be made with Portland, Indiana, Orlando or Oklahoma City — teams that should be unequivocal sellers at the deadline.
The Pistons have put Jerami Grant on the block. In a multi-player deal, could he come back? Is it even possible? I’m guessing with money no, but thought I’d ask. Also the Blazers put Nurkic and Covington on the block, any chance that has any run in a multi-team trade with us?
— Andy Juett, Denver
Would love to see some sort of shooter… Eric Gordon is on the block and he’s a marksman from three, and Terrance Ross from Orlando is also a great shooter
First things first. I don’t think a Grant reunion is happening on a number of levels. First, his $20 million salary is tough to match and would likely spur a hole in the backcourt. Second, before he left, he indicated he’d be staying. The Nuggets believed it and planned around it. But I’ve heard the noise around Grant is real. He went to Detroit wanting to be a focal point of a contending team. We’re two months into the season, and the Pistons have four wins.
I can’t say whether Gordon or Ross are on Denver’s radar, but you can deduce from their interest in a wing player that Denver isn’t conceding the season. For a minute, there was mild talk of tanking, but that was never in Denver’s plans, even after Dozier went down. I’d expect a move to shore up their perimeter play, either via trade or on the buyout market.
I firmly believe Michael Malone is doing a fine job with the Nuggets. However, he does not get in the faces of the officials and this is a failing. I’ve seen Malone sit on his hands when the referee misses blatant fouls against Nikola Jokic or calls using different standards on each end. I’ve followed the Nuggets since they were the Denver Rockets. Doug Moe would follow the referees down the court when they missed foul calls on Dan Issel or Alex English and got his share of Ts, but he also changed the tone of the officiating. Is Malone trying to win a most lovable coach award from the officiating crew at the expense of his team?
— Shawn Thompson, Denver
That’s an interesting critique of Malone, and one, having sat courtside at dozens of games, I’d disagree with. Did you miss him charging onto the court only to get ejected in a game against the 76ers exactly one month ago?
Malone has a temper, a sharp wit, and a New York sense of humor. I’ve seen and heard him use it all against officials in an effort to fight for his players. He also can’t exactly lose his composure on a weekly basis when he’s begging his franchise cornerstone, Nikola Jokic, not to do the same thing. I know that the team has been active behind the scenes in making their case to the league that Jokic gets a tough whistle. I’ve heard him do the same thing. Perhaps you’d be satisfied with a few more ejections?
In what scenario does Nikola Jokic win the MVP award for the second straight year?
— Miles Dentrell, Vale
The reigning MVP runs it back if the Nuggets can finish in the top-four of the Western Conference, and he definitively has a better season than Steph Curry. Full transparency: I voted in ESPN’s straw poll two weeks ago and had Curry, Giannis, Jokic, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan as my top five.
Jokic, currently assembling a historic campaign, is having the best season of anyone in the NBA. No one has ever averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a season; Jokic is averaging well over 26 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists thus far. But just because he’s been the best player in the NBA does not mean he’ll go back-to-back. Few predicted the Warriors becoming The Warriors again, if ever. That Curry has done it before Klay Thompson returned strengthens his case.
Team context matters, and the Nuggets’ .500 record (as of Friday) is a non-starter for him, especially since Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Golden State are either No. 1 or No. 2 in their respective conferences. Jokic may not draw the same attention as those other superstars nationally, but locally, he’s going to get his flowers. I promise you.
With all the injuries, the Nuggets’ assets for a trade are limited but seems like a pairing of JaMychal Green (for veteran leadership) and Bol Bol (for upside) could get the Nuggets a usable piece. The Kings seem like a team that needs both. What do you think of a Green/Bol for Marvin Bagley and a second-round pick? Is that enough to make a difference for the Nuggets? Do you think Malone’s system could rehab Bagley and turn him into a high-upside, athletic scorer on the second unit, similar to what MPJ was his first couple of years?
— Jesse Epstein, Denver
Is a Bol Bol trade imminent this deadline or not? If so, what could a potential deal look like?
— Levi Herman, Pendleton, Ore.
I like the idea. Bagley’s time in Sacramento has clearly run its course. I wonder what interest, if any, the Kings would have in JaMychal, who, by the way, would need to approve the trade because of his contract status. I also don’t think there’s much interest league-wide in Bol Bol. If I’m the Kings, or any team for that matter, I would question why Bol hasn’t been able to get off the bench even as the Nuggets’ rotation has been decimated.
I think you’re correct in identifying Green ($8.2 million salary this season, player option this summer) as the salary/piece the Nuggets might have to use. As much as he’s a favorite of Nikola Jokic, he’s not an integral piece to their rotation and has struggled mightily this season.
With the recent COVID outbreaks going on in all sports, do you believe we could see a suspension of league play or major schedule changes happening because of it?
— Brandon Boles, Estes Park
I don’t. The first step is to ramp up testing, which the NBA is doing throughout the holidays. But consider this: If the NBA pauses the league, what is the criteria to re-start? A heavy Omicron wave is expected in January. The NBA already worked hard, and put the teams and its players through tons of undue stress, to get the schedule back on track. The league hasn’t paused despite outbreaks with the Bulls, Nets, Kings and Magic. There’s a clear message that it doesn’t want to – or maybe can’t afford – to take a pause.