Nuggets Mailbag: Will Denver look to add someone in wake of devastating injuries?

Beat writer Mike Singer opens up the Nuggets Mailbag periodically during the season. Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question here.

What is the purpose of keeping Bol Bol on the roster at this point? Is the front office holding out for a trade? Why let him hold down a spot when the Nuggets could recruit some healthy bodies?
— Gareth O’Brien, Portlaoise, Ireland

Before the season started, there was mounting hope that Bol had turned a corner in terms of his professionalism and his investment. His potential, while untapped, was still intact. The Nuggets had no interest/may still have no interest in trading him to a team in the Western Conference because of that vast potential.

Nearly a quarter of the way into the regular season, despite recent injuries to Nikola Jokic and Zeke Nnaji and substantial struggles from JaMychal Green, Bol remains glued to the bench. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of trust between him and Malone, and it’s unclear if there ever will be. One play Tuesday night offered a window into Malone’s frustration. With the game out of hand, Bol had a beat on Portland’s Greg Brown in transition yet gave up on the play. Brown threw down a between-the-legs dunk that could’ve been avoided. The insult play didn’t sit well with Bol’s teammates and, you can be sure, stung Malone as the sequence played out just a few feet in front of him. If Bol had designs on changing perceptions about him, hustling, no matter what, would be a good place to start.

Coach Michael Malone recently said it’s crazy that DeMarcus Cousins is not in the league right now. With all the Nuggets injuries, would it be smart to reunite Malone and Cousins in Denver?
— Carson Huelle, Fort Collins

I agree with Malone in that Boogie can still be a problem in spurts, I just question if he’s what they need right now. Last May, with the Clippers, Cousins had 16 points in 14 minutes … against the Nuggets. But if the Nuggets were going to address their dearth of size, I think they’d want a more traditional backup five and one who’s more of a rim deterrent than Cousins.

Should the Nuggets install Zeke Nnaji in the starting five for the added defensive presence and versatility he brings? Moving Jeff Green to the bench allows him to play less minutes and keeps him fresh for the season. Also, with season-ending injuries to P.J. Dozier and Michael Porter Jr. most likely, what players are you aware of the Nuggets looking into?
— Dragan, Sydney, Australia

Lance Stephenson seems to be the obvious call-up target for a guard spot having lost P.J. Dozier, but are there any other names you think might be on the Nuggets’ radar?
— @j_middles via Twitter

Do you see the Nuggets targeting or acquiring anybody with these injuries mounting?
— Jason Butler. Richmond, Va.

There’s a lot here, so let’s try to break it down. Not that anyone is ever rooting for injuries, but certain players stand to benefit if others are out. Zeke Nnaji has a giant opportunity in front of him. As long as Porter is out, Nnaji should get forward minutes. Malone has even used Dozier at the four in small-ball lineups, meaning even more potential Nnaji minutes. He may have more to gain than anyone this season in terms of developmental minutes. The more he plays, the more confident he’s going to get. Defensively, Nnaji can already hold his own on both guards and wings. Offensively, the game will slow for him with more reps. I don’t mind the idea of starting him since it could push Jeff Green to the bench, where he’d be a focal point. The second unit, as of now, looks like Facundo Campazzo/Bones Hyland and, perhaps Vlatko Cančar? It could use more direction.

Like everyone else, of course I’m intrigued to see what, or if, Lance Stephenson can contribute to the Nuggets. Stephenson hasn’t played organized basketball in 18 months. He was last seen playing in China, then nearly came back to the NBA before COVID hit. I’m told he’s in great shape and motivated as ever to get back to the league. If he can add nothing else but defense, there’s probably value in giving him a shot.

In terms of outside players, one league source outside of the Nuggets floated a list of potential targets to fill the wing: Garrett Temple (New Orleans), Ty Jerome (Oklahoma City), Troy Brown (Chicago), Delon Wright (Atlanta). I have no idea whether any of these guys would pique Denver’s interest.

If you had to put a percentage down on whether Michael Porter Jr. will return this season what would you place those odds at? Also could you shed some light on what the team’s strategy will be going forward based on what MPJ’s return might or might not look like?
— Logan Forseth, Hillsboro N.D.

I know we don’t know the extent of the Michael Porter Jr. injury yet, but if he does have to go the surgery route, do you think Denver will start Jeff Green in his place for the rest of the season? Or would you expect them to fill that hole via trade? For example, Kyle Anderson or Kelly Oubre.
— @DavidSt24 via Twitter

If MPJ hits the injured reserved list, do the Nuggets get any kind of cap relief that would allow for a trade to bring in another player?
— @joelmorin via Twitter

How detrimental will it be to Michael Porter Jr.’s career if he has to get another back surgery?
— David Brauser, Brighton

There’s a lot we don’t know about Michael Porter Jr.’s back injury. What I do know, however, is that he doesn’t want another back surgery and is assessing his options. I believe the final decision will be made in consultation with Nuggets team doctors as well as his own doctors.

From Porter’s perspective, you can see how he’d be devastated. Only months into signing his new deal, which stood as a declaration of confidence and potential, he’s already hurt and can’t make good on the Nuggets’ commitment to him. That’s frustrating for any player, let alone a player who’s been beset by injuries so many times in his career already. The silver-lining, if there is one, is that his max deal won’t kick in until next year. If Porter has to miss the final year of his rookie deal, so be it. The Nuggets can live with it with the bigger picture in mind considering their other injuries this season.

As far as I understand it, the Nuggets are on the hook for Porter’s guaranteed money. The only potential relief could come via insurance.

Is there a possibility that the Nuggets will tank due to injuries?
— Nuggets Latam, Argentina

At what point do we throw in the towel and not risk Nikola Jokic overdoing it and risking a serious injury? With what we have available now we don’t stand a chance. If MPJ is out for the year, I say shut it down and get everyone healthy for next season. With these injuries we are done.
— @ESB_303 via Twitter

Even with the rash of injuries, I don’t think there’s a chance the Nuggets tank the rest of the season. You should hear the way people around the organization talk about Jokic. He gives everyone belief that they can not only win on a given night, but comfortably make the playoffs. Maybe the ceiling has changed and maybe the Nuggets decide not to push Jokic as hard as they otherwise would’ve, but he’s not going to relent.

As someone close to the team put it to me recently, big guys generally have a 10-year window. We’re firmly in the middle of Joker’s prime. Even if a title is a reach right now, you don’t waste an MVP talent by tanking even one season.

What is the point (not saying they are there yet) where they keep Jamal Murray on the shelf for the year to make sure he’s 100% when they are legit title contenders in 2022-23?
— @OCColordguy via Twitter

To me, this is a sliding scale. Jamal’s return hinges on where he’s at physically. If his left ACL is healed – it would be 12 months in April – the Nuggets’ medical staff will evaluate where he’s at, where the team is at and what the overall risk is. Having listened to hundreds of Michael Malone news conferences, this will be a coordinated conversation between the team’s trainers, coaching staff and front office.

If the Nuggets appear to be in the play-in tournament (Nos. 7-Nos. 10 seeds), I think they’d have to think long and hard about bringing Murray back. The latest chatter I’ve heard around Murray’s potential return date is April. If that’s true, you’re asking Murray to ramp up and play postseason-like games almost immediately, which is a little unsettling. It’d be easier to ease Murray back if a) his return came around March or b), the Nuggets would likely avoid a first-round matchup against Golden State or Phoenix. All of this is contingent on Nikola Jokic’s ability to carry them (as if he doesn’t do that already) for several months.

What’s the vibe like with the team? Does it feel like it’s just a rough stretch and the Nuggets will get through this? Or is it like a “here we go again” type of feeling?
— @Bucketsince88 via Twitter

What’s the overall mood in the locker room right now?
— @bradsgood via Twitter

In full transparency, the last I was around the team was in Phoenix, when their losing streak was at four in a row and a game before P.J. Dozier tore his ACL. Things didn’t get better in Portland, and they won’t get any easier for a couple weeks as the Nuggets hit the road for an extended seven-game road trip. Before coming home to face Milwaukee, both Jeff Green and JaMychal Green said players spoke up in the locker room and took accountability for the lapses within games. Monte Morris said the team needed to improve its toughness and called out his teammates’ sense of urgency.

All three indicated frustration but also indicated an investment. This team isn’t accustomed to losing like this, but at some point, the injuries become overwhelming. While rehabbing his wrist, I’d heard Jokic was dying to play. With him healthy and setting the tone, the Nuggets stand a decent chance every night.

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