The Nuggets have as strong a core as has ever been in Denver.
Developing complimentary pieces around Jokic, Harris and Murray will elevate this team quickly to contender status in the Western Conference.
That’s a bold statement but watching this year’s playoffs, both East and West, I don’t see one team that the Nuggets should fear. I look forward to fantastic battles in the Midwest division with Utah, Portland and Minnesota.
With little financial room and with great need, the Nuggets will need to be creative. Something that will help is the commitment and development of the Nuggets group of young players. Beasley and Hernangomez on the main roster. Lyles and Morris from the D-League.
Foremost for all four of the Nuggets prospect is strength. All save Craig have to get stronger. The 82-game grind of the NBA season is physically taxing. Strength and conditioning are the cornerstone traits for longevity in the NBA. We’re seeing it play out in the playoffs with an ageless LeBron James once more throwing his team on his back and dragging them toward a Finals appearance. LeBron is fanatical about taking care of his body and it pays off. He plays more minutes than anyone, has played more games over the last seven years than anyone and shows no signs of deterioration. Most remarkable is that LBJ misses few games, in-season.
Juancho’s 2017-18 season was derailed by illness. If he can recapture the flashes we saw in his rookie campaign, it will go a long way to answering Denver’s need at wing. Assuming Chandler exercises his player option for the 18-19 season, Juancho should have an inside track on backup duties at the three.
If, as we assume, Barton is gone, Malik Beasley has an opportunity to step right in to his shoes. Beasley is physically similar to Barton and has comparable upside. By his own admission, Malik needs to get stronger. A Harris-Beasley two-guard rotation has the potential to shine. It depends on Malik’s dedication to improving his defensive awareness and his strength. Found money if Malik can turn the corner.
Torrey Craig was integral to the Nuggets playoff push and is perfect to slide into Richard Jefferson’s vacated spot/salary. As with all things player-related it’s contingent on Barton and Chandler’s status. Craig would be a fantastic second-team small forward. He’s proven himself and is popular in Denver.
Monte Morris is the longest shot but possibly most-important piece for Denver’s offseason triage of needs. Denver can spend $5-6 million to bring Devin Harris back. They can look for a retread in free agency (Dellavedova, Lawson). They can trade for another backup. Ideally after a season of up-and-down travel between Denver and Rio Grande Valley Monte Morris is ready to make a leap to the big squad.
If everything went how it would best benefit the Nuggets:
Chandler opts out.
Arthur opts out.
Hernangomez and Beasley grow into starter/rotation roles.
Craig and Morris develop into NBA players.
NIkola Jokic is given a max contract by the Nuggets.
Barton signs elsewhere. (UFA)
Richard Jefferson retires/signs elsewhere. (UFA)
Devin Harris signs elsewhere. (UFA)
That would give Michael Malone the following Starting Lineup:
Nikola Jokic – C
Paul Millsap – PF
Juancho Hernangomez – SF
Gary Harris – SG
Jamal Murray – PG
With a second-team consisting of:
Mason Plumlee – C
Trey Lyles – PF
Torrey Craig – SF
Malik Beasley – SG
Monte Morris – PG
With Kenneth Faried and Tyler Lydon as options to go small/big (Faried at 5, Lydon at 3 are possibilities) and two more roster spots for complimentary players, the Nuggets have the makings of a contender already on the payroll.
We assume a lot of progress but Beasley, Juancho, TC and Morris have been touted as players drafted or acquired for just that type of constitution.
How the summer of 2018 plays out will have reverberations for years to come with the Nuggets fortunes.
I’m confident the Nuggets from Stan Kroenke to Monte Morris are up to the task.