Denver’s depth guys can make them a Finals contender…but not while on the Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are a top 3 seed in the brutally tough Western Conference. Continuing a steady climb up the standings since the hiring of head coach Michael Malone in 2015, the Nuggets look ready to break through to the playoffs behind their super star Nikola Jokic. After Jokic is a bevy of young, solid players. But none of them, save for maybe Jamal Murray, look like the second star that makes a good team a championship contender. So while their significant amount of good, solid non-star players can get them through a long season and alleviate injury concerns, they’re not likely to push them into true contention.

At least, not while wearing Nuggets uniforms.

Giving up homegrown talent is never fun or easy for anyone involved. The front office and fans rightly become attached to “their guys.” There’s a pride involved in looking at someone and going “he’s with us.” Players value stability and organizations that help them become the best player they can be. But there is a way for Denver to make itself a true contender in the offseason. Nobody is really talking about them in these particular sweepstakes, but they absolutely have the talent. They just have to make a tough decision regarding on which core player to include in the trade and if it’s worth risking it for a one-year rental. Why would they consider it?

Well, can you imagine a team led by Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis?

YUP. I am on here advocating the Nuggets go all in and make a trade for the best current pre-agent on the market. Davis is one of the best defensive big men in the league, a 6’11” athletic superhuman who can guard anyone on the court. He’s the best lob threat in the league. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to force an entire defense to account for him.

He would fit perfectly next to Jokic.

Imagine a high screen and roll with Jokic handling the ball. Or Jokic setting the screen and popping. Imagine the high-low action with Davis screening open shooters on the wings, then diving towards the rim, all while Jokic calculates his next pass from the fourth dimension. Denver needs to make this happen.

I know all the risks. You trade a core piece of the puzzle for a guy who might only be there one year. Anthony Davis is signed to the same agency as Lebron James. But here are the facts on Denver’s side:

  • Jokic is only 23, with his best years ahead of him. Lebron, while still great, is 34 and has already missed more games due to an injury this year than he has his whole career.
  • Denver would be able to offer much more money on contracts.
  • Davis wouldn’t have to deal with four years of questions about being Lebron’s sidekick, which as a grown man and star in his own right, he might appreciate
  • It would piss off everybody who loves nothing more to fellate the Lakers and being petty is the league’s most important mandate

However,

  • LA>>>>>>Denver

It’s a big counterpoint. Being a star in Los Angeles yields a lot more potential dollars outside of contracts than being a star in Colorado.

But if Denver can do it without gutting their team, they should give it a shot. The question is with whom do they part? It’ll have to be some players with upside in a package that will beat a hesitant Boston or Lakers offer. I’m envisioning something like this:

http://www.espn.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yymd2xqh

Let me be clear: Boston and LA could outdo this if they want to. If Boston tosses in Jayson Tatum, it’s a moot point. And Denver will also have to send a first round pick, like a top 10 protected 2021 first round pick.

The reason I see New Orleans doing this is that they get three young players with significant upside and a serviceable center to take up those minutes vacated by Davis. It would transform their team from a top-heavy team with three complementary pieces to something resembling the Clippers; no star, but a lot of good players with a high floor. But if we’re being real, this next trade will be what New Orleans would ask for:

http://www.espn.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yyxsrlme

Denver should reject this trade and look for something in the middle. Giving up Harris would hurt if Davis left. Giving up Barton and Murray would cripple them.

A Davis to Denver trade probably won’t happen for those reasons, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Additionally, this all might be premature. This team might pop. Gary Harris and Jamal Murry might both blossom into stars. Harris is already a good two-way force. Jokic’s unselfish playmaking wizardry gives his teammates the room to flourish. He will help others lead the team in scoring and be proud of it. But the competition of the league has always required a true contender to have two super stars. The 2011 Mavericks are the exception because they had one Hall of Famer going thermonuclear and a team perfectly constructed around him also going off. A team built around Nikola Jokic is simultaneously handcuffed by his limitations and buoyed by his brilliance. The right fit doesn’t come available often.

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