The 2017 NBA deadline (Thursday, February 23rd at 3 PM ET) is only a few days away. Less than a week after the Nuggets acquired Mason Plumlee from the Trail Blazers for Jusuf Nurkic, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings pulled off a blockbuster on Sunday night with the Kings sending DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 1st round pick and a future second round pick.
With the Nuggets holding a 1.5 game lead over the Kings for the 8th seed, the two teams who will pose the greatest challenge to the Nuggets and their hopes of making the playoffs are the Trail Blazers (2 games behind Denver), and the Pelicans (2.5 games behind Denver). The mainstream media has already crowned the Pelicans as the 8th seed and they very well could overtake Denver for the coveted final playoff spot. Can Denver rebuttal the Pelicans latest blockbuster with a major move of their own?
Before we get into the potential blockbuster deals for the Denver Nuggets, lets take a look at the current roster, and who the Nuggets will inevitably build around. The main and obvious franchise player is Nikola Jokic. He has now cemented his name into the Nuggets present and future player to build around. The other player who is deemed “un-touchable” is Jamal Murray, fresh off his MVP performance in the rising stars game over the all star break.
Murray has certainly flashed signs of excellence throughout his young rookie season and has already impressed more than current starting point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay. Murray’s game fits the franchise foundational piece of Jokic much more than Mudiay.
Jokic is a true point-center. He is the player that Philadelphia hopes Ben Simmons will be with size and a high NBA IQ. The Nuggets run their offense through Jokic in the high post effectively because of the 6’11 frame Jokic possesses, coupled with the vision of a seasoned “pass-first” point guard.
With that being said, the Nuggets need to build a roster around Jokic that makes sense. A traditional point guard like Chris Paul or John Wall doesn’t fit Jokic particularly well, as they are distributors and look to create plays. What Jokic needs is an aggressive point guard with a shooting touch and an athletic ability to slash around the rim.
Emmanuel Mudiay seems to fit that “traditional” point guard mold. His game was thought to be a playmaking, distributing type who can aggressively attack the rim. He has struggled with his overall offensive game, particularly with shooting, turnovers, and with attacking the rim. The more Mudiay misses games with his current back issue, the more apparent this vision has become.
Can Murray be that starting point guard of the future for the Nuggets? Perhaps, however at 19 years old, he has a lot of seasoning to do before he can be a starting point guard in this league.
With the ideal point guard established next to the Nuggets foundational point-center, Denver needs to fill the rest of the lineup up with slashing and shooting players at the guard and wing positions.
An ideal wing to add to this lineup would be Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George. Butler is rumored to be available via trade, however as long as Boston is in the mix with Brooklyn’s 2017 lottery pick, which expects to be first overall, the Celtics have the upper hand in all trade talks. Indiana has also stated multiple times that Paul George is not available via trade, however Cousins was about to sign a 200 million extension, and look where he is now.
Trading for one of Butler or George would almost certainly include Mudiay in the deal which would signal Murray as being the starting point guard of the future. I think all Nugget fans would be elated over such a situation. However, with George likely not to be traded and Butler appearing to be a long shot for the Nuggets I will pose my bold prediction for a deadline deal.
I predict Denver will send Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton and their 2017 first round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Eric Bledsoe and Jared Dudley. Bledsoe would be inserted into the starting point guard position next the Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Jokic. Dudley is owed $10.47 million per year for the next three years and at 31 years old, would be a veteran presence off the bench in the event that Faried, Darrell Arthur, or Chandler sustained an injury.
Phoenix has been rumored to be exploring potential deals for Bledsoe. This deal would give them a young point guard to build around, the opportunity to audition Gallinari out in their system, and potentially offer him a large deal in the off-season if there is mutual interest, and another pick in the highly touted 2017 NBA draft while also shedding Dudley’s salary.
This will set Denver up with their back court of the future with Bledsoe at the one and Murray as a fringe one/two as well as Harris. With a full season under his belt, I expect Murray to steal Harris’ starting shooting guard position next season, pushing Harris to the 6th man and potential perimeter defensive specialist who can hit the three. This also enables Denver to be aggressive in the free agency market and allows them to find a strong wing to insert into the starting lineup like Gordan Hayward. It also opens the door for the Nuggets to explore adding a player like Paul Millsap and inserting Juancho Hernangomez into the starting small forward position.
Nothing has been reported on this hypothetical trade and for now it’s just armchair GM talk. If the Nuggets want to utilize their stockpile of assets and really start to build around the foundation of the team, this would be a major first step in the right direction. It would make them an enticing free agent destination in the off-season and would catapult them into the discussion of catching the Thunder for the 7th seed and holding off the new and improved Pelicans for the final playoff spot.
There will be a lot of rumors swirling around the Nuggets and their squad up until the deadline. Usually the deals that are never reported on as a rumor are the deals that actually take place. Did anyone see Plumlee coming to Denver?
Hold on to your seats Nuggets fans. This could be a wild few days.