In 2011 the Nuggets became the rare team to jettison a superstar—Carmelo Anthony—and still improve. Now, though, they might want to consider the opposite approach while hoping for the same result. Denver has some intriguing pieces on friendly contracts: Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler will make a relatively paltry $38.3 million and they're the team's top three earners. It may be time to package some players for a big name.
GM Tim Connelly flirted with a megatrade last season, inquiring about the Clippers' Blake Griffin. In Gary Harris and Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets have promising young players who could take their games to the next level by playing alongside a franchise centerpiece. And a team looking to unload a max player—maybe the Clips look to rebuild? Maybe Kevin Love's Finals honeymoon ends?—could do worse than picking up some affordable rotation players with high upsides.
Outside of its transactional potential, the Nuggets' roster should take a step forward this season, especially if Emmanuel Mudiay continues his hot three-point shooting from the final six weeks of last season, when he averaged 16.5 points.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH MICHAEL MALONE (2nd season with Nuggets)
2015--16 RECORD 33--49 (4th in Northwest)
PG EMMANUEL MUDIAY
12.8 PPG; 5.5 APG; 36.4 FG%; 31.0 3FG%
SG GARY HARRIS
12.3 PPG; 2.9 RPG; 46.9 FG%; 35.4 3FG%
SF DANILO GALLINARI
19.5 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 41.0 FG%; 36.4 3FG%
PF KENNETH FARIED
12.5 PPG; 8.7 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 55.8 FG%
C NIKOLA JOKIĆ
10.0 PPG; 7.0 RPG; 2.4 APG; 51.2 FG%
PG JAMEER NELSON
7.7 PPG; 4.9 APG; 36.8 FG%; 29.9 3FG%
SG WILL BARTON
14.4 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 43.2 FG%; 34.5 3FG%
PF DARRELL ARTHUR
7.5 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 1.4 APG; 45.2 FG%
TELLING NUMBER $38.3 MILLION
A rival scout sizes up Denver
If they're going to make the playoffs, it's because Emmanuel Mudiay makes a gigantic jump—a Most Improved Player type of jump. His development is the biggest factor in determining their direction. He is great at applying constant pressure, kind of like Goran Dragić, and he'll generate offense with his defense, but he needs to improve as a shooter.... People don't talk about Gary Harris because he doesn't have a ton of flash. He is never going to be an All-Star, but he's a 10-year starter. He complements Mudiay very well because of his shooting, and they can be interchangeable defensively.... Drafting Jamal Murray [out of Kentucky] gives them a really promising guard trio. Any two of those guys can play together; they have all the boxes checked, whether it's playmaking, shooting, pick-and-rolls.... Will Barton always brings energy and finds ways to impact the game. He's long and aggressive, with that herky-jerky game. He's effective in his own way, and he's fun to watch.... Denver has been stuck in a rut with both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler suffering injuries. I think it's time for them to move on from Chandler. He brings a lot of the same things as Gallinari, but Gallinari is better across the board.... I don't see Kenneth Faried as a starter on a good team. His skill set is more like a small-ball five, but he's not a good enough defender to make that work.... Nikola Jokić is a fantastic passer and playmaker for a big man. I love the people who compare him with the Gasol brothers. He has a great feel and a huge basketball IQ. I'd give him 82 starts and big minutes.
An improving roster won't be enough to end Denver's four-year playoff drought.