We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:
Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?
The Western Conference has a couple of young teams that should leap into the playoffs this season and could be far more dangerous a few years down the road: The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. They are teams fans need to start watching now.
The Denver Nuggets want to get in that conversation.
They have a quality young core: big men Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, a two guard in Gary Harris, a young point guard with promise in Emmanuel Mudiay, plus in the latest draft they added Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez. All of those players are 22 or younger, and 10 players on the roster total are age 25 or younger. Coach Mike Malone is an excellent choice for the franchise to develop that core while building a professional culture (something Denver lacked for a few years and Malone brought back last season).
There is reason for hope in Denver.
However, development takes time, and the Nuggets have a few of players who are past the development stage and should be at their peaks now: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried in particular. There are other stabilizing veterans on the roster: Jameer Nelson, Mike Miller, and Darrell Arthur, for example.
Will the Nuggets young core come of age in time to meld with those veterans and form a team that is a threat not only to make the playoffs but do some damage?
Or should Denver’s front office be shopping those veterans and going all-in with the youth movement?
Based on their actions, Denver’s management already has an answer — they have looked for trades. However, they aren’t going to just give those veterans away, either.
Gallinari and Faried have been named in more trade rumors than there are joints at a Cypress Hill concert. But a combination of injuries and, in the case of Faried in particular, uninspired play had suitors coming in with lowball offers that Denver was never going to accept. The economics of a deal for these two may be changing, however. Gallinari’s $15 million this season is a much smaller hit against the new cap for a team looking for a stretch four, and he has a player option for next season ($16.1 million) that he may well not pick up as he looks for some long-term security (if he has a strong season he likely opts out). Faried is owed $38.6 million over three seasons, a figure that will not be easy for Denver to move but is far less daunting for potential trade partners under the new cap numbers.
Don’t expect anything rash from Denver.
With Malone at the helm, there is a sense that Denver is turning the corner, that a foundation is in place now that could turn this into a very good team in a few years. This season that good foundation may not result in many more wins than the 33 they had a season ago (their schedule to start the season is brutal with eight of their first 10 games against playoff teams from last season and most of those games on the road), but the team should be taking steps forward.
There still is work to do with this roster. They have a strong young core, however the Nuggets lack a potential superstar in that group, that’s something they may need to get via trade or free agency (the only name they went hard at this summer was Dwyane Wade, who used to fit that bill but would have given them some legitimacy now). However, if Denver can win games and show established players they have a strong young core they have a pitch to make — come here and win now by putting us over the top. That can sell in an NBA where the big market teams do not have quite the same drawing power advantage they did a couple of decades ago.
Part of the work to do is moving the veterans on the roster that have trade value but are not part of the long-term future. Get more players that fit with the timeline of the young core.
Denver fans should be hopeful. More of them should come out to Nuggets games than they have the past few years — it’s time to get on board this bandwagon. But they also are going to need a little more patience. Which sucks.
And they are going to have to trust management to make the right moves this time around.
Moves that should start this season and into next summer on the trade market.