Nuggets will eventually feel loss of Jerami Grant

Former Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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How much did the Nuggets value Jerami Grant?

They traded a first-round pick for him despite him having only one year left on his contract. They gave him more crunch-time minutes than Nikola Jokic in the playoffs last season. They offered Grant a three-year, $60 million contract in free agency.

Grant leaving for the Pistons hurts. There’s no way around it.

Maybe Denver could have offered more money. Grant took the same $60 million over three years for a bigger role in Detroit. So, money wasn’t everything to him. But with Grant’s Bird Rights, the Nuggets could have topped – not just matched – the Pistons’ offer. Denver will be capped out for the foreseeable future, anyway. An apparent unwillingness to pay the luxury tax was an impediment. That falls on Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.

Denver rebounded from the setback reasonably well, re-signing Paul Millsap (one year, $10 million) and signing JaMychal Green (two years, $14,759,508). Those veteran power forwards should keep the Nuggets from missing Grant too much during the regular season.

But it’ll get dicier in the playoffs – and beyond.

Grant was adept at defending the small forwards, Lakers star LeBron James and Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, Denver would inevitably face in a deep postseason run. Millsap and Green are more interior defenders. Another more perimeter-oriented defender, forward Torrey Craig, also left (Bucks).

Long-term, Grant (26) fits better than Millsap (35) and Green (30) with Jokic (25) and Jamal Murray (23). Again, capped out for the foreseeable future, Denver will have a tough time replacing Grant over the following two seasons without surrendering assets in a trade.

At least the Nuggets can expect internal improvement to cover for the loss of Grant. Michael Porter Jr. is talented enough to grow into a much bigger role. Will Barton should be healthier after missing the bubble. If Murray’s star emergence proves sustainable, Denver would have even more margin for error.

The Nuggets definitely made their bench more interesting.

They signed Monte Morrisone of the NBA’s top backup point guards – to a three-year, $27,375,000 extension. They also signed  Facundo Campazzo, whom I also like from his time with the Argentinian national team, for two years, $6.4 million. However, Morris and Campazzo might be too small to play together in the backcourt behind Murray and Gary Harris. There are worse things than having too many good players, though.

Like Denver’s backup center situation.

The Nuggets lost Mason Plumlee to the Pistons on a ridiculous three-year, $25 million contract. Though not worth that much, Plumlee was at least a capable backup. Denver now has far less certainty with No. 22 pick Zeke Nnaji, Bol Bol (who went from a two-way contract to a two-year, $4,219,752 deal) and Isaiah Hartenstein (1+1, minimum). Perhaps, one of those three emerges into a reliable option. Grant could play small-ball five, though so can Green (just less dynamically).

I didn’t love the Nnaji pick. No. 22 is too high to draft a potential backup center in the modern NBA. But Nnaji’s energy level at least creates a floor, and his shooting potential offers a ceiling.

Trading a future first-rounder for No. 24 pick R.J. Hampton looks better, though I wouldn’t rush to call this another Nuggets draft steal. Hampton rated just No. 22 on my board.

Even if Nnaji and Hampton pan out, then what? Losing Grant fits a troubling trend for Denver, which has previously traded good young players and draft picks to avoid the luxury tax. Apparently, not even last season’s run to the Western Conference finals convinced ownership to pay the tax.

With Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets remain in good shape. But not as good of shape as they should be in.

Offseason grade: D