Entering the fifth year of a rebuilding project, it’s fair to ask: Do the Nuggets know what they’re doing?
The blueprint for success looks sketchy at best.
Are we to believe that Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward or any other marquee free agent is going to buy what Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and his staff are selling?
Oh, the Nuggets know what they want.
“We’re missing quality players overall. We’re always looking for star players, top-20 players, targeting them,” general manager Arturas Karnisovas said, in the wake of a draft night that left the organization reeling with frustration. “They come at a cost. So it’s either in trades or free agency.”
But do the Nuggets have the ability to close a trade or get the signature from a free agent on a contract? Maybe the fly-over city of Denver isn’t the real problem. Maybe it’s a lack of sales and negotiating chops by the executives representing the local NBA team.
But it’s also fair to wonder, in light of the debacle on draft night, when Connelly failed to close a deal for Jimmy Butler or Eric Bledsoe, if this Nuggets regime has a clue of how to put the pieces together with a roster that’s a real threat to San Antonio or Houston, much less the Warriors’ dynasty, in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets have sold hope in buckets. And the good people of Colorado ain’t buying it any longer. Fans need results before they will reach for their wallets and buy tickets to see the home team on a regular basis.
Here are the biggest targets on the market. You tell me what the chances are that any of these stars will be wearing a Nuggets uniform next season.
Chris Paul, Clippers point guard: Crunch all the numbers in the analytics machine, and Paul can make the case he is every bit as good as Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook as the point man of an NBA offense. But at age 32, Paul is in win-now mode, and Connelly recently told me it would disingenuous for the Nuggets to suggest they can be a legitimate championship contender next season.
In addition, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement works against Denver. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer can offer Paul a five-year pact worth $205 million, while the best counter proposal Nuggets president Josh Kroenke can make to Paul is four years and $152 million.
Gordon Hayward, Jazz small forward: He might not be Paul George. But Hayward is close, by any statistical measure. And there’s a whole lot less Hollywood in Hayward.
Hayward’s skills would mesh perfectly with Jokic, and at age 27, Hayward’s career arc would match up well with the maturation of Denver’s young core. So what’s not to like? If he decides to leave Salt Lake City, it’s believed Boston is his preferred destination.
Blake Griffin, Clippers power forward: I’m so old, I can remember when Griffin could soar over a small automobile and slam a basketball through the rim. But the year Griffin won the slam-dunk contest was 2011. Time flies, too.
Griffin could sell tickets in Denver. But could he stay on the court for the Nuggets? The man has become an injury waiting to happen. During the past three NBA seasons, Griffin has played in 163 of 246 regular-season games.
Paul MIllsap, Hawks power forward: The Nuggets have made goo-goo eyes at him forever. So Millsap certainly must know Denver’s love for him is genuine and real.
There’s a toughness to Millsap that coach Michael Malone’s squad sorely lacks. His performance, however, slipped last season, and was it the first troubling sign of wear-and-tear on his 32-year-old body? He’s the free-agent target the Nuggets have the best chance of hitting.
LeMarcus Aldridge, Spurs power forward: Here’s the wild card. Although not a free agent, there are signs of an impending divorce between Aldridge and San Antonio. Denver could trade Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay for Aldridge. But why?
Aldridge has tendinitis in his knees. After Kawhi Leonard went down with an injury in a playoff series against Golden State, Aldridge averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in three games, while shooting 38.4 percent from the field. The Nuggets would be nuts to trade for him.
“Starting July 1, we’re going to take a swing at a couple of the guys that we’re targeting,” Karnisovas said. “And we’ll see what happens.”
If it’s a swing and a miss, it’s fair to ask how many more strikes the Nuggets’ front office gets before they’re out.
Kiszla named Colorado’s best
Denver Post sports columnist Mark Kiszla will be honored Monday as the Colorado sportswriter of the year, during the annual award banquet of the National Sports Media Association in Winston-Salem, N.C.