Can the Denver Nuggets take advantage of their fortuitous position in the Western Conference playoff race? With John Wall's injury, how active will Washington be at the deadline?
USA TODAY Sports' Jumping to Conclusions examines what the Nuggets might be looking for to bolster their roster down the stretch and what type of market there could be for Greg Monroe.
The Nuggets will make a trade, make the playoffs and keep Mike Malone:
Everyone in the Mile High City agrees on this much: It’s high time Denver gets back into the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
In the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury in New Orleans and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin trade with Detroit, Nuggets coach Mike Malone and his crew are in prime position to secure one of those final postseason spots in the Western Conference (26-25, in eighth place with the Clippers a half game behind). And while Denver has had a major absence of its own – four-time All-Star Paul Millsap has been out since tearing a ligament in his left wrist on Nov. 19 – the Nuggets are hopeful that he’ll return after next month’s All-Star break. A postseason appearance would provide protection for Malone, the third-year coach whose team missed the playoffs by just one game last season and who has one year left on his deal.
But Denver will likely make a move of its own before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, as the Nuggets are known to be shopping for a veteran point guard who could allow Will Barton to return to his super sixth man role. According to two people with knowledge of the situation, they have serious interest in the Indiana Pacers’ Darren Collison (12.8 points, 5.3 assists per game as a starter) but have, thus far, been rebuffed. Collison, whose Pacers (28-23) are fighting to hold onto a playoff spot, has a team option worth $10 million on his deal for next season. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks aren’t typically discussed publicly.
The Nuggets were in the running for Sacramento Kings point guard George Hill in free agency last summer before the Millsap deal (three years, $90 million) took them out, and it’s worth wondering if he might also be an option for Denver now that the deal which would have sent Hill to Cleveland has stalled. For the record, that deal is not dead. Rival executives say the Nuggets have been aggressive recently, and they have another trade deadline priority to take care of as well: Finding a roster spot for guard Torrey Craig.
The 27-year-old rookie who spent the past three years playing in the National Basketball League in New Zealand is on a two-way contract, meaning he is only allowed to play with the NBA team for a total of 45 days before he must either be given a season-long NBA contract or be sent back down to the G League. Yet because Craig has impressed in his 21 Nuggets games and his time is running out, there’s a desire to make room for him to stay on this roster that currently has the league limit of 15 players. Kenneth Faried ($13.7 million remaining on his deal next season), Emmanuel Mudiay ($4.2 million next season), and Wilson Chandler (player option for $12.8 million next season) are among the Nuggets players known to be available, depending on the deal.
The Nuggets’ upcoming schedule won’t make it easy to avoid a backslide, as six of their next nine games come against Oklahoma City, Golden State, Houston and San Antonio. (Amick)
Soon-to-be free agent center-forward Greg Monroe is wanted:
The Phoenix Suns and Monroe reached an agreement on a buyout Wednesday, and as soon as Monroe clears waivers, he will get to pick the playoff-bound team of his choice. In his seven previous seasons, Monroe, 27, has made just one playoff appearance: last season when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Boston Celtics have long been mentioned as a possible destination and have a $8.4 million disable player exception – which would help Monroe, who has a $17.8 million salary this season, offset any financial loss he took in the Phoenix buyout. But with New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins out for the season with a ruptured Achilles, the Pelicans are in the market for a big who can rebound and score. New Orleans could offer Monroe more playing time and a chance to play in his hometown. He grew up in Gretna, La., just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. In 20 games with Phoenix, Monroe averaged 11.3 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 62.6% from the field. In the right situation, he can help a team. (Zillgitt)
The Wizards won't do anything drastic at the trade deadline:
Washington is without All-Star point guard John Wall for 6-8 weeks after he underweent a procedure on his left knee on Wednesday. But the Wizards aren't in the market to make a move that would jeopardize their future - meaning the Wizards are unlikely and maybe even unwilling to trade their 2018 first-round pick just to get backcourt help in Wall's absence. Since the Wizards drafted Otto Porter with the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, they've had just one first-round pick, acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr. in 2015. They traded their 2016 first-rounder to Phoenix for Markiefff Morris before the 2016 trade deadine, and last season, they traded their 2017 first-round pick for Bojan Bogdanovic in part to get perimeter shooting and get off of Andrew Nicholson's bad contract. Not only do they want to keep their first-round pick this year, they need to hit on the pick. (Zillgitt)