The Denver NBA team had a great season last year. While not winning 50 games or going beyond the second round, it was still a successful year. A Nuggets trade could spice up the West and supplement what Denver is already banking on: the long-term cohesion of the team combined with the slow decline of other favorites in the West.
That approach works for them: Nikola Jokic is just 26, Jamal Murray is 24, and Michael Porter Jr. just 23 years of age. Still, that does not mean that they cannot go on the offensive right away. There are potential Nuggets trade candidates that would make them even more competitive right away.
What they really need is help in the guard positions. Murray will be out for an extended period of time, due to the torn ACL he suffered last season. Apart from him, there is not a lot of talent on the roster in the guard spots. Monte Morris and Austin Rivers seem like good options, with Will Barton coming off the bench. The Nuggets need a starting-level playmaker to run the offense and some more bench rotational talent in the frontcourt.
Thus, the two perfect trade candidates for the Nuggets would be Ricky Rubio and Willie Cauley-Stein!
Nuggets trade candidates
While Facundo Campazzo is good, Ricky Rubio is the perfect addition for this Denver team. The Nuggets need a steady hand running their offense in the rare minutes Jokic goes to the bench. In these situations, Rubio would be able to hold everything together. He is only 30, coming in the middle of his prime, and with a point to prove. Right now, he is in the last year of his contract and he has to have a good season. This is his last chance to get a big contract.
At the moment, he is on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster but it does not seem like he will stay there for long. The Cavs are going through a rebuild and Rubio would be much better suited on a contender, just like the Nuggets. Additionally, he would not cost more than a rotational player and a second-round pick.
For that, the Nuggets would receive a grateful player who does not command a lot of the offense for himself. He can, as mentioned, hold the line and run plays for the team when Jokic goes to the bench. Rubio can also be a great addition defensively, where he is an expert in reading passing lanes and punishing the opposing guards.
What is even better in this deal for the Nuggets, Rubio is not someone who would raise his voice if he does not get enough shots. With Porter Jr, Jokic, Barton, and Murray, when he comes back, there is a lot of offense to be split. Thus, having a pass-first point guard who will get everyone involved is a luxury for this kind of roster. Rubio is absolutely perfect and the Nuggets should be on the phone right now talking to the Cavaliers.
Another player that is in the last year of his contract, Cauley-Stein would bring a ton to the table for the Nuggets. One thing is in focus, however, and that is inside presence. Of course, Cauley-Stein is not someone who will be blocking four or five shots per game. He is also not scoring a lot of points, with his 9.1 points per game career average. However, he is about as best as a team can possibly do in this trade market, in terms of backup centers.
Basically, Cauley-Stein has had an up-and-down career, spending some time in Sacramento, Golden State, and Dallas. Right now, he has one year of his two-year, $8.2 million contract signed with the Mavericks in 2020. His best seasons came in Sacramento, but his minutes fell as he moved to Golden State and Dallas.
The Nuggets can squeeze a lot out of Cauley-Stein. His play might not be the prettiest, but he will be playing for his contract this year and the Nuggets need to use that. Regardless of the decision to let him go or keep him after next season, Denver would have a capable backup for Jokic.
Right now, the Nuggets do not have an NBA-level center in their second lineup. Bol Bol is a prospect, of course, but he is nowhere near the level needed to play in the league, right now. It seems like the backup spot will go to Jeff Green, who is capable of playing center minutes. The problem will always be that Green is simply better utilized in the power forward position, where he can stretch the floor, but also tussle with opposing power forwards who are much more similar in stature to the NBA veteran. Cauley-Stein just seems logical, since he is a low-risk, potentially high-reward player.
Regardless of any potential trade candidates, the Nuggets need this season to go well. Jokic is not getting any younger and if Murray comes back, they have no excuse for a poor season. They will make their biggest push for a title likely next year when Murray is fit from day one, but Jokic and Porter Jr should be enough for a healthy playoff run.