After witnessing their team get swept in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets fans are now trying to address the what-ifs. After all, it was apparent that the Nuggets just didn’t have the “it” factor all series long. The Mike Malone-coached squad was well aware that the playoff campaign will be tough without Jamal Murray. The Nuggets remained confident knowing how deep and intact their chemistry is. But something was just not afloat. Now, their minds are probably wandering towards Jerami Grant, the young forward who gave them a performance of a lifetime in last’s year’s postseason.
Would things be different if Grant was still with the Nuggets? Would the team still be in the NBA Playoffs as we speak? Grant’s breakout campaign with the Detroit Pistons already gives away the answer. The Nuggets made a big mistake in letting him walk away. But for the sake of discussion, let’s look at how this blunder will haunt the Nuggets in the future.
Not Willing to Pay the Luxury Tax
To recall, Grant opted not to exercise his player option after the 2019-20 season. He got an offer from the Pistons who were reasonably impressed with his postseason performance. The Nuggets mounted back-to-back 3-1 deficit comebacks and Grant was at the forefront of defending the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, on top of helping out in the Nuggets’ offensive chores.
For some reason, the Nuggets didn’t seem impressed with Grant’s stellar play. They owned the Bird Rights to Grant which meant they could offer a bigger contract than what the Pistons showed him. But going over the cap has always been a touchy subject for the front office.
But if you’ve been an NBA fan long enough, you very well know how championship teams have embraced going over the cap and paying the luxury tax. For the 2020-21 season, the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks all have pretty hefty luxury tax bills. Save the Warriors, all these teams are still battling it out in the NBA Playoffs. Every buck was definitely worth it.
This looks like the front office mistake involving James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder several years ago. To recall, the young trio of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook made waves in the 2011-2012 season, making it all the way to the NBA Finals. While they got booted out by LeBron’s Miami Heat squad, it was evident that the Thunder were on the verge of becoming an elite team. But things didn’t go as planned as the Thunder didn’t give what Harden deserved. Like the Nuggets, the Thunder were not willing to pay the luxury tax. The Thunder went downhill after letting The Beard walk away. The Nuggets may be headed to a similar path.
Development of MPJ though
Amid seeing Grant flourish with the Pistons, the Nuggets front office might’ve been still patting themselves on the back. After all, this season saw the rise of Michael Porter Jr. as a star in the making. Like Grant, Porter was also instrumental in the Nuggets’ postseason journey in the NBA Bubble. At such a young age, Porter showed off his shotmaking ability and budding confidence.
Porter Jr. averaged 19.0 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in his breakout campaign this season. This made him the team’s third leading scorer behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. More than that, analysts are already calling him the squad’s third star. Credit should be given to the Nuggets front office for having the confidence to pick MPJ in the 2018 NBA Draft. He was projected to fall outside the lottery picks because of lingering concerns about his health, particularly his back. But the Nuggets clearly made the right call.
It’s understandable for other teams to envy the Nuggets right now. But if you’re a Nuggets fan, it would also be understandable to wish for more stars, preferably four, in your team. We’ve seen the likes of LeBron, KD, and Draymond Green among others, either arrange or join a bunch of fellow stars to get closer to their wish of winning the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Nuggets had a super team at the palm of their hands last season. Yes, they may have made the right moves by re-beefing up their roster with veteran Paul Millsap and signing JaMychal Green. They must’ve felt good after they got Aaron Gordon and Austin Rivers midseason. But all these seem trivial in comparison to having Jerami Grant in the fold, especially now that the Nuggets are nowhere near the NBA championship trophy.