The Nuggets feasted at the trade deadline, and our writers needed to sit down and talk about what it all means
Give us your grade and thoughts on the Aaron Gordon trade for Denver.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I’ll give the grade to an A-, but it’s closer to a B+ than an A for me. Gordon and Gary Harris needed a change of scenery to try and revitalize their respective careers. They’ll both get that chance. Gordon should move Paul Millsap to the bench and gives someone that fits better offensively with Nikola Jokic especially as a roller to the rim. However, the piece that moves this grade down is the loss of R.J. Hampton. The young rookie had the makings of a great on-ball defender with solid rolling ability. Now, the team’s best on-ball defender at the guard spot is P.J. Dozier with Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Monte Morris being suspect at best on that end. It would have been better to give up Bol Bol, but Harris’ injury and a downward trend in production made that move impossible.
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): It’s an easy A+ for me. This was a home run trade for the Denver Nuggets. Yes, it’s tough to see Gary Harris and R.J. Hampton leave, but neither had really been in the Nuggets rotation lately due to injury/health and safety protocols. The addition of Gordon gives the Nuggets an athletic forward to slot into the starting lineup next to Michael Porter Jr.. Both MPJ and Gordon can play the 3 and 4, which means the Nuggets can switch them around based on whatever matchup they like game to game. Gordon is the perfect player to pair with Nikola Jokic as well, you know there’s a ton of highlights waiting to happen between that duo. Awesome job by Tim Connelly and his staff to make this deal happen. Denver got a lot better because of it.
Ryan Blackburn: This is an A-level move. It’s not perfect. The Nuggets were forced to give up a player in R.J. Hampton that they really like; however, there are very few players in the NBA more ready-made to contribute to the Nuggets on both ends of the floor than Aaron Gordon. He’s athletic, tall, skilled, and impactful defensively. The Nuggets are going to be a tough out in the playoffs for anyone in the West. Gordon makes them tougher.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): It’s an A grade. Does it hurt the Nuggets to lose Gary Harris and RJ Hampton? Theoretically, yes, especially for the perimeter defense Harris could provide. But the key word there is could — as in, Harris could be healthy and able to play. Right now, we know that Aaron Gordon is healthy, fills a need, and can immediately contribute. Hampton might become a rotation piece for the Magic, but he was a few years away for Denver. Gordon gives them a guy that can guard LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs, and they didn’t have a guy that could do that on the roster.
Give us your grade and thoughts on the JaVale McGee trade for Denver.
Bridgford: I give it an A. McGee likely won’t play a ton, but he gives them a better bench center than the one they had in Isaiah Hartenstein. He can roll to the rim well in the two-man game with Morris, and he’s a better rim protector than Hartenstein was. If a team is taking advantage of Denver inside, McGee might be able to solve that issue for them.
Ewing: I think it was another really solid move for the Nuggets as they added an athletic big man at a position of need. Losing Isaiah Hartenstien is fine considering he was never really in the rotation and McGee is an upgrade anyway. McGee also gives the Nuggets a rim protector who can block shots, which is something they desperately needed.
Blackburn: This is a B. Two second rounders for a player that may not play a ton isn’t the greatest use of assets, but JaVale McGee is a veteran who fills a regular season need for the Nuggets. They have been playing with Isaiah Hartenstein for much of the season, and he didn’t have a great showing for most of it. McGee, though he can be erratic, is a long, athletic, shot-blocking veteran center with good hands around the rim, good instincts defensively, and a familiarity with the Nuggets. He will be useful, even if he may not play over Paul Millsap in the playoff rotation.
Lewis: It’s also an A grade. Moving off of two second round picks is nothing — the Nuggets can easily recover those if they need to, and they got a player that is a better fit for their team that Hartenstein was. It’s too bad Hartenstein didn’t work out, but he was never a long-term solution anyways. I’m happy to see McGee back in Denver at this stage of his career.
Did the Nuggets have the best day in the NBA?
Bridgford: Nuggets are probably in my top 2, and they could push for 1. I think they come in behind the Miami Heat though. The Heat added Victor Oladipo and Nemanja Bjelica while only giving up Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Chris Silva, Moe Harkless and a future pick swap. That’s multiple upgrades as long as Nemanja is able to get himself rolling again, and Miami is also in the running for forward LaMarcus Aldridge following his buyout from the San Antonio Spurs. If not, Denver could swipe this top spot.
Ewing: The Nuggets are definitely at the top of the list. Chicago is the only team who make it close as far as I’m conceded, I really like what former Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas was able to accomplish adding Magic star Nikola Vucevic. Denver by far had the best trade deadline from any team in the Western Conference though and I don’t think it’s close. The additions of Gordon and McGee at two positions of need was huge and hopefully Denver can make a title run because of them.
Blackburn: It’s a big possibility. The Nuggets had the best day of any contender, that’s for sure. The Miami Heat did add Oladipo, but I’m still concerned about Oladipo’s health and ability to adapt his game. The Heat also could have had Kyle Lowry but didn’t want to pay up. Other than the Heat, the Chicago Bulls were the biggest winners by adding Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis, but I still have concerns with their back court. The Clippers added Rajon Rondo, so…yay?
Lewis: I put them second behind the Bulls, who traded for Nikola Vucevic. I think if Gordon buys in to Malone’s system, he could be a good fit. I have doubts about how quickly he can do that, but if he clicks with his new teammates, I think he will be a solid piece. I think Victor Oladipo had the best day though — getting freed from Houston to play in Miami? Good day for Oladipo.
Are the Nuggets title contenders after today’s moves? Where do they rank in the NBA?
Bridgford: It ultimately depends on health. If the team’s rotation stays healthy, yes they are because they would boast a strong starting five along with a deep bench. The majority of other contenders only have one of those. If Gordon and Barton are able to remain healthy, we saw what a healthy Nuggets’ squad was able to do in the previous playoff run, and this collection of talent is better than the previous one. As far as rankings go, they’re still hovering around the 6-9 range. They can move above that range, but the team needs to show they can gel quickly before then.
Ewing: I think Denver is now a real threat to compete for their first ever NBA title. I was skeptical coming into the season after losing so many pieces last offseason, but the additions of Gordon and McGee make up for those losses. Both of the LA teams and Brooklyn are the only teams that I think could stand in the way of the Nuggets and a championship. With how the Nuggets roster is now constructed though, I’d take Denver’s squad over every other roster in the NBA.
Blackburn: Absolutely. I went into this question in-depth here, and I think Denver got better at handling their biggest weakness. Gordon is a great athlete, and it takes a great athlete to defend some of the toughest covers at forward in the NBA. From LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard to Luka Doncic, the Nuggets now have a guy who can take on those assignments, make things easier for the rest of the lineup, and potentially rise above the rest of the West.
Lewis: I think they’re the second best team in the conference now once they’re at full health. There’s no way they lose to Phoenix or Utah in a seven game series now, and they should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Clippers. It is still going to be tough sledding against the Lakers because of the matchup between Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic, but if Davis is limited at all I think the Nuggets should feel good about their chances.
What would you like to say to Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton, and Isaiah Hartenstein as they depart the Mile High City?
Bridgford: To Gary, thank you for your time with the team. You’ve stuck with us and developed into what it meant to be a Nugget with your grinder mentality. You deserve nothing but the best. To R.J., your time here was brief, but you showed just how bright your star can shine when you’re really rolling. I can’t wait to see how the rest of your career goes. Isaiah, Denver wasn’t meant to be your long-term home, but you can carve out a role for yourself in this league to have a solid career. That much is already clear.
Ewing: I have a piece coming out later today thanking Gary Harris for everything he did in a Nuggets uniform. As for Hampton, I think he’s going to be awesome with the Magic and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in Orlando.
Blackburn: I think I said it best in my podcast last night.
Lewis: I don’t have a podcast, so I’ll say thank you here. To Gary, thank you for the work you did to build a healthy culture in Denver. You were a wonderful Nugget — didn’t draw a spotlight, worked hard, had fun, and loved basketball. To Isaiah, sorry it didn’t work out here for you. I could tell you wanted to make things work, but just couldn’t quite figure things out. You’re young, and with work, you’ll get to where you need to be. To R.J., welcome to the NBA, kid. Sometimes these kind of things happen, but whenever one door closes, another one opens. You’re going to get a lot more minutes in Orlando now, make the best of them. Rely on Gary to help keep your head on straight over the next few weeks.
Now, to Aaron and JaVale —- oh it’s gonna be lit! Let’s go!