Watching the 2021-22 Denver Nuggets, it’s impossible not to
imagine what this team could have achieved had it been at full
After all, how many teams could lose two max-level players and
still manage to win 48 games and secure the Western Conference’s
During the Nuggets' first-round series against the Golden State
Warriors, even Denver head coach Mike Malone would catch himself
wondering how this season could have played out differently if the
team had Jamal Murray (who missed the entire season while
recovering from a torn ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (who played just
nine games after undergoing back surgery in December).
“I couldn't sleep one night. At 3 o'clock in the morning, I was
looking at Jamal's stats in the Bubble. Wow,” Malone said. “I knew
he was good, but sometimes you forget how good he was (26.5 points,
6.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 threes on .505/.453/.897 shooting
splits). That's the thing about Jamal: When the stakes are at their
highest, he steps up. He's never afraid of the moment.
“Michael Porter, what he did last year in 10 playoff games: 17
points, 6 rebounds and, more importantly, shooting a high clip from
the three-point line (39.7%). Shooting makes up for so many things.
Jamal and Michael can do that.”
How good can the Nuggets be next season if everyone is
“I think it's scary to think about that,” Malone said. “I go
back to last season before Jamal's injury in this building (Chase
Center); we felt we had a legitimate chance to win a championship
last year. Unfortunately, it just wasn't in the cards for us. Jamal
suffers the ACL. Earlier this season, Michael Porter Jr. suffers a
back [injury]. You're playing without two max players that have
both helped us advance out of the first round the last three years.
When they're back and they're healthy, I think that's going to make
us a deeper, more talented team. I'm excited about that, I really
am. I think the future is very, very bright for the Denver
“The potential is scary,” DeMarcus Cousins added. “We’re down
two superstars. We took one of the most dominant teams of this past
decade and we battled every night with them. The potential is
scary. Obviously, it looks good on paper, but we got to put
everything together. We'll see what happens.”
Even though they were missing two of their three leading
scorers, Denver finished the season with the NBA’s sixth-best
offense (scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions).
“We know when we're fully healthy, we can be even more
dangerous,” Will Barton said.
“We're going to call in the reinforcements,” Aaron Gordon said
with a smile.
“It should be fun,” Monte Morris added. “A lot of people don't
even know how well they're looking individually. It's going to be
just like we never left. It was big-time when we was doing it
[before] — made some great 3-1 comebacks, some big wins. I'm
looking forward to it.”
Fortunately for the Nuggets, most of their core is under
contract for the foreseeable future, including Nikola Jokic,
Murray, Porter, Gordon, Barton, Morris, Bones Hyland and Zeke
Nnaji. Coach Malone isn’t going anywhere either, as Denver’s front
office just gave him a multi-year contract extension last
While Jokic is entering the final year of his current contract
worth $33,616,770, he made it clear that he wants to stay in Denver
long-term and plans to sign a supermax extension this offseason
(which would pay him $260 million over five
years, including $59.1 million in 2027-28).
“I would like it, of course, but it's not something that I'm
deciding,” Jokic said. “If [an] offer is on the table, of course
I'm going to accept it because I really like the organization, I
really like the people who work here. I'm in [a] really good
relationship with everybody from owner to equipment manager. I
think we have something that we're building. It actually feels
For Denver, this offseason will mostly be about getting healthy
and making moves around the edges.
The Nuggets do have several players who will hit unrestricted
free agency: Cousins, Bryn Forbes, Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers
and Vlatko Cancar.
JaMychal Green and Jeff Green could become unrestricted free
agents as well, as they each have a player option ($8,200,000 for
JaMychal and $4,500,000 for Jeff).
Markus Howard and Davon Reed will be restricted free agents,
assuming Denver extends a $1,576,305 qualifying offer to each
The Nuggets have $158,679,553 in guaranteed salaries committed
for next season, and they are already $9.7 million over the
projected luxury tax, per HoopsHype's Yossi Gozlan. Denver’s
ownership has historically avoided paying the luxury tax, but that
will change next season as the team tries to make its first NBA
Finals run in franchise history.
Cousins’ free agency will be interesting, as he became a key
contributor after joining the Nuggets in February, averaging 8.9
points and 5.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per contest. In Game 5, he
had 19 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes, while shooting
8=of-12 (66.7%) from the field and 2-of-3 (66.7%) from three-point
After the Nuggets were eliminated, the 31-year-old admitted that
he isn't sure whether he’ll be back in Denver.
“I honestly don't know what the future holds,” Cousins said. “A
lot in this short time has transpired. I'm still trying to get over
the fact that G.P. (Gary Payton II) hit that big shot, right? I'm
extremely grateful for this opportunity. I'm happy to be a part of
this group. I'm happy with the opportunity that was given to me
from Mike, [Nuggets president] Tim [Connelly], [Nuggets general
manager Calvin] Booth. To answer that question, I can't right now.
I don't know what's future holds.”
With that said, Cousins proved that he still has a lot to offer
a team, and he should receive significantly more interest during
this year’s free-agency period.
“I belong here; I belong in this league,” Cousins said. “I was
given the opportunity. I'm thankful for Mike Malone. I spoke with
him before. A lot of doors closed for me. Mike looked out, gave me
an opportunity. I just tried to take the best advantage of it as I
could. That's what I did.”
“I gave him a big hug in the locker room, and I gave him a
shout-out in front of his teammates,” Malone said. “He was a guy
hanging out at home in Las Vegas after being released by Milwaukee.
He goes out in an elimination game and puts up 19 points in 15
minutes. Nikola is in foul trouble, we need somebody to steady the
ship; DeMarcus did that. The biggest thing is I'm just really,
really happy for DeMarcus Cousins, and I'm so proud of him for
staying with it. He had an impactful run with the Denver Nuggets.
We'll figure out the offseason in the coming weeks as me, him and
[Nuggets governor] Josh [Kroenke] sit down and talk.”
Several fellow Nuggets players vouched for Cousins and stressed
that they want him back.
“Anytime you have a guy like that, you always want him back,”
Barton said. “Like I say, he's still DeMarcus Cousins — a guy who,
when he's healthy, is a very good player. Those are not my
decisions; I'm not in management. Obviously, if I have a voice in
the fight, I definitely would love to have him back. He was big for
us on and off the court, [a] presence in the locker room. We'll see
“Signing Boogie, man... I love him to death,” Morris said. “A
guy that would pick up 19 points in a do-or-die elimination game
just shows how much heart he has, how much love he has for the
game. I'm definitely proud of him... He's a great guy. He has a
great family, great kids, an amazing wife. I look at things bigger
than just ball. He's a guy that's been through a lot on and off the
court, experience-wise. He can help anybody. It's a lot that he's
seen. Having that around, I think, is big.”
In addition to re-signing their own role players, the Nuggets
will also have the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth $6,392,000)
to attract talent. Last offseason, Patty Mills (Brooklyn Nets),
Rudy Gay (Utah Jazz), George Hill (Milwaukee Bucks) and Justise
Winslow (Memphis Grizzlies) are some examples of players who were
signed using the taxpayer mid-level.
Also, the Nuggets have the No. 21 overall pick in the 2022 NBA
Draft, so they can either draft a prospect or trade the selection
for more of a win-now piece. Considering their cap situation, it
may make sense to keep the pick and select a rookie who can be a
relatively cheap contributor.
In BasketballNews.com's latest 2022 NBA Mock Draft, Denver is projected to pick
Baylor's Kendall Brown — a 6-foot-8 wing who's known for his
athleticism, motor and defense.
Denver’s front office hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger on
trades in recent years — including the trade-deadline acquisition
of Gordon last season. However, the Nuggets’ continuity is one of
their biggest advantages, so don’t expect many significant changes.
Once Murray and Porter are back to 100%, they will basically count
as Denver’s big offseason acquisitions.
If Gordon can take the next step in his development, that would
be huge for the Nuggets as well. Following the Game 5 loss, the
26-year-old told reporters that his focus this offseason will be
“working smarter” and “becoming more of a student of the
“I'm playing with Jok, who is one of the smartest basketball
players in the world, so I gotta raise my level of IQ to help him,
to help everyone, to help the coaching staff,” Gordon explained.
“I've relied on my talent for so long — just natural talent, not
enough on the cerebral part of the game. So I think now is the time
“[I’ll be] studying film. Just study, study, study — everybody
that's in the league, every game, every set, just leave no stone
unturned. I feel like it will slow the game down even more for me
and really allow my natural talent to excel. Obviously, I'm going
to continue to work on the jumper and just rounding out my game.
That's part of it. But the cerebral part, being a student of the
game, that's my main focus for this offseason… That's the way that
I'm going to help improve this team.”
At the end of the day, the sky's the limit for the Nuggets. If
Jokic continues playing at an MVP level, Murray and Porter can
return to form and Gordon makes strides, another deep postseason
run is certainly a realistic possibility.
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