Nuggets Journal: Five players Denver should target ahead of March trade deadline

Nuggets Journal: Five players Denver should target ahead of March trade deadline

When Jamal Murray disclosed his feelings about the Nuggets’ interior defense in the aftermath of their chaotic loss to Washington on Thursday night, it was hard not to view it as a cry for help.

“We lack a presence in the middle that can just deter layups,” he said. “I’m talking about drill layups. So that’s kind of frustrating.”

Washington had 30 points in the paint in the second half alone, which was further evidence of an alarming trend. Inside of five feet, Nuggets opponents are converting nearly 67% of their shot attempts – the worst defensive mark in the league.

Less than a month from the March 25 trade deadline, was Murray signaling to president of basketball operations Tim Connelly that he should be shopping for a bruiser? That, despite Nikola Jokic’s brilliance, he needed someone with more hops?

In the immediate aftermath of their disastrous fourth-quarter breakdown, was Murray forgetting that both Paul Millsap (knee) and JaMychal Green (shoulder) were on the shelf with injuries? Did he consider that, at that point, Michael Porter Jr. had only started two games at power forward, which, along with the usual defensive concerns, meant a whole new set of responsibilities?

Now 32 games into the season, the Nuggets have glaring holes to address at the trade deadline. And what’s unfortunate for Connelly is that he’s barely had a chance to evaluate his team while healthy. If it wasn’t Porter out with COVID in January, then it was Gary Harris and P.J. Dozier facing extended absences. Heading into Saturday’s game at Oklahoma City, Millsap had missed the last six games while Green was unavailable for the last three.

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All of which leaves Connelly in a place with imperfect information, yet saddled with the responsibilities of improving a team that’s underperformed in the first half of the season. Despite the expanded playoff field due to the play-in tournament, there will still be sellers ahead of the deadline. League sources expect Orlando, Houston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Sacramento to be open for business in the coming weeks.

And the Nuggets, aiming to repeat a deep run in the postseason, should hear offers on everyone not named Jokic or Murray. (Just because the Nuggets would be wise to listen to offers on Porter doesn’t mean he’s not immensely valued internally.)

Outside of their two franchise pillars, everyone should be available. Their two most flexible contracts – Harris (owed $20 million next season, free agent in 2022) and Barton (owed $13.7 million this season, player option this offseason) – have either been hurt or underachieved. What does make them potentially attractive, though, is that they’ll both be expiring contracts soon. If a team is trying to shed salary, either could be a means to do so.

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Armed with that context, here’s a list of realistic trade targets Connelly should consider.

5. Jarrett Culver, SF, Minnesota: The T-Wolves are going nowhere fast, and Culver may not have as big a role as he’d want given the emergence of rookie Anthony Edwards or the leap former Nugget Malik Beasley has made. At 22, Culver’s still young with intriguing size on the wing – an area that Nuggets are sorely lacking.

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