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If Nuggets want a 'star' this summer, Kevin Love fits best

Harrison Wind Avatar
May 13, 2016


There’s no time when stars matter more than in the playoffs and this year that theory is proving itself once again.

In the East, Atlanta was smoked by a star-laden Cavs squad for the second straight year, and even Boston, who was one of the exciting stories in the league, couldn’t stand up to the Heat’s playoff-tested All-Star’s. In the West, the Thunder beat the Spurs in six games after father time caught up to Tim Duncan, the Spurs became too predictable on offense, and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook powered their way to the Western Conference Finals.

Young, promising, soon to be second-year players Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic look to be sure-fire starters, but it’s too early to tell if they’ll develop into No. 1 options that can lead Denver through three rounds of playoff games and to an eventual finals appearance – and because of that, the Nuggets are still in the market for that star.

“Certainly we’re always looking for ways to better our roster, Conelly said told the Denver Post after the season ended. “If during the course of conversations we can get a guy we deem a superstar, a top 15-20 player, we’ll be aggressive in doing so.”

The Nuggets were linked to DeMarcus Cousins last summer, although general manager Vlade Divac recently came out and said the Kings were not interested in trading their superstar, and reportedly had talks regarding Blake Griffin with the Clippers around this year’s trade deadline.

Jimmy Butler, who appeared to be on the block earlier this year, is now reportedly safe in Chicago, although an overwhelming offer for Butler, which the Nuggets could certainly throw at the Bulls could get the ball rolling on a deal.

Kevin Love is the one remaining name who carries that star power, that could be on the block this summer, especially if the Cavs once again come up short in the Finals against the Warriors. The Nuggets made a pass at Love back in 2014 when he was in Minnesota and would seemingly still be interested in the power forward.

While I wrote in early April that I’m a big proponent of continuity and the Nuggets growing their core as it is, if the Nuggets do target a star this summer, Love is the one player of the four who fits best in Denver.

Fit with current roster

Mudiay at the one, Gary Harris at the two and Nikola Jokic at the five, are currently the three-pronged core of the Nuggets. Love could seemingly slide in at the four and not take the ball completely out of Mudiay’s hands, while also still allowing Denver to run things through Jokic from time to time.

Mudiay, Love, and Jokic would give Denver three dynamic passers, potentially leading to a free-flowing, watchable offense, that could thrive in Denver. It’s easy to forget the how deadly Love was in the post in Minnesota, and how much of a playmaker he can be from the elbow or on the roll.

Denver would use Love how he was used with the Timberwolves. Running heavy pick and roll or pop actions with Mudiay, Love and Jokic could be the foundation of a top-10 offense and the spacing that Love would create with his shooting, would give the Nuggets a stretch-four threat that they haven’t had in the past.

Picture Mudiay in place of Kyrie Irving driving to the hoop as Love jets out to the 3-point line with shooters positioned on the wings. Options galore!

With Mudiay, you need to have at least three floor-spacers on the court with him at all times until he finds his jumper, and Love would turn Denver into one of the better 3-point shooting starting fives in the league overnight. A five of Mudiay, Harris, Gallinari/Chandler, Love, who shot 36 percent from distance this year & Jokic, not only spaces the floor but has all the ingredients for an innovative, modern-day NBA offense.

Cousins would limit the time Jokic could spend at the five, and while I’m on board with the Serbian learning to play some power forward, as he is this summer, and deploying the Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic frontcourt in short spurts next season, but I think his future is at center.

Butler plays on the wing and fits better than Cousins, but dominates the ball like a point guard at times. He’s a gifted scorer who can morph into James Harden-lite down the stretch in games and I’m worried that too much Butler would take the ball out of Mudiay’s hands too often. The extended minutes Butler, who will be 27-years-old at the start of next season played under Tom Thibodeau for the entirety of his career are concerning as well.

Locker room chemistry

The Nuggets repaired their locker room culture by stocking it with veterans in Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller while also bringing in a stabilizing force in Michael Malone to repair the damage that Brian Shaw and the last two years did to the franchise. The culture is restored and Denver is moving into a new chapter with a young core of model citizens.

While Cousins and Malone have a respectful and honest relationship, bringing a personality like his into the locker room is still a risk. He may rekindle the spark he had with Malone, but who knows how well he’d mesh with a young and largely inexperienced roster after playing with veterans like Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo in Sacramento last year.

Butler isn’t a saint either. There are questions surrounding his ability to lead the Bulls once he established himself as the star in Chicago over the past couple years and the rumblings about how his teammates view him haven’t died down.

Love probably has some ghosts in his closet as well – no star comes without his enemies, but they seem to be mild-mannered compared to Cousins’ frequent outbursts or the Bulls’ locker room mutiny against Butler.

So what happens this summer?

Rumors fly like crazy during the season, but when it’s time to belly up to the table and make a deal, many GM’s balk when the thought of trading their star becomes reality. That may be the case this summer as every team with a star that could be available can make a strong case to keep their player for at least one more year.

The Kings are moving into a new arena next season and want to open the doors to Golden 1 Center with Cousins in tow. The Bulls can convince themselves that last year was a transition season under new coach Fred Hoiberg and give the two a summer to work their issues out with the roster that’s likely turning itself over this offseason. Blake Griffin might be the biggest name on the move, but his injuries scare me especially with how predicated his game is on athleticism, and I wouldn’t think the 27-year-old who has spent his entire career in Los Angeles would re-sign in Denver. Griffin can opt out of his contract after 2016-17.

Depending on what happens in the finals, even Kevin Love could stay on for another season in Cleveland and the Nuggets could bring back roughly the same team, give or take a few draft picks and free agents.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing for a team who rebuilt their culture in one offseason after two years of chaos to be conservative and focus on continuity.

But would Love bring the fans back?

The elephant in the room is Denver’s league-worst attendance and is a factor that could, but hopefully doesn’t weigh heavily on the shoulders of the front office this offseason. I’m guessing Altitude didn’t do great numbers last year and it’s probably an issue that’s dominating ownership meetings, but you hope the bottom line doesn’t become the driving force to bring a more recognizable name to Denver.

If Denver does trade for a star, I hope it’s Love. In fact, I’d prefer Love, Butler, Cousins, and Griffin, in that order, but staying the course for another season, bringing mostly the same group back and seeing what happens in a year from now, isn’t the worst option either.

Trading for a star is tantalizing, but is it worth interrupting the growth of Denver’s core?


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