If Nuggets move Hyland, what could he land?
When Bones Hyland didn’t get off the bench in a game that was missing four starters due to injury, the writing was on the wall.
Hyland’s fallen out of the rotation completely in the days leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline. Rather than showcase Hyland to prospective teams, not only reminding suitors how devastating his speed can be, the Nuggets opted to sit him. That’s beside the point that Hyland’s availability could’ve helped Denver win on the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday in Minnesota.
The Nuggets, presumably, decided that keeping Hyland healthy was the more important route.
The question is, what could Hyland yield, and maybe more importantly, what does Denver need to round out its roster ahead of the postseason? The Nuggets view themselves as championship contenders, and any move on the margins could have significant ramifications.
The Denver Post reported last week that the Nuggets were seeking a two-way rotation player and draft compensation, or a first-round pick for Hyland. Sources said the Nuggets felt they had traction on a first-round pick. The Nuggets (and other teams) could be waiting for other major dominoes to fall prior to Thursday’s deadline. Multiple league sources said Toronto,
in addition to New Orleans and Minnesota, had registered some level of interest in Hyland.
A first-round pick doesn’t help the Nuggets this season (unless you view a potential Hyland trade as addition by subtraction), which is why returning a player is more important.
Their traded player exception, stemming from this summer’s Monte Morris-kentavious Caldwell-pope trade, is worth
$9.125 million and would thus allow the Nuggets to return a player making up to that much without having to return matching salary. Hyland, in just his second season, is making $2.2 million this season. One thing to keep in mind is that the Nuggets are already a luxury tax team and are unlikely to take back more money than they send out. There could always be cost-saving moves in the aftermath of a trade.
An exercise: If the playoffs started today, who’s in the rotation? Obviously, Jamal Murray, Caldwell-pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic form arguably the most dangerous starting five in the NBA. Beyond that, offseason acquisition Bruce Brown has been vital for them, filling in everywhere from starting point guard to power forward. If Brown had to be the team’s backup point guard in the playoffs, they might be able to survive, especially in secondunit lineups that included Murray as the primary ballhandler.
Featuring Brown alongside Murray (as opposed to Hyland) helps protect Murray defensively and allows him not to work as hard on both ends. After Brown, Christian Braun has made a convincing case to be within Denver’s top eight players. It’s rare for a rookie to assume such a role on a championship-level team, but his defensive versatility has earned him trust with coach Michael Malone, and his knack for snatching offensive rebounds has added even more value to his minutes. Braun doesn’t make the frustrating rookie mistakes typical of most firstyear players, and even if he does mess up, it’s done with aggression and not hesitancy, a key distinction.
Beyond the starters,
Brown and Braun, who does Malone trust? Vlatko Cancar has excelled this season, seizing his chance while healthy and proving he deserves further consideration. Defensively, he’s not a liability, and offensively, he greases the wheels, whether he’s playing among the starters or reserves. Not to mention, his experience in pressurepacked Eurobasket games should give Malone confidence that he’s a viable postseason option.
As for Denver’s other reserve frontcourt players, both Jeff Green and Zeke Nnaji warrant scrutiny. Green, at 36, can still jump out of the gym in transition, but can he move his feet well enough to defend opposing forwards? Not to mention, his confidence from 3 has plummeted to a career-low 24.5%. Nnaji can be an impact player, but is inconsistent. His confidence from 3 appears to be a question mark, too. After shooting 46% from 3 last season, he’s down to just 29% while largely playing out of position at backup five.
One rival executive predicted that in the postseason, Gordon would serve as Denver’s backup center, which could serve as a referendum on Nnaji, Green and veteran Deandre Jordan. It could also indicate where Denver’s leaning in terms of the trade deadline.
What’s clear is that the Nuggets need to get bigger off the bench and stouter defensively. A defensiveoriented wing is believed to be the priority, multiple sources said.
Here’s a list of targets that could entice Denver’s front office:
Caleb Martin, Miami
A stout forward, Martin’s been a fixture in the Heat’s starting lineup, averaging 10.2 points per game on nearly 38% from 3-point range. For his 6-foot-5 frame, he’s also a solid rebounder. Salary: $6.4 million this season.
Alex Caruso, Chicago
A defensive stalwart, Caruso would be a dream addition to the Nuggets’ playoff roster. Though his offense doesn’t quite move the needle (despite shooting 40% from 3), Caruso’s an athletic, bulldog defender who thrives at blowing up screens. Who’s scoring on a Caruso-caldwellpope-brown-braun-gordon lineup? Salary: $9 million.
Naji Marshall, New Orleans
Bigger than Martin, Marshall’s a strong forward with size who can do a bit of everything. He’s averaging 10.1 points per game, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Sources said the Nuggets have had discussions with New Orleans. Salary: $1.7 million.
Jalen Mcdaniels, Charlotte
Mcdaniels has excellent size at 6-foot-9 and is a productive role player off the bench. He’s averaging 10.7 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game. Salary: $1.9 million.
Aaron Nesmith, Indiana
After two seasons in Boston, the 6-foot-5 forward has gotten real playing time with the Pacers.
He’s also only 23 years old. Nesmith’s averaging 9.7 points per game on 35% from 3-point range. Salary: $3.8 million.
Taurean Prince, Minnesota
The veteran forward has played for four franchises since being drafted in 2016, but could offer the wing support Denver needs. Prince, at 6-foot-6, is averaging 8.5 points on 40% from 3-point range. Salary: $7.1 million.