The Denver Nuggets’ Risky $172.5 Million Investment Now Looks Like a Nightmare

The Denver Nuggets faced a tough choice this past summer: Would they open up the checkbook for youngster Michael Porter Jr., or let him get to restricted free agency? On the one hand, Porter’s outstanding 2020-21 season and year-over-progression gave him the feel of a future star. However, his injury history made any investment in him a risky one.

The Nuggets opted to ensure Porter as a key piece to their future as NBA championship contenders, and the move felt pertinent in light of Jamal Murray’s absence. A few months later, though, the five-year, $172.5 million contract Denver gave MPJ looks like a potential nightmare.

Michael Porter Jr. fell in the 2018 NBA Draft because of questions about his back injury

Michael Porter Jr. became one of the top high school players in the country as a prep star in Washington and looked like the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as he prepared to attend Mizzou. But things changed rapidly.

Porter played just three games with the Tigers because of a back injury. He still declared for the draft, only to fall to the Nuggets at No. 14 with teams expressing skepticism about the state of his back. The 23-year-old elaborated on the pain he felt just before draft night on the Old Man and the Three podcast, in addition to the LA Clippers team doctor writing a controversial report about him never being able to play again.

Although Porter did miss the entirety of the 2018-19 season, he quickly showed the Nuggets why he previously garnered buzz as a No. 1 pick.

Porter averaged 20.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes as a rookie and broke out during the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble” as the Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals. He cracked the starting lineup one season later and averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds on a stellar 66.3% true shooting clip.

The sophomore leap essentially convinced the Nuggets to dole out a sizable extension to Porter. But the back issues have resurfaced, bringing a harrowing possibility back into play.

Porter could miss the remainder of the 2021-22 season

Denver Nuggets swingman Michael Porter Jr. is introduced during a game against the Houston Rockets
Michael Porter Jr. is introduced against the Houston Rockets on November 6, 2021, in Denver, Colorado Agreement | Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Something seemed off in Denver to start the 2021-22 season, and it wasn’t the altitude.

Michael Porter Jr. looked like a shell of his past self in his first nine games with the Nuggets. He averaged just 9.9 points on a pitiful 35.9% shooting from the field, including 20.8% from the three-point line. Those numbers looked more than abnormal for one of the most efficient scorers in basketball just one season prior.

As it turned out, the back injury once again looms large for Porter. The Nuggets announced he would be out indefinitely earlier this month. Now, there are questions as to whether he will retake the floor this season.

Mike Singer of the Denver Post reported Porter is dealing with a nerve issue, with another back surgery possibly in the cards. Sources told Singer that Porter is seeking various forms of treatment and spending time away from the team with the hopes of finding a remedy, but there is no timetable for his return.

Before the season began, it looked as though MPJ could be the kind of third star the Nuggets needed to realize their potential as NBA title contenders. Now, though, questions about his back could plague his career.

Will MPJ have to deal with back troubles throughout his career?

At his best, Michael Porter Jr. gives the Nuggets a dynamic offensive threat who can create for himself off the dribble, shoot from the perimeter, and finish through traffic at the rim.

But Porter’s back issues threaten to ruin his potential.

Back injuries typically have a debilitating impact. That malady ruined the final seasons of Larry Bird’s career. Scottie Pippen suggested the severity of his back injury in the 1998 NBA Finals deserved every bit as much acclaim as Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” because it nearly rendered him useless.

In any event, the Nuggets have to feel concerned for Porter’s future outlook with the nerve injury coming into play. He’s still just 23 and could find a way to get back to full health. Alternatively, it’s possible MPJ’s back prevents him from ever being the kind of player Denver probably envisioned when it signed him to the $172.5 million contract.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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