The Denver Nuggets Are Wisely Making a Painful Decision to Protect Their $172.5 Million Investment in Michael Porter Jr.
Two seasons removed from the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets are falling further and further out of NBA title contention. Even with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic better than ever, the Nuggets find themselves at just 10-10 at the quarter mark of the regular season. And things have only gotten worse in the Mile-High City with the recent news regarding young forward Michael Porter Jr.
While it’s safe to say the Nuggets are worse in the short term, Porter’s surgery and recovery will ultimately be beneficial for a team whose championship window is far from closing.
Michael Porter Jr. is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season
On November 6, Porter Jr. left Denver’s game with what appeared to be back tightness. Three weeks later, the 23-year-old is set to undergo a lower back procedure and miss an indefinite amount of time. While there has been no official timetable set, The Athletic reported the procedure as season-ending.
Porter was in the midst of a down season before the November 6 matchup against the Houston Rockets. Presuming his nine-game season is finished, the 2018 first-round pick ended with 9.9 points on 35.9% shooting and 6.6 rebounds per game. For reference, MPJ finished last season with a career-high 19.0 points on 54.2% shooting along with 7.3 rebounds.
While the injury is a major concern, Denver’s promising young forward is expected to make a full recovery. However, there’s no word whether he would be full-go for the start of the 2022-23 season.
Michael Porter Jr. has a troubling history with back injuries
While Porter focuses on his recovery, the Nuggets have to be concerned. In just five years, the 23-year-old is already on back surgery number three.
MPJ’s first back surgery limited his freshman season at Missouri to just 53 minutes across three games. That injury prompted the highly-touted prospect to fall to Denver at 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. A month after the draft, he underwent another procedure to get him ready for the following season in 2019. That second procedure largely kept Porter on the court until issues began to flair up this season.
Still, even after two back surgeries, the Nuggets felt confident in Porter playing a big role in their present and future. Denver inked its 23-year-old star to a five-year, $172.5 million extension this past offseason. The contract kicks in beginning in 2022, keeping MPJ under team control through 2027.
The Denver Nuggets are wise to have Porter undergo surgery
It’s not far off to say the Nuggets are in trouble, at least in 2021-22. Jamal Murray continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered late last season, while P.J. Dozier’s season is likely over after he too suffered a torn ACL. Add in Porter’s surgery and a six-game losing streak, and suddenly Denver is fading fast.
However, while it may have been tempting to rush Porter back and salvage the season, Denver is wise to take the long-term approach.
Jokic is having another incredible year, one that the Nuggets would hate to see go to waste. However, the reigning MVP is still just 26 years old. Murray, meanwhile, is still only 24 years old and signed long-term. Those two, along with a 23-year-old Porter, give Denver a championship-caliber core for years to come. However, the team will need a healthy MPJ to actually deliver on that championship.
Porter’s injury history has been concerning, to say the least. But all the Nuggets can do is hope that this procedure fixes whatever it needs to and allows him to return to the court whenever he’s ready. If that ends up being the middle of next season, so be it. But it’s better than rushing him back this season, only for him to significantly damage himself now and in the future.
The Nuggets simply have too many years and too much money invested into Porter to lose him for multiple years or worse, permanently. If that means letting him heal for the entirety of this season and potentially longer, it’s a no-brainer.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.