The Denver Nuggets have an opportunity to solidify their status as perennial Western Conference contenders this offseason, but cementing contender status depends on making a risky investment in Michael Porter Jr.
The Nuggets roster has its foundation in reigning league MVP Nikola Jokic and point guard Jamal Murray. They need to make MPJ part of that foundation but might haggle over price because of his past injury issues.
Michael Porter Jr. is eligible for a five-year, $163 million extension
Michael Porter Jr. is one of the brightest young stars in the NBA.
Porter showed flashes during his rookie campaign in 2019-20, especially in the Orlando bubble. He saw significant minutes increase, averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in the playoffs. His rise helped power the Nuggets to the conference finals, where they ultimately fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 23-year-old took a massive step forward this past season. Porter averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds during the regular season. But the numbers only tell part of the story. Porter flashed immense potential as a shot-creator and athletic stretch-4, shooting 44.5% from beyond the arc on 6.3 attempts per game.
Such a seismic leap would seem to guarantee the Nuggets will eventually invest in Porter. However, the two sides could bicker over the dollar amount given Porter’s past injury history, which dates back to his lost season at Missouri.
The Nuggets have reservations about MPJ’s injury history
For his part, Michael Porter Jr. is not concerned about the status of his contract negotiations.
The Nuggets have until the start of the season to ink Porter to a rookie extension. Time is starting to run out, but the 2018 first-round pick told Mike Singer of The Denver Post he is sure everything will work out just fine.
“Everything is sounding great, in the direction that I’d like to be headed,” Porter told Singer. “Nothing is set in stone, but everything is going smooth as far as that goes.
“One thing about Mark [Bartelstein] – something probably could’ve been done already but Mark is the best in the business,” Porter added. “I told him, ‘Take your time, do your thing. I’m in no rush, I’m in grindmode. I’m not stressed about it. I’m just in the gym, and whenever you’ve got some news for me, hit me up.’”
Realistically, though, the Nuggets likely would have already inked Porter to an extension were there not some reservations about his health.
Porter was one of the top prep prospects in the country before deciding to attend Missouri. But he missed out on his freshman season after undergoing back surgery. That injury also forced Porter to miss the entirety of the 2018-19 campaign. The back and core issues have been a primary concern, but he also dealt with an ankle injury during the 2019-20 season.
Alas, the Nuggets do not seem overly thrilled with the idea of investing so much money in Porter when he’s already had a litany of issues in his young carer. However, Denver cannot afford to let him reach the open market.
Denver placed its faith in Porter before, and must do so again
Frankly, the Nuggets are very fortunate even to have this problem.
Porter was billed as a possible No. 1 pick for the 2018 NBA Draft before he even stepped on the floor for the Tigers. But the ensuing back issues and pre-draft concerns about the condition of his back ultimately resulted in him falling to the No. 14 pick.
Denver took a chance on Porter even though the organization likely understood he could miss all of the 2018-19 campaign. Three years later, the youngster has rewarded the Nuggets for their faith with tremendous growth.
The Nuggets roster is in excellent shape. They have an MVP in Jokic and a potential All-Star in Murray, not to mention plenty of depth in the backcourt and at the wing spots. Porter can be that third star who helps Denver keep pace with some of the loaded rosters in the West. Moreover, extending Porter all but guarantees the Nuggets will be a top contender for the foreseeable future.
It’s entirely possible negotiations will stretch right up to the start of training camp. However, the Nuggets must make a firm commitment to Porter as they jockey for position in the Western Conference.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.