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How Michael Porter Jr.’s Success Impacts Denver Nuggets Offseason

The hard work of Denver Nuggets rookie forward Michael Porter Jr. and the team’s player development staff seems to be paying off.

After a season rehabbing back and knee injuries, MPJ has become the first rookie since Blake Griffin nine seasons ago to record 30-point, 10-rebound efforts in back-to-back games. Porter Jr. put up 30 and 15 on 11-of-19 shooting and 5-of-9 from three as Denver eked out a six-point win over the feisty San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

Getting that kind of production from a 22-year-old on his rookie contract is amazing, no question about it. But whenever the 45-23 Nuggets exit the Orlando bubble and end their 2019-2020 season, there are some tough decisions management has to make about the long-term shape of the roster.

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Being third in the Western Conference behind just the two Los Angeles teams is damn impressive, but chances are likely that Denver’s frontcourt will look different whenever next season begins. Starting power forward Paul Millsap and backup center Mason Plumlee will be unrestricted free agents, taking a combined $44.4 million off the books. Versatile forward Jerami Grant has a $9.3 million player option that he could decline and enter unrestricted free agency as well if he chooses, and valuable reserve forward Torrey Craig’s $2 million deal is off the books as well.

However, a majority of the aforementioned $44.4 million in space will already be accounted for by star guard Jamal Murray, whose five-year, $170 million max extension kicks in next season starting at $29 million.

So Nuggets brass led by Tim Connelly and Calvin Booth have to figure out how they want to configure their roster going forward built around Nikola Jokic, Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton. How much trust will Denver put in Porter Jr. to play near the level he’s at now while remaining healthy and on the floor?

Do the Nuggets try to bring back some of their current players on one-year, stopgap-type deals like they did with Millsap last season? What combination of Millsap, Plumlee, Grant and Craig will be back next season? Who does Denver really need if Porter Jr. is playing this well and they try to integrate intriguing big man Bol Bol into its rotation next season? Or does Connelly try to sign more of a wing player to inject more offense into the team and roll the dice with the younger frontcourt players next to Jokic?

Porter Jr. put up a ridiculous 37 points and 12 rebounds in Monday’s overtime win over Oklahoma City, a team Denver could definitely face in the first round of the playoffs. If he continues his amazing run in the playoffs, does it make it easier for the Nuggets to let some of their veteran free agents go and hope more minutes from MPJ adds an infusion of youth (along with some questionable views) to further elevate their contender status? In theory, that would make things more simple.

But if he does well now and regresses next season without those veteran presences around to back him up, the Nuggets could easily take a step back next season in a crowded Western Conference. Both L.A. teams will be just as good in 2020-2021, Luka Doncic and Dallas will be improved, Utah and Portland will be back and healthier, Houston will still have James Harden and New Orleans and Memphis will be improved as Zion Williamson and Ja Morant gain experience and confidence.

These are just some of the things Denver has to weigh as Porter Jr. emerges as one of the big success stories this week in the NBA.

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