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Nuggets a championship contender lying in wait

Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 12: Michael Porter Jr. #1, Jamal Murray #27, and Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets look on during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 12, 2021 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

NBA teams with three players signed to max contracts:

  • Nets: Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving
  • Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook
  • Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins
  • Nuggets: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

Those are the three of the four title favorites (along with the defending-champion Bucks). And Denver.

The Nuggets have built a latent super team.

What they lack in accomplishment relative to the other highly paid trios – Murray and Porter have never even been All-Stars – Jokic (26), Murray (24) and Porter (23) make up for in youthful potential. That upside remains the focus, because Murray remains sidelined by a torn ACL.

But it’s not hard to imagine Denver as a top contender. Because we’ve seen it. For an all-too-brief stretch after acquiring Aaron Gordon and before Murray got hurt, the Nuggets clicked. They looked like a complete team, one with as good a title chance as any in last season’s wide-open field.

Murray’s injury interrupted Denver’s ascension. But the plan remains in place for when he returns to full strength.

Jokic, the deserved reigning MVP, is the lynchpin. Though it seems teams could better exploit his defensive efficiencies in the playoffs, he keeps stepping up. Jokic particularly impressed in last season’s first-round upset of the Trail Blazers sans Murray.

Murray broke out in the 2020 playoffs. His consistency remains at least somewhat uncertain, but his ability to shine against strong postseason defense was so impressive.

And then there’s Porter, who might be even more talented. The Nuggets just gave him a max rookie-scale extension, though it isn’t fully guaranteed because of his prior injury issues. Porter’s combination of size and shooting is beyond tantalizing, and he has become a highly positive contributor. If his defense and passing come around and he stays healthy, watch out.

Denver augmented that core by giving Gordon a four-year, $86,640,001 contract extensionwell worth the price. He’s just 26 and provides so much value as a defensively capable big forward.

Will Barton declined a $14,669,642 player option. The Nuggets gave him a raise to $15,625,000 on a two-year, $32 million contract.

JaMychal Green declined a $7,559,748 player option. The Nuggets gave him a raise to $8.2 million on a 1+1, $16.4 million contract

Denver even re-signed Austin Rivers to a minimum contract, a sound move after he filled a hole in the playoffs with the guard rotation so shorthanded.

The big outside addition: Jeff Green, who got a 1+1, $9 million contract in a de facto swap with the Nets for Paul Millsap. Green has become an effective small-ball center, a capable and willing 3-point shooter and versatile defender with the toughness to hang inside.

The Nuggets also used the No. 26 pick on Bones Hyland, whom I’m fond of.

With Porter joining Jokic and Murry on max deals and multi-year commitments given to Gordon, Barton, Green and Green, Denver even appears prepared to pay the luxury tax in 2023. It’s exciting to see how this methodical build will come together on the court.

Once Murray gets healthy.

Offseason grade: C+