The Denver Nuggets have a Michael Porter Jr. problem

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Five
Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Five / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Most of the offseason focus for the Nuggets has been on the free agency and future of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and rightfully so. But the reason the KCP situation is so tense and dire is really more related to another, much bigger issue with the roster, Michael Porter Jr. and his massive contract.

Michael Porter Jr. contract has become a thorn in the Nuggets side

MPJ has been a solid to good player for the Nuggets since being drafted. He’s mostly overcome the injury concerns that lowered his draft stock and he was an instrumental part of the team winning their first title. There aren’t many 6’10” sharpshooters on the wing in the NBA and Porter Jr. is definitely one of them.

But the trouble with MPJ is that the team gave him a 5-year, $179.3 rookie max extension ahead of the 2021-22 season. That means the team owes Porter Jr. $35.9 million for next season, $38.3 million for 2025-26, and they are on the hook for $40.8 million in 2026-27.

That’s an awful lot of money owed to a guy who is good, but essentially a role player and mostly just a shooter and floor-spacer. His offensive game beyond shooting is fairly limited, he hasn’t developed into much of a creator or a guy who can get to the rim, and his defense is pretty underwhelming for a guy with his size and athleticism. He’s a good player, but a fair contract would probably be about half of what he’s currently due.

Nuggets roster becoming untenably expensive

This is compounded by the fact that the Nuggets need to pay the piper for their other, more deserving players, but it’s difficult with so much money tied to Porter Jr. Nikola Jokic is locked up long-term on a max deal, Jamal Murray is entering the final year of his deal but will likely sign a max extension, Aaron Gordon will also be up for a large extension soon, and of course there’s the KCP situation this offseason.

Realistically, there just isn’t enough money to go around and too much of it is allocated to MPJ. If he was making closer to $20 million this upcoming season, re-signing Caldwell-Pope would be no real issue and the team would happily match any offer. But now, they are already right up against the second apron and every dollar they pay (or try to pay) KCP will be debilitating in some way.

Can the Nuggets simply trade Porter Jr.?

The Nuggets can certainly try to trade Porter, and that’s something that has been talked about a good amount - especially on this blog. But unfortunately, NBA teams are smart; they all know about his contract and the potential issues that come along with it. So even though he’s a 25-year-old player with skills and upside, it’s going to be hard to move him for equal value.

The team may eventually have to attach other assets, like draft picks, to deal Porter Jr. to another team and open up some roster flexibility. Hopefully, there is a team out there that is still high on him and can afford to eat the contract. A rebuilding team may be able to offer him a bigger role on offense and believe that he could break out and reach another level with more freedom.

It’s not the craziest idea ever and if it works out for all parties involved that would be great. But right now it feels like the Nuggets are kind of stuck in limbo, essentially waiting to see what KCP does. Either way, they’ll have very little leeway and flexibility and it’ll be hard to make any major changes or upgrades. And almost all of these issues and concerns can be tied to Porter Jr. and his contract.