Nuggets Urged to Trade Star for Lakers’ $50 Million Starters

Nuggets trade chatter could include the Lakers' Rui Hachimura.

Getty Nuggets trade chatter could include the Lakers' Rui Hachimura.

Last year, the Nuggets and Lakers did get involved in two trades with each other, but each comes with a very big asterisk—they were four-team trades, and the actual Denver-L.A. swaps were limited, essentially, to 18 games with the Nuggets for Thomas Bryant and eight games of Davon Reed with the Lakers. Before that, the last major Nuggets-Lakers trade was 26 years ago, when the Lakers cleared themselves of Nick Van Exel, sending him to Denver for Tony Battie and young guard with more brains than talent, Tyronn Lue.

Again, that was 1998. Lakers-Nuggets trades just do not happen all that much because, they’re both usually competitive franchises and neither team wants to do much to help out the other.

But they could help each other in 2024, even as the Lakers bristle at the fact that the Nuggets have KO’d them from the playoffs by an 8-1 count in the past two seasons. The Nuggets need depth. They also need financial relief. The Lakers could help by sending out their most frequently mentioned trade package, and take back the one contract the Nuggets might well have to get rid of more than any other.

Michael Porter Jr.

It’s not certain that Denver will look to move Porter Jr. but with a payroll near $200 million and a roster over the dreaded second apron of the luxury tax, there may be little choice.

Nuggets-Lakers Swap Brings 2 Useful Rotation Players

One league executive told Heavy Sports that swapping Porter Jr. to L.A., where he could fix the Lakers’ woeful 3-point shooting, would yield the Nuggets a useful package of depth pieces. The trade would go:

Lakers receive Michael Porter Jr., future first-round pick.

Nuggets receive Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino.

Porter Jr. is the best player in the trade, and it is tough to be the team that is losing the best player in any deal. But Reaves (who started for the Lakers late this season) is a very good option off the bench as a big, young backup point guard, and Hachimura (who also started), would be an outstanding bench piece, a versatile defender who can shoot.

Someone would have to fill in for MPJ in the starting five, and that could depend on what potential free-agent guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does with the player option on his contract. If he opts out and leaves Denver (unlikely, but possible), the Nuggets could need both Reaves and Hachimura to start.

Hachimura averaged 13.6 points on 53.7% shooting and42.2% 3-point shooting. He’s struggled with consistency in his career, but at his best, he is a bit of a poor man’s Porter Jr.

Even off the bench, Reaves might be the bigger prize. He averaged 15.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds this year, despite a frequently changing role. The price is right, too: Reaves is entering Year 2 of a four-year, $54 million contract and Hachimura is in Year 2 of a three-year, $51 million contract.

The Nuggets could flip Hood-Schifino for further tax savings.

Michael Porter Jr.’s Contract Is a Problem

Again, it could be a longshot that the Lakers and Nuggets give each other a hand on the trade market. But turning Porter Jr., as good a shooter as he is at his size, into two players who can fill roles on this team could be a chance the Nuggets have to take.

Porter Jr. is in the second year of a five-year, $207 million extension he signed in 2021.

“They have to be careful about fit, they have such great chemistry, they do not want to hurt that,” the GM told Heavy Sports.  “But Austin Reaves, Rui, those guys do a lot of things and they can fit into a lot of situations. If you drop them into a winning roster like the Nuggets, that is the ideal fit. It is not my team (laughs) but that is a trade I’d like to see, just to see how it works.”

The question is whether the Lakers will see how MPJ could be a huge benefit as a space-creator for LeBron James and Anthony Davis, or whether they’ll look for bigger names on the NBA trade market.

“If they want to get better, that is who they’d go after,” the GM said. “They need a gunner who is not afraid to shoot and they’d be much better off if he can be a 3-4 like LeBron, if he is not a size mismatch. A knockdown shooter who creates space, that’s the first step to making them a legit contender again.”

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