In the immortal words of Boyz II Men, “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.” Yesterday for Nuggets fans has been the recent years of hope and just plain fun where we’ve gotten to watch this young Jokic-led team play their hearts out and improve every year. The losses weren’t fun, but the team and the players certainly were and fans knew that it was only up from there. In that environment, it was impossible not to fall in love with the players that made the team so much fun. Sadly, Nugget nation said goodbye to two of their favorites this trade deadline in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez.
As this Nuggets team changes from the promising team on the rise it was yesterday to the perennial title contender it has become today, hard decisions have had to be made. Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez have long been fan favorites in Denver and are undoubtedly talented. However, as this team grew beyond the young upstart team it became increasingly clear that those two players just didn’t belong in the rotation the Nuggets were trying to create.
Both Malik and Juancho found their fans through their energy and smooth shooting stroke. They both brought something to the Nuggets locker room that just made everything more fun. However, once the Nuggets became serious about competing in the playoffs it became increasingly clear that fun and energetic guys were far less necessary than defensive-minded players. With every Rodney Hood jumper in last year’s playoffs another name was added to President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly’s list of potential targets. The Nuggets had no one on the roster capable of defending tall wings on the perimeter and against Rodney Hood they almost got away with it. However, Connelly and company had their eyes on a title and that meant going through the likes of Kawhi, Lebron, and Giannis.
The addition of Jerami Grant displayed the front office’s desire to become more of a threat defensively come playoff time. To start this season Malik and Juancho were out of the rotation in favor of defensive-minded guys like Grant and Torrey Craig. The addition of Michael Porter Jr. further squeezed them down the depth chart as not only was he a dynamic offensive player, but despite lapses defensively he at least has the size to guard even the biggest wing players.
The writing was on the wall: neither Juancho Hernangomez nor Malik Beasley was going to be a Nugget after this summer. Instead of allowing them just to walk, Tim Connelly went looking for a deal. While the Nuggets had more bodies on the roster capable of bothering big wings defensively, one thing we’ve learned from the NBA in recent years is that you can never have too many long defenders on your team. So while Connelly kicked the tires on some stars that weren’t available, he ended up finding a deal that returned not only a draft asset, but also more long defenders that could be useful in playoff matchups.
Much like the players they are replacing, neither Keita Bates-Diop nor Noah Vonleh is likely to see many minutes in the Nuggets regular rotation. However, come playoff time, having an athletic, rebounding and shot-blocking big with a 7’3” wingspan like Noah Vonleh might just win you a game or two. And a young athletic combo forward also with a 7’3” wingspan in Keita Bates-Diop might just be the missing link in a defense that stifles the dynamic duos of LA. Basically they are deep bench guys Malone didn’t have the option to go to last postseason when Rodney Hood won that series for Portland.
It was hard to say goodbye to Malik and Juancho, especially when they donned their Timberwolves jerseys and shot lights out in their first game there. We may have lost some of the most fun players in recent Nuggets history, but in their place, there are additional pieces better suited to help the Nuggets win a title. So Nuggets fans need to cherish the memories we made with Malik and Juancho and wish them luck on their new team. They may, in fact, be the heroes the Nuggets deserve, but they just aren’t the ones they need right now.