After bad $172.5 million bet on Michael Porter Jr.’s bad back, pressure is on Nuggets exec Tim Connelly for help from center Nikola Jokic – The Denver Post

The Nuggets made a bad bet on a bad back. And now a house of cards is stronger than their championship dreams.

“In my opinion,” often-injured forward Michael Porter Jr. said Friday, “we can be the best team in the NBA when everyone is healthy.”

Well, that sounds great, until you recognize the cold, hard boxscore facts: MPJ is damaged merchandise at the tender age of 23.

In five basketball seasons since graduating from high school, Porter has played on the court in only 157 of the 390 games on the Nuggets and University of Missouri schedule because his squeaky back and frequently repaired has rendered it unfit to play at an alarming level. rate of 60%.

I asked Porter how he balances the uncertainty of his long-term health with the desire to reward a team that has invested so much in him.

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“You work like it’s up to you,” Porter replied. “And you pray as if it depended on God.”

Oh Lawdy me, oh Lawdy me. Is hoping for divine intervention a way to win a championship?

Although there is reason to believe that guard Jamal Murray, who admits to not having recovered more than 85% from a torn ACL in his left knee, will be back for Blue Arrow next season, the The Nuggets playbook has been reduced to a prayer book.

It’s a huge deal for Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, who granted a player with chronic back problems a five-year contract extension ahead of a disappointing season in which MPJ didn’t never felt completely healthy, then retired to the sidelines after nine regular seasons. Games.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Connelly said, contemplating the wisdom of investing in Porter. “We tend to be a team that rewards guys earlier instead of entering the market. So we are really looking forward to him being in perfect health. And he is working hard to achieve this goal.

The Nuggets can’t afford MPJ to sit on the sidelines in street clothes more often than he fires jump shots in uniform.

For all his might as an MVP, Nikola Jokic can’t take Denver to his first NBA championship while trailing a $172.5 million hoard.

That’s the crazy amount Connelly bet on Porter during a deal that ties him to the Nuggets until 2027, a period that encompasses the early years of Joker’s career.

After the Nuggets were eliminated 4-1 by Golden State in the first round of the playoffs, Jokic said he was open to the idea of ​​signing a supermax contract extension because “I think we have something that we let’s build”.

Connelly, who deserves all the credit for taking a chance on a chubby Serbian teenager with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft, knows how blessed he was with Joker’s development as the No. 1 in franchise history.

When Jokic recently dined at Connelly’s new home, he teased the Nuggets Center: “Where do I put the statue? …Your statue… Without you, we can’t afford to buy this house.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly speaks at a press conference at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado on Friday, April 29, 2022.

It would be a disgrace, if not a dismissal offense, for Connelly to allow Jokic to join Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley on the list of the greatest NBA players to never win a championship ring.

“You want to do whatever and everything you can to make sure you put the best team around him to give him a chance to compete at the highest level,” Connelly said. “I’m both blessed and certainly aware with a player of (Jokic’s) magnitude what it means to try to make sure he has a real chance. I think about it every day. I tell my children all the time, ‘Mr. Nikola is very important in this household.'”

How long does Jokic, who would rather feed his horses in a Serbian barn than squint in the bright lights of the NBA red carpet, want to play basketball?

“Until it’s no longer fun,” said Connelly, who discusses this subject with Jokic several times a year. “Admittedly, he is not driven by money… He is a guy driven by joy and competition. The competition will be there. When joy is not there, it will not be there. As long as he’s having fun, he’ll play until his wheels fall off.

Workouts and first wake-up calls are a chore. Winning is fun.

For the Nuggets to lead a victory parade through downtown Denver, it will take more than a Joker and a prayer. Counting on MPJ to play another 250 NBA games at a high level, let alone another 10 seasons, seems like a risky proposition.

I am not a doctor. But how often are there miracle cures for back pain?

If Porter isn’t worth every penny of the $29.75 million salary the Nuggets will pay him in 2022-23, this cast’s best opportunity to be a legitimate contender may be lost.

So that’s the last time the Nuggets can talk about waiting until next year. Starting today, the pressure is on Connelly to ensure Jokic doesn’t have to win a championship on his own.