1 Big mistake that still haunts the Nuggets

Mistakes by the Nuggets and their front office in recent years have been few and far between. For the most part, they have gotten the draft right and made smart trades and free agent signings. There isn’t much to criticize or point out as clear and obvious errors. But there is one movement that continues to rear its ugly head that the Nuggets still haven’t completely gotten over.

The Nuggets have been desperate for big man depth and a reliable backup to Nikola Jokic for years at this point. The team constantly suffers when the Joker sits and it’s a problem that plagued them this season when DeAndre Jordan and Zeke Nnaji struggled and both failed to crack Michael Malone’s playoff rotation.

But the Nuggets had the ideal backup center on the roster and traded him for pennies; Isaiah Hartenstein. Hartenstein starred in the playoffs this season for the Knicks and has established himself as an elite backup big man. He goes out of his way and does all the dirty work and little things that he needs a team to do. In fact, he did them so well that New York had a hard time keeping him off the court.

He held his own as a starter when Mitchell Robinson was injured and got final minutes when both were healthy on multiple occasions. Calling Hartenstein a big backup may be demeaning at this point, as he has evolved into so much more; a real weapon in the central position.

Hartenstein will be one of the most coveted free agents this offseason, arguably the best center on the market. He could get a contract worth more than $20 million per season and has earned every penny with the excellent play of him.

Unfortunately, Denver had Hartenstein on the roster to start the 2020-21 season. The big man was struggling to find his footing in the NBA at the time and didn’t get much playing time for the Nuggets. The team never gave him a chance and after only half a season he traded him to the Cavaliers along with two second-round picks in exchange for JaVale McGee.

The team thought veteran McGee would be the safest option as the backup behind Jokic, but that obviously wasn’t the case. McGee flopped, barely contributed anything for the Nuggets, and is now essentially out of the league. Hartenstein is probably one of the top 20 overall centers in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Nuggets enter another offseason in desperate need of a backup center.