Although the Denver Nuggets made no deals at the trade deadline to improve their roster, help may be on the way soon. In an interview with Vic Lombardi on Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 Friday morning, Nuggets president Tim Connelly said that both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. could be cleared in the "not-too-distant future."
"It's up to them. We're going to clear them at some point in the not too distant future and then they have to determine when and if they're ready," Connelly said.
Cue the side-eye emoji for what could cause a major shakeup in the Western Conference playoff race. Denver currently sits sixth in the West standings, with just 3.5 games separating them and the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz. Despite being without Murray for the entirety of the season, and Porter Jr. since early November, the Nuggets have managed to stay afloat thanks to yet another MVP-worthy campaign from Nikola Jokic, and great contributions on both ends from Will Barton and Aaron Gordon.
Connelly followed up his comments about a possible return for both players by saying that their rehab to get back to the court "has gone as well as can be expected," and Murray and Porter Jr. will let them know when they're ready to return. Though it doesn't signal an exact timeline for either player on a potential return, it is positive news for the Nuggets. Murray has been out since last April recovering from a torn ACL, while Porter Jr. had surgery to repair a nerve issue in his back that sidelined him early in the season.
Getting both players back will surely boost Denver's playoff odds, as the last time we saw this team fully healthy they went to the Western Conference finals with Murray having a standout performance in the postseason, leading the Nuggets in scoring (26.5 points) and assists (6.6). Porter Jr. had a standout year last season putting up career highs in points (19.0) and rebounds (7.3), which earned him a sizable contract extension over the summer. He was expected to take another leap this season in Murray's absence, but the back injury derailed his development.
If Murray and Porter Jr. are able to return before the postseason, then they'll have some time to reacclimatize themselves before the playoffs start, and if they're able to return to their former production, then it'll make the Nuggets a tough draw for any team in the playoffs. It's a glimmer of hope for a Denver team that has played well without them this season, and for opposing teams in the league, it should put them on notice that the Nuggets could improve even more in the near future.