Few NBA players showed more across-the-board improvement than Gary Harris during the 2016-17 season.
Harris developed into one of the most efficient outside shooters in all of basketball — knocking down 42 percent of his 3s — while showing off and improved ball-handling ability and impressive chemistry with Nikola Jokic.
The 22-year-old shooting guard got so good that he was reportedly the crown jewel of a trade package that would’ve brought Kevin Love to the Mile High City. But the deal never transpired.
Instead, the Nuggets inked Paul Millsap to a three-year deal worth $90 million in free agency, allowing them to bring in a star without giving up Harris or any of their other young building blocks.
“This was the best thing that could’ve happened to us,” Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas said Thursday at Millsap’s introductory press conference. “We didn’t have to give up anybody, and we landed Paul. I think that young core and how they want to play and win resonates.”
Karnisovas acknowledged that Denver was in “the mix for a lot of deals.”
One of those, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported July 1, was “a package centered around Gary Harris, Trey Lyles and a protected first-round pick.” In return, the Nuggets would’ve reportedly received Love from Cleveland, and Cleveland would’ve received Paul George from Indiana.
Obviously, the deal never took place.
It’s possible the Nuggets will still complete a big trade this summer, but right now it appears likely that Denver’s four most promising building blocks — Jokic, Harris, Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez — will all be on the roster when the new season gets going.
“There’s a lot of young talent I feel like I can fit in with,” Millsap said.
Jokic and Harris are 22. Hernangomez is 21. Murray, at 20, is not even of legal drinking age. That Denver didn’t have to give up any of them in order to finally reel in a big fish was significant, Karnisovas said:
“It’s all about timing. We’re happy to keep all our young pieces moving forward. … The West is a hard place to compete these days. Everybody else has to figure it out as well. By adding Paul, I think it makes our jobs a little bit easier.”
Millsap, 32, and the Nuggets appear to be a great match on paper. The four-time All-Star projects to fit in well with the Nuggets’ free-flowing offense. Millsap should also give the Nuggets a much-needed boost defensively.
Getting a player of Millsap’s caliber without giving up a foundational piece — like Harris — was a win for Denver. It allows the Nuggets to become better in the present without making the future any less bright.
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