LAS VEGAS — The Nuggets were fully aware of the risks involved when they selected Michael Porter Jr. 14th overall in last month's draft. His surgery in November — a L3-L4 microdiscectomy on his lower back — and medical red flags damaged the former projected top pick's draft stock enough for 12 teams to pass on him.
Because of the talent Denver is returning next season, which includes Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Trey Lyles, the Nuggets could afford that risk that the teams selecting ahead of them in the lottery couldn't.
On draft night, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly stressed that his organization "doesn't need a savior," and because Denver was bringing back its top-six players from a 46-win team, they could afford to bring Porter along slowly.
Since then, the organization has been in lockstep with one another on that message.
"We understood the risk-reward situation with Michael Porter, and we felt at 14 he was far too great of a talent to pass up," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said during an in-game interview on NBATV during Denver's Summer League win over the Celtics Saturday night. "And we're going to to be patient. We’re not going to rush him back and that’s the luxury we have.
"We have a very good team coming back, we have a very deep team so there’s no reason for us to say ‘Michael's got to play this year.’ We're going to give him all the time and treatment he needs to get better and hopefully he can get back and help us this year.”
The team hasn't said publicly when Porter will return to the floor. He wasn't included on the Nuggets' Summer League roster but has been with the team and on Denver's bench in Las Vegas. The Nuggets have started Summer League play 2-0 with wins over the Timberwolves and Celtics.
“We know the risks. We felt the rewards outweighed the risks,” Nuggets team president Josh Kroenke. “We’re going to bring him along slowly on our own timeframe and just keep developing him like we have some our other young players. We think he fits in pretty seamlessly with some of the other guys. High IQ player, loves the game of basketball and is a hard worker. That’s the kind of DNA we want to start with every single time.”
The Nuggets were ecstatic to land Porter at 14. Their unique roster for a team picking in the lottery allowed them to take a swing that caused Kroenke to stay up until 3 a.m. on the night of the draft and watch tape of Denver's draft pick knowing very well that it could be a while until he sees the court.
"I challenged the room to think about Michael Porter, to think about this year but let’s also think about Michael Porter for the following season if we have to completely shut him down or get him right," Kroenke said thinking back to draft night. "I think the room, in unison, was just excited about the possibility of having a talent like that around."