The Denver Nuggets Trading Bones Hyland Appears Increasingly Inevitable

It was not so long ago when the notion that the Denver Nuggets might trade sophomore guard Bones Hyland, who was recently selected to the NBA’s Rising Stars team at All-Star weekend for his second time, would have seemed fairly absurd.

Now, somewhat suddenly, Denver dealing Hyland by the NBA’s February 9 trade deadline this Thursday appears not only increasingly likely, but almost inevitable.

As a rookie, Hyland quickly became a Nuggets fan favorite with both his ocean-deep three-point shooting that can electrify home crowds when he gets on a heater, and his bubbling, effervescent personality that sparkles on the court and in interviews, and instantly made him one of the most loveable Denver players in recent years.

More importantly in terms of basketball, he played a critical role in helping salvage the performance of the Nuggets’ bench, which up through last year’s All-Star break had been fifth-worst in the league with a net rating of minus-2.9 points per 100 possessions, per Hyland was promoted to replace Facu Campazzo as Denver’s full-time backup point guard late in January, and along with DeMarcus Cousins, was instrumental in helping improve the Nuggets to a plus-1.1 net rating after the break. That was good for 13th in the league, a significant improvement, and one which was “good enough” considering Denver’s dominance when reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is on the court.

That success story helped fuel the Nuggets’ confidence in Hyland as being able to continue in that backup point guard role, a trust that factored into the calculus when general manager Calvin Booth, in his first major traded at the helm of Denver’s front office, traded the ever-reliable stalwart backup PG Monte Morris, along with another Nuggets mainstay in Will Barton III, to the Washington Wizards for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith.

But despite Denver’s big gamble on Hyland, the Nuggets’ bench has for the most part remained stuck in the same quagmire that has plagued it for seasons on end, and now has a net rating of -4.1, the second-worst mark in the NBA.

Although on NBA Twitter and other Internet corners Hyland has largely replaced Barton this season as Nuggets fans’ favorite scapegoat du jour, there is plenty of blame to go around. Hyland has played his part, to be sure, with what often appears to be either an unwillingness or inability to be more of a facilitator when he’s running the point, and overall, some fairly extreme inconsistency. Of the 42 games he’s played this season, for example, he’s scored over 20 points in eight of them, but has scored under ten points in 16.

In Hyland’s defense, however, he was placed by the Nuggets in something of a losing proposition from the start. To place the majority of the burden of carrying the team while Jokic sits on a second-year player whose best skill is shooting the lights out rather than the playmaking and decision-making needed to successfully navigate the point guard position was a big risk to begin with.

And the potential reward side of that equation was largely predicated on a fairly small half-season sample set, and one where Hyland had in Cousins a reliable pick-and-roll partner who (it seems especially clear in retrospect) genuinely brought out his best point-guarding tendencies and habits. And although the Nuggets tried to replicate this dynamic with DeAndre Jordan, it just never clicked the same way.

Additionally, as the sole shot creator coming off the bench, the pressure on Hyland to generate points was enormous, while at the same time he was also being called upon the floor general the offense. It was a heavy load to put on the shoulders of a player with his level of experience, and the mixed messaging Hyland recently alluded to as leading to him having confusion about his role realistically has to be acknowledged as a likely factor which at least in part contributed to his inconsistency.

Now, Hyland’s frustration with his situation (and, perhaps, frustration on the part of head coach Michael Malone and his staff at how he has responded), appears to have brought the situation to a head.

During the Nuggets’ recent game against the New Orleans Pelicans, TNT’s Chris Haynes reported from the sidelines that league sources had informed him that “Bones Hyland is open to being traded.” Haynes soon followed up on his This League Uncut podcast by adding that there is “friction” between Hyland and the Nuggets organization.

In what seems to foreshadow moving Hyland off the roster, he has not been played in Denver’s last three games, and had just under five minutes the game before that. Rookie Christian Braun seems to have already been designated as the recipient for Hyland’s minutes, and with Bruce Brown shifting from the two to the backup point guard position, Braun looks to be slated in as the now-permanent backup shooting guard to Caldwell-Pope.

A multitude of teams have reportedly expressed interest in acquiring Hyland, including but not limited to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets. And with two years of team control remaining on his rookie contract this season, and with plenty of remaining offensive upside and room for growth, Hyland should command more value on the trade market than any other player that Denver would realistically be open to dealing, unforeseen “can’t refuse” offers notwithstanding.

All of this combines with what has traditionally been a fairly low tolerance by the Nuggets organization for keeping players on their roster who have upset, or could potentially upset the apple cart in terms of bringing disruptive vibes or at least a distraction to what usually has been a rather positive and harmonious Denver locker room, with Jusuf Nurkic, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried serving as some examples from previous seasons.

None of which is to suggest that Hyland has any sort of “bad attitude” issues that might introduce negativity, but more that keeping him on board now, after he has expressed his desire for a larger role than the Nuggets can provide for him, and after Denver seems to have moved on from him in terms of their rotations, is just untenable situationally for both sides.

So while there’s no guarantee Hyland will be traded – the possibility that Denver doesn’t find a deal they value highly enough is greater than them finding the ideal trade package for Hyland – all the winds seem to be blowing in that direction at this point.

As for what the Nuggets will be seeking in return, two-way wing players appear to be their main target. Matt Moore of The Action Network reported that Chris Duarte, Terrence Mann, and Alex Caruso are all names on Denver’s radar screen (while stipulating that some may be out of their plausible asset range). And falling short of finding the right player in exchange for Hyland, Mike Singer of the Denver Post has reported that the Nuggets may “have traction” on getting a first-round draft pick. It does seem clear, however, that their preference would be to acquire who could potentially help them in a deep playoff run this season in their quest for a championship.