Michael Porter Jr. is again healthy and itching to play for the Nuggets. How long before he breaks this time?


Just in time for Christmas, the Nuggets are taking the wraps off Michael Porter Jr., who’s as fine and fragile as a $179 million piece of Baccarat crystal. The big question: How long before he breaks this time?

“I think I’m in a good spot to pick up right where I left off,” Porter said Thursday, insisting he’s ready to end a month-long absence caused by a nagging heel injury.

Although still listed as doubtful, Porter expects to play for the Nuggets for the first time since scoring 18 points in a loss to Detroit on Nov. 22, provided he feels good while going through a Friday morning practice prior to a home date with Portland.

“I’m playing,” Porter said.

Whether he gets back on the court against the Blazers or waits until a marquee Christmas evening matchup versus Phoenix, Porter will initially be on a minutes restriction and come off the Denver bench to ease him back into the flow of NBA action before reclaiming a spot in the starting lineup.

“He’s our starting small forward,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

The minutes’ restriction, however, will force everyone to be patient.

It’s all about the Benjamins in pro sports, and you can bet the influence of money will create pressure on the Nuggets to maximize contributions from Porter. He has played only 25 of a possible 117 games for Denver since agreeing to a five-year contract extension, with $179 million guaranteed, in September 2021.

Giving a max contract extension to the often-injured Porter, who has battled chronic back ailments since 2017 that have required surgery three times, was a bad idea the Nuggets now must try to justify.

“Our defense with Michael Porter on the floor this year has been great,” Malone said. “It obviously will be nice to have a 6-foot-10, long, lanky player that can shoot the lights out and help us out on the glass at the same time.”

While it’s difficult to find a more dangerous or efficient long-range shooter than Porter and his defensive work showed promising improvement during the 16 games he started earlier in the season, it’s also hard to argue with this key piece of data:

With Porter in the lineup, the Nuggets’ record was 9-7. In MPJ’s absence, with Bruce Brown taking on more responsibility, Denver has won 10 of 14 games. But when the money talks, it will tell Brown to cede his starting role to Porter.

I view the big contract extension given MPJ as a crazy gamble on a player who has never demonstrated the ability to stay healthy for any extended period of time. The Nuggets, however, viewed that same $179 million investment as a declaration of supreme confidence the team could find a way to put Porter’s chronic back issues behind him.

Porter insisted his most recent injury is unrelated to his history of back woes and believes orthotics can prevent his heel from causing a recurring problem.

“I think he’s used to dealing with medical adversity,” Malone said.

In another month, will MPJ be playing at an all-star level, or rehabbing another injury?

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” said Malone, who has been in the NBA long enough not to look beyond the next game.

Malone, however, maintains the faith MPJ can be a cornerstone piece in the Nuggets’ championship puzzle.

“We’re still kind of finding our identity as a team and our consistency, but I think we’re making big, big strides,” said Porter, who was averaging 16.4 points prior to getting hurt.

With Brown, veteran Jeff Green and rookie Christian Braun all alternatives to Porter who can bring different strengths to Denver’s starting lineup, I think it would be foolish to put too much weight or faith on MPJ’s back.


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