Cleveland eventually dealt the disgruntled Irving to the Boston Celtics, and the Nuggets’ patience paid off several seasons later, as Murray was an integral part in the team’s NBA Finals victory in the 2022-23 season.
“If they were ever going to entertain trading Murray — and they never really did — it would have been in 2017 or 2018,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote. “[Nuggets head coach Michael] Malone has said recently that [Tim] Connelly approached him around that time indicating they could possibly trade Murray for a certain marquee veteran or veterans.
“Among those players was Kyrie Irving after he requested a trade from the Cavaliers in the summer of 2017, sources have said. The Nuggets were adamantly against it.”
Murray had just finished up his rookie season in the 2017 offseason, so it makes sense that the team wasn’t ready to give up on a young, cheap asset for Irving. The Nuggets had taken Murray with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
The rise of the Nuggets in the 2022-23 season was largely in part because Murray was able to return to the lineup from a torn ACL that he suffered at the end of the 2020-21 season. That injury cost Murray the entire 2021-22 campaign.
In the playoffs in the 2022-23 season, Murray averaged 26.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from 3-point range. After making the Western Conference Finals with Murray in the 2019-20 season, the Nuggets went all the way this past season, beating the Miami Heat in the Finals in five games.
While Irving may have been a great addition back in 2017 had Denver pulled the trigger, the team clearly felt that it could build a title contender around Murray and now two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
The Cavs opted for the Boston deal in an attempt to make another title run with LeBron James. While the move didn’t lead to a title, the team did use the primary draft piece from that trade – the pick that became Collin Sexton – to help facilitate the Donovan Mitchell deal last offseason.
After seeing how the 2023 NBA Finals turned out, the Nuggets have to be happy that they stuck to their guns and allowed Murray to blossom in Denver.