It's easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback. How much would you have given to have bugged Tim Connelly's cell phone yesterday? You have to wonder what types of deals were coming at the Nuggets, and what deals the Nuggets were pursuing.
Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post discussed the trades, and talked about how Wilson Chandler scenarios got the Nuggets considering moving him (as they had been reluctant to throughout the process) on the Sports Show with Les Shapiro and Woody Paige. What teams were calling for Chandler? What pieces were being thrown at Denver? And Tim Connelly was on the radio this morning discussing the deals he made with Vic Lombardi and Company.
"This year has been a disappointment," Connelly said on 104.3 The Fan this morning. "We have to be aggressive and proactive trying to address some of the things that weren't working with our present roster. And I think yesterday was a big step towards doing that."
Did the Nuggets make big steps towards doing that? It's a great debate. I tend to side with what my colleague, Andrew Feinstein, wrote late last night.
Looking back at both trades, the Nuggets neither overhauled nor took in a haul on "trade day." In the wake of all this activity, the Nuggets are left with a slightly less talented roster than the one that just lost 13 of 15 games entering the All-Star break.
Yes, the Nuggets are slightly less talented now, but the deadline moves were just the begging for the Nuggets, right? Let's hope so. The Nuggets lowered their current salary cap number from around $68 million before the trades to $55 million after. And that number decreases after the season to roughly $46 million as the deals for Thomas Robinson and Darrell Arthur come off the books. And roster decisions can be made on Erick Green, Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye (who all have non-guaranteed deals), Victor Claver and Will Barton (can both become restricted free agents), and Jameer Nelson (player option).
This team could look dramatically different heading into the 2015-16 season as the only guaranteed deals on the books include: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, and Gary Harris. And there is no guarantee that Lawson, Gallo, Hickson, or Faried won't be traded this summer. What would the Lakers rather have with an aging Kobe Bryant: the 3rd overall pick or Ty Lawson and say the 9th overall pick?
There could be draft day desperate teams that would rather roll the dice with proven commodities over young talent that they don't have the time to wait for. The Nuggets have taken advantage of these scenarios in the past. Like back on June 28th, 1995 when the Nuggets moved the 15th overall pick (Brent Barry) and Rodney Rogers to the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2nd overall pick (Antonio McDyess) and Randy Woods.
Or on June 26th, 2002 when the Nuggets swapped McDyess, the 25th pick (Frank Williams), and a future 2nd round pick to the Knicks for the 7th overall pick (Nene), Marcus Camby, and Mark Jackson (yep, that Mark Jackson). Sure, the Nuggets were dealing with two questionable franchises in the Clippers and Knicks, but there is a history of draft day trades, combined with veteran players to move up in the draft. Not saying it will happen, but Connelly and Company have that option available to them.
It's the waiting and seeing that is the hardest part. Many fans want to see a direction right now, but the Nuggets are being patient with a slow rebuild. At least, that's the indications given. So, while we could be seeing the last 29 games that Ty Lawson will play as a Nugget, we still don't know what direction these Nuggets are going.
Let's take a look at some of the moves made yesterday and try to make sense as to how they relate to the Nuggets and how they set the Nuggets up in the future (both near and far).
Acquiring the Blazers 2016 first round pick: The Nuggets can either use this pick or have it in their trade cupboard for a move down the road. If the pick becomes the Nuggets' in 2016, they will likely take a flyer on a guy somewhere in the 20s. The pick is lottery protected (1-14) in 2016, so if LaMarcus Aldridge decides to bolt as a free agent this summer, hard to imagine, the Nuggets would only get the pick if it's 15-30.
Nate's prediction: The Nuggets wind up trading this pick. Moves made this summer could change my mind, but the Nuggets seem more interested in second round picks versus late first rounders (see Erick Green, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Nikola Jokic). Late firsts take up roster spots and load your team up with guaranteed money. The Nuggets could try to use this pick to move around in the draft or in a trade for a player already in the NBA. It feels like an asset and not a piece the team will wind up using, especially with that 2016 pick swap with the Knicks in their back-pocket (that other pick goes to the Raptors! What a steal by Masai Ujiri on that Andrea Bargnani swap).
Thomas Robinson's buyout: As Chris Dempsey reported yesterday, Robinson is receiving a buyout from Denver and will get to choose his next destination. He's on the books for $3.6 million for the rest of this throwaway season, but the contract comes off the books and he was set to become an unrestricted free agent, as the Blazers didn't pick up his final rookie option. I admit, I was disappointed with the buyout of a 23 year old player versus one of say the 26 year old Darrell Arthur. Both would have been UFAs this off-season and I'm not sure Denver brings Arthur back (but Arthur does like the city, quite a bit) with the signing of Joffrey Lauvergne.
Had the Nuggets kept Robinson, I'm not sure there would have been any minutes for him and it would have been extremely hard to gauge his value this summer. There could be a reason why the Kings, Rockets, and Blazers gave up on T-Rob, or he could find a home as a big off the bench in his next stop. As Chauncey Billups taught us, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Now, had the Nuggets known that Robinson wanted a buyout, couldn't they have flipped him in a three-teamer and received a future second round pick versus letting an asset go for nothing? Robinson did play some key minutes for the Blazers in the playoffs, but perhaps they couldn't find a taker. Again, it would have been interesting to have a bug on Connelly's phone yesterday.
Many have asked about C.J. McCollum and why the Nuggets didn't try to acquire him. There was some talk from various league sources that McCollum and a first were not made available to the Nuggets, and honestly, the Blazers didn't have a ton of incentive to empty the cupboards for Arron Afflalo, who can become an UFA after the season.
Nate's prediction: Buying out Robinson cleared the way for Joffrey to get some burn. Arthur is a great teammate and can teach a ton to Lauvergne, if the rookie is willing to listen (all signs point to that being a yes, by the way). Now, if we can just get Brian Shaw to bench J.J. Hickson for the final 29 games, we'll really be talking! You can kill the dreamer... But never the dream! (I'm the dreamer in this scenario, along with my guy Colin Neilson).
Will Barton: When I heard the Nuggets and Blazers were rumored to be talking weeks ago, I figured we'd see Barton involved in any deal. Will the Thrill, as he's known, is a tremendous teammate and really is in the same mold as Corey Brewer - they even have the similar shooting percentages! - sorry. Connelly talked about Barton as a utility man on The Fan this morning and that is accurate. It's very hard to see where he'll get minutes though.
Nate's prediction: Barton finds spot minutes a la Alonzo Gee in Shaw's rotation. It wouldn't surprise me if Denver extends the qualifying offer of $1.1 million to Barton this summer, but that would tie up some salary for a team that wants to be active on the free agent market. I'll go ahead and guess Barton won't get the QO extended, but Denver will try to sign him as an UFA anyway.
The $7.5 million traded player exception created in the Afflalo trade. We've been dealing with these TPEs since the days of Marcus Camby being jettisoned for nothing to Los Angeles Clippers (well, the right to swap second round picks, bleh). I feel like I know these like the back of my hand. The Nuggets cannot combine any TPE, but it does allow the team to acquire a player for nothing in the future. The Nuggets have exactly one year to use this TPE and if they can find a player making $7.5 million or less, they can trade for him without giving up anything in return. The Nuggets can also trade for multiple lower salary guys and fit them in with that TPE. Meaning they can trade for a guy making $5 million and then trade for a guy making $2.5 million and use the Afflalo $7.5M TPE to fit them both onto the roster.
The $11.2 million TPE created in the JaVale McGee trade. Same as above.
Prediction: The Nuggets have been using their TPEs, but there is no guarantee they use either one of these. A nice luxury to have them and they seem to be gaining a little more steam around the league, but I'm not putting a ton of stock into these.
JaVale McGee: Let's go back to this trade for a minute. I was perplexed that the Nuggets had to surrender a first rounder to get the Sixers to bite on McGee, but that was the cost of doing business and the Nuggets knew it. Connelly, again on The Fan, talked about how they got the two firsts from Cleveland in the Timofey Mozgov trade to set up a move like paying off the Sixers to take McGee's contract.
If the Nuggets were that serious about getting out from under McGee's deal this summer, it could mean they really want to be players in the off-season. It was good to get McGee out of the locker room (he wasn't a bad guy, just not that serious about his craft and the Nuggets need basketball lifers not part-timers) and the savings are nice too, I just wish they would have collected an asset in return.
Look at what the Sixers did yesterday with K.J. McDaniels. They traded him to the Houston Rockets, a team known for using analytics to try to project future success a la James Harden, for Isaiah Cannon and a second-round pick (which will be the worse between the Timberwolves and Nuggets - from the Corey Brewer trade).
McDaniels has his issues, as explained here by the fine folks at Liberty Ballers:
He started the season on an absolute tear, shooting 39.5% from beyond the arc in November, and stunning NBA fans with his wild dunks and blocks. At that point it looked like he would be the recipient of a large offer sheet from another team in the ballpark of $8 million.
Since then, McDaniels has returned to Earth. Remain are the highlight reel dunks and blocks, but his shooting has certainly fallen off. As of the All-Star break, McDaniels was shooting just 39.9% from the floor, and 29.3% from beyond the arc. His severe offensive drop off cooled a lot of the talk of a team offering McDaniels a contract the Sixers wouldn't feel comfortable matching. Despite his sub-par numbers, his strong defense coupled with his good shooting mechanics give him the potential to be a really good 3 & D player in the NBA. He was a pretty perfect fit for the Sixers mold.
At 22 years-old, that would have been a nice asset to get in return for the first-round pick the Nuggets surrendered to get Philly to take McGee. Maybe the Nuggets were not offered McDaniels, but Denver did work him out before the draft - so they were familiar with him coming out of Clemson. The issue, he is set to become a Restricted Free Agent after the season, after spurring the traditional second round pick contract the Sixers tried to get him to sign. So, the Nuggets again would have had to quickly determined his value and had money tied up during the free agent period that they may not have wanted to commit to - but a $1 million QO isn't much.
It felt like a lost opportunity and it would have made that McGee trade an absolute home run. Again, the Nuggets might have been re-buffed on that type of deal or maybe they refused to sweeten the pot even more, but that would have been a nice move. Could McDaniels and Gary Harris co-exist? Who is the better prospect? That's just some hindsight for you and some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
While we are again in a holding pattern on the direction of the Nuggets, the team is also in a bit of a holding pattern. They will need to make decisions on Lawson, Faried, Gallo, Barton, and Shaw over the final stretch of the season.
We want to know what direction the team will go, but there are many paths to success. As Connelly has said: "I don't think there's one model."
And he's right.
The Warriors have built their team through the draft (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green), trades (Andrew Bogut, David Lee), and free agency (Andre Iguodala for all intent and purposes). The Hawks have built their team through the draft too (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder), but also utilized key free agent pick ups (Paul Millsap), and trades (Kyle Korver).
Only time will tell ...
The Nuggets have their own first round picks for 2015, 2016, 2017 and on ...
Here are the picked owed to them, courtesy of Basketball Insiders: