As we found out Sunday, July 19th, the Nuggets and Houston Rockets agreed to a trade centered around Ty Lawson. The troubled point guard is no longer a Nugget, and it's my hope that Lawson finds the ability to make some changes and gets himself back on the basketball court. Lawson's era in Denver was a memorable one, culminating with a franchise best 57 wins during the 2012-13 season. That season fell short of expectations as Danilo Gallinari suffered a devastating ACL tear in April, thus robbing the Nuggets faithful of a true series against the upstart Golden State Warriors.
Things changed quickly for Denver after the six games series loss at the hands of the Warriors. Gone was GM Masai Ujiri, and head coach George Karl, and a new direction was undertaken. Denver has another new direction with Michael Malone replacing Brian Shaw, and Emmanuel Mudiay looking like the point guard of the future. While Lawson will, eventually, join James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and former teammate Corey Brewer, what does this deal mean for Denver? Let's start with the details.
2017 second-round pick
1st Round Pick (protected 1-14 in 2016)
Nick Johnson, 22 year-old guard
Kostas Papanikolaou, 24 year-old forward
Joey Dorsey, 31 year-old center
Pablo Prigioni, 38 year-old point guard
Let's go through these incoming players and see how they blend with what the Nuggets currently have.
Prigioni: Adrian Wojnarowski reported that his non-guaranteed deal of $1.7 million would either be waived or traded, prior to becoming fully guaranteed.
Prigioni is guaranteed only $440K of his deal if waived by Monday. Denver will trade or waive him in next 24 hours, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 20, 2015
Dorsey: The undersized center, 6'9" and 275 pounds, is on the books for a bit over $1 million for the coming season. With Jusuf Nurkic recovering from patella tendon surgery, Dorsey could find himself as the team's starting center come opening night. Any way you slice it, Dorsey could be a valuable veteran this season for Denver or they might try to move him before the season.
Johnson: He's listed at shooting guard, but the 6'3" standout from Arizona can also run the point. Like Emmanuel Mudiay, he's not a great shooter, but he can get to the rim and has some experience at just 22 years-old. He's still on his rookie deal and his deal is guaranteed over the next two seasons at $845K and $980K. His deal also has a $1.25 million qualifying offer for the 2017-18 season. Denver worked Johnson out ahead of the 2014 draft (42nd pick, one behind Nikola Jokic), and the athletic guard could find a home in Denver.
Papanikolaou: The 48th pick of the 2012 draft (by the Knicks) was signed to a deal by the Rockets, after the team acquired his rights from the Portland Trail Blazers. He has a non-guaranteed deal for $4.7 million this season, and a qualifying offer of $5.9 million for the 2016-17 season. He's known for being a crafty passer (Tim Connelly loves his passers) with range that can play power forward, but is a more natural small forward at 6'8" and 235 pounds. He could be Danilo Gallinari insurance, if Gallo doesn't reach a new contract with the team. He lost his place in Houston's rotation when Josh Smith was signed and Terrance Jones returned from injury. I admit, he's an intriguing prospect out of Greece. His last name is pronounced: Papa-nickel-ow.
1st Round pick: This pick is lottery protected, meaning if the Rockets miss the playoffs they keep the pick. It comes to Denver if it's in the 15-30 range. No word yet on the protections beyond this season, but it'd take major injuries to Harden and Howard for Houston to whiff on the playoffs.
Nuggets roster as it stands now:
Teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players during the offseason, but they must trim the roster to 15 during the season, according to Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ. So, who is on Denver's roster as of now?
1.) Emmanuel Mudiay
2.) Jameer Nelson
3.) Randy Foye
4.) Gary Harris
5.) Will Barton
6.) Danilo Gallinari
7.) Wilson Chandler
8.) Kenneth Faried
9.) J.J. Hickson
10.) Jusuf Nurkic
11.) Nikola Jokic
12.) Joffrey Lauvergne
13.) Nick Johnson
14.) Joey Dorsey
15.) Pablo Prigioni (likley to be traded/waived)
16.) Erick Green
17.) Kostas Papanikolaou
Unrestricted free agent:
18.) Darrell Arthur (he's working out in Denver, but it's unknown if he'll re-sign. If he does re-sign, a move is coming to free up a roster spot for him.)
That's 17 players, take out Pablo and it falls to 16, and Denver would have to make one more move to clear a roster spot to get to 15. The candidates to not make the team come opening night? Foye, Hickson, and Green. Denver could easily find a taker for Foye, but they may value his voice and ability to log minutes at shooting guard. Hickson's deal should be difficult to move, but his $5.6 million is expiring. And Green could be waived as his $845K is not guaranteed.
As my colleague Andrew Feinstein astutely pointed out in his piece on the trade:
So when Nuggets fans look back on the night that Ty Lawson was traded, perhaps it will be remembered as the night that the Denver Nuggets officially became Emmanuel Mudiay's team.
It seems the Nuggets wanted to put an end to Ty Lawson's future with the team, and they appear ready to hand the keys to Mudiay. While Denver might have been able to get a better haul before Lawson's second alleged DUI, they did get a few future assets with this trade. Kostas is a decent prospect, Johnson could be the backup point of the future (or Nikola Radicevic), and Connelly and Company will have to again draft well.
The Nuggets still have some future assets in their cupboard, too.
Nikola Radicevic: The 21 year-old point guard played in Spain last season with Kristaps Porzingis, and has been around both Denver and Las Vegas with the team (not playing, however). His club, Sevilla, might be in trouble; so Denver may need to help find him a new home. He has promise to his game as a playmaker, and can create for himself a bit, too.
2016 1st Round Pick swap with the Knicks: However the coming season plays out, Denver has the right to swap first round picks with the Knicks. Meaning if the Knicks finish with the 5th pick and Denver the 8th, the Nuggets can take the 5th pick (with the 8th pick, in this scenario, going to the Raptors as part of the Andrea Bargnani deal from the Knicks). So, Denver could have two chances at lottery gold (top three pick), if both New York and Denver miss the playoffs.
Rockets 1st Rounder: This pick is 1-14 protected, meaning Denver gets it if it's 15-30. The Nuggets could have two picks in the 2016 draft, or they could choose to package the pair for a player or a better pick.
Blazers 1st Rounder: This pick is lottery protected both for 2016 and 2017, meaning Denver only gets the pick if the Blazers make the playoffs in one of the next two drafts. It's in the 15-30 range for 2016 and '17 drafts, and if it doesn't convey, it becomes two second round picks; one in 2018 (after a pick swap with the Kings) and one in 2019.
Grizzlies 1st Rounder: This pick is more complex. It's protected in 2016 from 1-5 and 15-30; meaning it comes to Denver if it's 6-14. In 2017 and 2018 it's only protected 1-5; meaning it comes to Denver if it's 6-30. And in 2019 it's totally unprotected; meaning if it becomes the first pick, Denver gets it - no matter what.
Looking over those picks, it's likely Denver gets the option to swap picks with the Knicks and the Rockets pick in 2016. The Grizzlies pick is likely to convey in 2017 in the 6-30 range, and the Blazers pick is likely to become to second rounders (not bad for them as they rented Arron Afflalo for a failed playoff run).
The rebuild is on in Denver. Yes, even with Chandler and Gallo still aboard, the rebuild is on, and they are two guys the teams wants to build with. In a young man's league, it's not totally insane to think the Nuggets could be competing in the playoffs again in 2017 or 2018 with Chandler and Gallo still around to push forward with Mudiay, Nurkic, and whomever else the Nuggets choose to build around.
The future is now for the Nuggets.