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Nuggets decline third-year option for Tyler Lydon

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One half of the Nuggets 2017 draft day gamble won’t be with the team next season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets announced they are declining their third-year option for Tyler Lydon, the No. 24 pick in the 2017 draft.

Lydon was acquired with the Utah Jazz’s first round pick following a draft day trade, with the Nuggets acquiring the pick in combination with Trey Lyles for the No. 13 overall pick. The Nuggets would select Donovan Mitchell for the Jazz, with the former Lousville Cardinal guard finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting.

Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly spoke highly of Lydon after the selection, praising his versatility and character.

“We think there is such a dearth of two-position guys who can shoot and Lydon has a rare combination of shot-making, size and some rim protection,” Connelly said. “He’s a tireless worker and I think he’s willing to mix it up. He’ll be thrown into the fire in the summer league.”

Other NBA analysts were not so laudatory of the selection.

Lydon injured his left knee while playing with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in January 2018, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He has played in two games with the Nuggets this season, bringing his total career minutes to six. He has scored one field goal, a dunk, coming in a game against the Sacramento Kings.

It’s difficult to describe how disastrous of a decision the Nuggets made with that trade. Many draft experts projected OG Anunoby to be selected by the Nuggets, with the former Indiana Hoosier presenting an appealing target due to his size, athleticism, defensive potential, and shooting. The Nuggets gambled that he would slide due to an ACL injury, only to see him get selected with the No. 23 pick, one selection before their new slot in the draft, by the Toronto Raptors. Anunoby would go on to return to full health and start 62 games for the Raptors, as they finished with the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. A medical red flag may have been the reason they passed on Anunoby; in a cruel twist of fate, the player they selected would go on to suffer a knee injury of his own.

The Nuggets passed on several other prospects, including other stretch-fours like Kyle Kuzma and Semi Ojeleye, who have played their way into the rotation for their respective teams.

The Nuggets would later proceed to sign Paul Millsap in free agency, increasing the number of players that could reasonably be expected to play minutes at power forward to eight (Millsap, Lyles, Lydon, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez, and Mason Plumlee). That left the Nuggets with zero traditional small forwards, leaving them to give a bulk of those minutes to Chandler and their backup wing, Will Barton. Chandler played about as well as could be expected, but finished the season with zero points in 48 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game where the winner advanced to the playoffs, before being traded in a salary dump to the Philadelphia 76ers in the offseason.

The Nuggets did find a contributor in the draft, selecting Monte Morris with their third and final pick with the No. 51 overall selection. Morris has shone in his limited minutes, but has shown strong chemistry with his teammates and an ability to lead the offense without turning the ball over.

The Nuggets free up a little over $2 million in cap space next season with the move, and could create around $18.8 million in cap space by declining Millsap’s option. The main reason for the move with Lydon is to likely free up a roster spot. The Nuggets have 11 guaranteed contracts for the 2019-20 season, with a team option for Millsap, while Lyles will be a restricted free agent. The Nuggets traded their 2019 first round pick to the Brooklyn Nets in a salary dump with Faried and Arthur, and while it’s protected for picks 1-12, it seems unlikely they will retain that selection. That leaves them with few openings on their roster, and they could want to use that spot on a player that can make more of an impact.

None of this is meant to denigrate Lydon. It’s not his fault he was drafted where he was. It’s not his fault he was injured. But this news does close out a career that remains one of the biggest mistakes of the Tim Connelly era. It’s an era that has seen great success — but they definitely dropped the ball here.

Check out Lydon’s Nuggets career highlights here.