By Brandon Krisztal
In Denver, Colorado seemingly every year as the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaches, we often ask, “Are the Rockies buyers or sellers this year?” Most years, they’re sellers, or they do nothing.
At Pepsi Center, for nearly a decade, there was no notion of the Nuggets being sellers, save for Carmelo Anthony’s final season. But some years, they were actually buyers…and those days seem like a distant memory.
Tim Connelly, Denver’s second year General Manager, and the rest of the organization indirectly let the league know they were open for business when they moved Center Timofey Mozgov to Cleveland last month. At the time, I thought the trade was a good move by Denver. Mozgov was basically the fourth player in the Melo trade. So, getting two first round picks (albeit protected picks) for an undrafted throw-in, also allowing your rookie center, Jusuf Nurkic to get more playing time, was a win all the way around.
Which brings us to today, the NBA’s wheeler-dealer extravaganza aka Trade Deadline Day. Unofficially, every player on the roster not named Nurkic or fellow rookie, guard Gary Harris, were available. The real question was, who was most coveted and what could Connelly and crew get in return.
Veteran wing Wilson Chandler’s name has been in trade talks all season but, alas, he’s still in town. Ty Lawson’s name was cavalierly tossed out there by NBA “Insiders,” but the Nuggets didn’t have any real conversations with teams like The Lakers or Pacers about their best player. 10-year Guard Jameer Nelson, who was traded here a few weeks ago, was rumored to be on the move for a FOURTH time, but he and fellow guard Randy Foye actually expressed a desire to stay in Denver.
In recent weeks the Nuggets reportedly offered forward J.J. Hickson to Brooklyn, but JaVale McGee was attached to the deal, and no GM in his right mind would trade for the perennial star of TNT’s “Shaqtin’ A Fool.” The thought by most was that there was just no way the Nuggets would be able to dump McGee’s contract which pays him north of $11 Million this year and next. There’s a chance they could’ve moved him in the off-season or next year, because his albatross of a salary would be coming off the books at the end of the 2016 season but this year? Forget about it.
Last summer the Denver’s big move was reacquiring former Nugget Guard, Arron Afflalo. While nobody thought he was the franchise savior, Afflalo was a solid player his first time around, and he became a better scorer. However, as the season unfolded, it was obvious, he did not exist in the same reverential space under head coach Brian Shaw, that he lived in under former head man, George Karl.
Afflalo’s name continued to be at the top of trade talk reports, including being the top name likely to be moved. Thus, it wasn’t a big surprise when the news broke that “Triple A” was headed to Portland along with Alonzo Gee. The Nuggets received three players of little consequence in return, and most importantly, another protected first round pick as well as a $7.5 Million trade exception.
Side Note: it’s weird to remember how well Thomas Robinson played in leading Kansas to a NCAA Championship Game loss to Kentucky in 2012, becoming a top five draft pick, and now he’s with his fourth team in less than three years.
I was excited about this trade too, because The Nuggets acquired another 1st round pick. For a while now, I’ve maintained that Denver’s strategy to build a team needs to be almost exclusively through the draft. If you look at the All-NBA Teams every year, all of the players are top-5 and top-10 picks. Sure there are always outliers, but if you want to be The Spurs, you need to hit on some draft picks and win the lottery. The Nuggets can’t do much to control their lottery fate, but the more draft picks they acquire, the more chances they have to find gems in the draft.
If the only trade of the day for the Nuggets had been the Afflalo move, that would’ve been fine. But Tim Connelly had one more bomb to drop. Somehow, and I, along with most of the basketball world, don’t know why or how, but somehow, The Philadelphia 76ers wanted JaVale McGee and Tim Connelly made the impossible happen.
So, The Nuggets willingly sent the disappointing player to the city of Brotherly Love, along with the lesser of the two protected 1st-rounders from the Mozgov trade in exchange for an $11.2 Million trade exception and the rights to a European dude named Cenk Akyol who was drafted a decade ago, has been traded three times this year, and doesn’t seem like more than a placeholder.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, the total haul is a better 1st round pick from Portland, and nearly $19 Million in trade exceptions that can be used for the next year.
Do these moves mean The Nuggets are closer to being a Championship Contender? Absolutely not but they do show that Tim Connelly is still working to craft a roster that makes sense for Brian Shaw to coach and for the organization to get. They give the team more financial flexibility, and don’t be surprised if they look to move the likes of Forward Kenneth Faried and Lawson if the right deal comes along before this summer’s draft.