Offseason In Review: Denver Nuggets

November 15 2013 at 9:23pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades

  • Acquired the No. 46 pick in 2013 from the Jazz in exchange for the No. 27 pick in 2013 and cash.
  • Acquired Darrell Arthur and the No. 55 pick in 2013 from the Grizzlies in exchange for Kosta Koufos.
  • Acquired Randy Foye from the Jazz and a 2018 second-round pick from the Warriors in exchange for Andre Iguodala (signed-and-traded to Warriors) and a 2018 second-round pick (to Jazz). Foye was signed-and-traded for three years, $9.14MM.

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

All was right in Denver after the first game of the playoffs last season. The Nuggets were coming off a regular season in which they’d won 57 times, the most since their ABA days, and they’d added another win in the opener of their first-round series against the underdog Warriors. In a few weeks, George Karl would be named Coach of the Year and GM Masai Ujiri would clutch the Executive of the Year trophy. Yet by the time the league announced those awards, Denver’s fortune had turned. The Nuggets only managed one more win in that series, and they suddenly had to deal with their ninth first-round elimination in 10 years.

More tough breaks followed. Ujiri departed for the Raptors, and Pete D’Alessandro, Ujiri’s top aide in Denver, became the new Kings GM. Other Nuggets executives fled as well, but the changes weren’t limited to the front office. The team parted ways with Karl, who had guided the team to three of its four best regular seasons since the merger but was responsible for seven of the first-round flame-outs. The shocking decision was tempered only by a wild offseason of coaching changes in which Lionel Hollins and Vinny Del Negro, who’d both won 56 regular season games in 2012/13, also lost their jobs. Still, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke reeled in capable replacements before the draft, hiring well-regarded Pelicans exec Tim Connelly as the new GM and Brian Shaw, a fast-rising assistant on the Pacers bench, as the new coach.

There was upheaval galore in Denver, but perhaps the most significant figure to leave was Andre Iguodala, who rejected Connelly’s four-year, $52MM offer and even more money from the Kings to sign with Golden State on a four-year, $48MM pact. The Nuggets, Jazz and Warriors turned it into a three-way sign-and-trade that facilitated Denver’s acquisition of Randy Foye, but the arrangement had more to do with Golden State and Utah than it did with the Nuggets. Foye can provide some of the outside shooting that Denver sorely lacked in 2012/13, and while Iguodala hardly looked like the Gold Medal winner he is last season, Foye doesn’t figure to come close to Iggy’s impact. It’s somewhat surprising that Connelly didn’t add a fifth year to Iguodala’s offer, a sweetener no other team could match. Still, the nine-year vet was clearly willing to take less to play with a team that has more star power and, as this spring’s results suggested, a better chance to advance deep into the playoffs. The loss to Golden State clearly continues to cast a shadow on the Nuggets.

Connelly affected plenty of other changes, swinging a draft-night trade with the Grizzlies that sent Kosta Koufos to Memphis in return for Darrell Arthur. The intentions of the deal were clear. Nuggets brass wanted to give JaVale McGee more playing time after he came off the bench behind Koufos while Karl was coach. There’d otherwise be little motivation for the Nuggets to give up a starter for Arthur, who hadn’t started as many as 10 games in a season since his rookie year in 2008/09. That’s especially true since Koufos is cheaper and has a partially guaranteed 2014/15 season, while Arthur has a player option for next year. The desire to maximize their four-year, $44MM investment in McGee surely fuels their interest in seeing him play, and with McGee out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg, Denver may have overplayed its hand with a trade it could regret.

The deal put the onus on Connelly to re-sign restricted free agent center Timofey Mozgov to provide depth. Ujiri had made it clear long before he skipped town that Mozgov was a priority, rebuffing trade interest in the Russian seven-footer last season. The deal seems like a fair market price for an intriguing 7’1″ center, even though he rarely played last season. He’ll be a couple weeks shy of his 30th birthday when the contract is up, but early returns, with Mozgov averaging career highs of 10.3 points and 4.6 boards per game, suggest the team’s decision on Mozgov was more sound than what its done with its other centers.

Denver made its most significant expenditure of the offseason on another player capable of manning the five spot. J.J. Hickson is more of a power forward, but he’s played plenty of center, including his role as the starting pivot for the Blazers last season. Portland GM Neil Olshey said publicly that he wanted an upgrade at the position this summer, irking Hickson, who’d resurrected his career while with the Blazers. He went from signing a one-year, $4MM deal in 2012/13 to a three-year pact with the Nuggets that will pay him more than four times last year’s contract. Hickson averaged 10.4 rebounds last season playing out of position, so his new deal is priced reasonably, though it was odd to see the Nuggets, with Kenneth Faried and Arthur at power forward and McGee and Mozgov at center, spend to acquire another big man. That’s led to rumors that Connelly could trade Faried this season.

The Nuggets didn’t just focus on the frontcourt this summer, acquiring Foye and Nate Robinson to play shooting guard. Robinson is a dangerous scorer, as he proved with a 34-point performance in the first round of the playoffs for the Bulls last season, but he’s also an inconsistent one, as witnessed by a zero-point, 0-for-12 effort during the second round. The 5’9″ Robinson nonetheless outperformed expectations that he would run afoul of defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, proving he was capable enough on defense to at least garner playing time. He’s inexpensive on a deal that pays him a little more than $2MM a year, but that slight raise on the minimum salary cost Denver its biannual exception, a tool it won’t be able to use next summer.

Denver is off to a slow start in 2013/14, which isn’t a major surprise given all of its movement. Once the Nuggets find their rhythm, they still probably won’t approach last season’s win total, especially with the absence of Iguodala and the injured Danilo Gallinari, as well as the potential for yet more significant changes to the roster. Connelly clearly isn’t of the belief that last year’s playoff loss was a fluke, so the Nuggets are a work in progress at this point. It’s hard to see exactly what Connelly’s vision for the franchise is, but Kroenke and company are probably more willing to tolerate regression this year than they were another banner regular season that led to a playoff defeat. Connelly will have time.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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