2018 Offseason In Review: Denver Nuggets

Hoops Rumors is breaking down the 2018 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2018/19 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Denver Nuggets.

Signings:

  • Standard contracts:
    • Nikola Jokic: Five years, $142.71MM. Includes unlikely incentives. Re-signed using Bird rights.
    • Will Barton: Four years, $53MM. Re-signed using Bird rights.
    • Monte Morris: Three years, $4.6MM. Third year non-guaranteed. Re-signed using Non-Bird rights.
    • Torrey Craig: Two years, $4MM. Re-signed using taxpayer mid-level exception.
    • Isaiah Thomas: One year, minimum salary. Signed using minimum salary exception.
  • Two-way contracts:
  • Non-guaranteed camp contracts:

Trades:

  • Acquired the draft rights to Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41 pick) from the Magic in exchange for the draft rights to Justin Jackson (No. 43 pick) and either the Nuggets’ or Wizards’ 2019 second-round pick (whichever is less favorable).
    • Note: The Nuggets’ 2019 second-round pick would be sent to Milwaukee if it falls between 56-60, in which case the Magic would receive the Wizards’ second-rounder.
  • Acquired cash ($110K) from the Sixers in exchange for Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets’ 2021 second-round pick, and the right to swap 2022 second-round picks.
  • Acquired Isaiah Whitehead from the Nets in exchange for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, the Nuggets’ 2019 first-round pick (top-12 protected), and the Nuggets’ 2020 second-round pick.
    • Note: Whitehead was later waived.

Draft picks:

  • 1-14: Michael Porter Jr. — Signed to rookie contract.
  • 2-41: Jarred Vanderbilt — Signed to three-year, $3.92MM contract. First two years guaranteed. Signed using taxpayer mid-level exception.
  • 2-58: Thomas Welsh — Signed to two-way contract.

Departing players:

Other offseason news:

  • Hired Mark Price to coaching staff.

Salary cap situation:

  • Remained over the cap.
  • Carrying approximately $116.4MM in guaranteed salaries.
  • $2.5MM of taxpayer mid-level exception still available ($2.84MM used on Torrey Craig and Jarred Vanderbilt).

Check out the Denver Nuggets’ full roster and depth chart at RosterResource.com.


Story of the summer:

Coming off a season in which they barely missed the playoffs, the Nuggets had one major goal: Lock up center Nikola Jokic at all costs.

Technically, Denver’s front office didn’t have to negotiate with their stats-stuffing center until next summer. They could have exercised their 2018/19 option on him and paid him a bargain-basement $1.6MM this season.

That approach would have prudent in the short term but could have wrecked their future plans. Jokic would have been an unrestricted free agent next summer and surely wouldn’t have appreciated being underpaid heading into the open market.

Instead, they declined the option and made him a restricted free agent, while assuring his reps he’d get a near max five-year deal once free agency began in July.

President of basketball operations Tim Connelly thus delivered on his June promise that “Nikola’s going to be here for a long, long time.”

Jokic set new career highs in PPG (18.5), RPG (10.7), APG (6.1), and 3PT% (.396) last season. Still just 23 years old, Jokic still has room to improve in his overall game even if his numbers decline somewhat with an upgraded roster. The Nuggets’ frontcourt could be even more imposing this season if Paul Millsap can stay healthy after he appeared in just 38 games in his first year with the club due to injury.

Key offseason losses:

The Nuggets were eager to dump some salary in order to re-sign Jokic and Will Barton while staying out of luxury tax territory. They successfully found new homes for veterans Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur, a trio of frontcourt players with bloated contracts.

Brooklyn was willing to add Faried and Arthur to the payroll, though the Nuggets had to surrender a protected first-rounder and a second-round pick to sweeten the pot. The ‘Manimal’ has a chance to revive his career with the Nets after injuries and Jokic’s emergence steadily diminished his role the past three seasons. Arthur appeared in just 19 games last season.

The Nuggets only had to toss in a second-rounder while essentially gifting Chandler to the Sixers. He started 71 games last season but became the last option on offense, attempting just 8.5 shots per game. They’ll elevate Barton to the starting unit to replace Chandler, with Torrey Craig and Juan Hernangomez in reserve.

Key offseason additions:

With a limited budget, the Nuggets couldn’t make any sizable offers in free agency. But they still managed to land a proverbial big fish, even if he’s one of the smaller players in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is only a couple of years removed from his MVP-caliber season with the Celtics. The high-volume scorer endured a disastrous 2017-18 season that included hip surgery, a trade to Cavaliers, a forgettable 15-game stint with Cleveland and a trade to the Lakers.

Thomas was willing to accept a one-year, “prove it” deal with the hope of getting a much more lucrative pact in free agency next summer. If he pulls that off, it will be a win-win situation for both him and the Nuggets. He’ll be the main scoring option off the bench.

Drafting Michael Porter Jr. was fraught with risk but perhaps a very big reward if he can return to full health after two back surgeries. The club views the versatile forward as a long-term asset and anything he contributes this season will be a bonus.

Outlook for 2018/19:

The Nuggets retained most of their core pieces and made an intriguing low-risk, high-reward addition in Thomas. Given reasonably good health, Denver has no excuse to come up short again in the postseason race.

Jokic is a difficult, if not impossible, matchup for most of the bigs in the league. Millsap provides rebounding, leadership and toughness and they’ll need that with an undersized lineup that also features Barton, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray.

The Nuggets are still a very young team and Murray could be ready to take the next step to stardom. The bench is generally unproven but if 22-year-old power forward Trey Lyles can continue on an upward trajectory, the second unit should be at least adequate.

It adds up to a 50-win campaign and a trip to the playoffs.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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