In August 2012, after a long courtship, the Lakers finally consummated a trade with the Magic for enigmatic big man Dwight Howard. The deal, a complicated one that ended up involving 4 teams, 12 players, 5 picks and a trade exception, finally happened when the Nuggets jumped in to include wings Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, along with some draft consideration, in exchange for the Sixers’ All-Star Andre Iguodala. At the time, Afflalo and Harrington were fan favorites in Denver, causing many loyal Nuggets fans to decry a deal that facilitated a conference rival acquiring a superstar, especially while dumping two valuable members of a team that had made the playoffs every season since 2003-2004.
It would appear that history might be repeating itself, in that the Nuggets are rumored to be setting the table for the Lakers’ superstar sweepstakes; however, this summer, the Nuggets set themselves up much more strategically.
Earlier this afternoon, Tim Bontemps at the Washington Post reported that the Nuggets and Lakers had been discussing a deal that would send a 1st round pick to Tinseltown, pinned to least one of the Nuggets’ burdensome contracts, as a way to sweeten the offer to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. On the surface, this seems like a rather one-sided deal, leading some Nuggets fans on Twitter to shout as they did in 2012 – “why are we helping a conference rival?” However, this deal is far more beneficial for the Nuggets than it appears at first blush.
With the impending Joker max extension and GH’s extension hitting the books, the Nuggets are going to be approximately $10 million into luxury tax territory, and it’s an open secret that Kenneth Faried ($13.8M), Darrell Arthur ($7.5M) and possibly even Wilson Chandler ($12.8M) have been available for a song to alleviate that salary cap crisis. While one wonders why Mason Plumlee ($13M in 2018, $14M in 2019, youngest of the four) isn’t included in that conversation, this is a great move for the Nuggets.
A team rarely sees its cheapest player become its most expensive in an offseason, but that underscores the value that Joker has provided since his rookie year; however, this forces some difficult decisions. 3 of the 4 players listed above will not start for this team next season (likely 2 when Michael Porter Jr. is healthy), so committing $20M+ to bench players is a poor direction for a team with 2 All-Star bigs and young scoring guards. These four are also among the seven oldest members of a young squad; their minutes would be better distributed to the likes of Lyles, Welsh, Vanderbilt, Beasley, Craig or Juancho. (See our article on Torrey Craig’s value.) In short, even moving one of these massive contracts would relieve the cap crunch and open the roster for young talent to get reps – both enormously valuable directional decisions for a nascent contender.
The worst thing about this move is effectively an admission that LeBron will not have a locker be playing at Pepsi next year, but for even those who had dreams of LeBron (like me), we knew it was a flight of fancy when the bright lights of LA came calling. We in Denver know that we’re more likely to build a team through the draft, with our current roster heavy on homegrown talent. Paul Millsap was a tremendously valuable signing last year, but he certainly is the exception in recent Nuggets history. With a starting lineup (eventually) of Murray, Harris, MPJ, Millsap and Jokic, I’d take that squad over a Lakers team gutted to acquire LeBron (even if Kawhi or PG join up) in a seven-game series.
As Nuggets fans, we’re fortunate that history looks to repeat itself – this time, to our benefit.