Just when you thought the biggest Nuggets news on Thursday was going to be Micah Nori moving on from the Nuggets coaching staff to accept a job in Detroit, the most unexpected news broke around 9:45 p.m.
Isaiah Thomas signed a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets at the veteran’s minimum. But wait, there’s more. Since the Nuggets already had 15 active players on their roster after signing Jarred Vanderbilt, a salary and roster spot dump was especially necessary. The Nuggets knocked the salary dump trade out of the park. By shedding not only Kenneth Faried’s $13.8M but also Darrell Arthur’s $7.5M all the while being able to protect the first round pick 1 through 12.
There’s a lot to break down here from cap impact to what this means as a true change of era for the Nuggets, but let’s start with Isaiah Thomas.
Isaiah Thomas (What time is IT?)
It’s not every day that a team gets an opportunity to sign a player one season removed from an MVP caliber campaign, especially for the veteran’s minimum. By signing Isaiah Thomas to a one-year $2M deal the Nuggets secured their second low-risk, high-reward move of the summer. In fact, signing Isaiah Thomas for this cheap is practically no risk.
Low-risk, high-reward is not the only connection Michael Porter Jr. and Isaiah Thomas have. The two have faced off back in Seattle during the offseason and clearly Isaiah Thomas has a lot of respect for MPJ’s game.
Michael Porter Jr is the best player in the draft!!! No question about it… Pass on him if you want too
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) June 14, 2018
Porter commented on playing with NBA players like IT at his introductory press conference.
“In Seattle a lot of those guys come up there for the summer,” said Porter. “So we would, everyday, go to the gym and have runs. You know Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, a bunch of guys would be up there, we’d be playing.”
The Porter and Thomas connection is one that, if successful, could be the key to unlocking the Nuggets potential to contend with the Warriors this season. I’m not saying you can just trot them out there and the Nuggets will win a championship. However, if you get Isaiah Thomas at 90 percent of what he was in Boston plus a Michael Porter Jr. return to 100 percent before the playoffs with no other major injuries to speak of, then this team clearly has the offensive talent to compete with anyone.
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) July 13, 2018
Isaiah Thomas also has a connection with Nuggets head coach Michael Malone from when the two were together in Sacramento for Thomas’ most productive season. That 2013-14 season was the first year that Thomas averaged more than 20 points per game and the year that he recorded a career-high 6.3 assists per game.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Thomas met with Tim Connelly and Michael Malone in Las Vegas this week about his projected role, which figures to be as a scorer and playmaker off the bench. With Will Barton now projected in the starting lineup, this makes sense that Malone is now trying to fill that void. For more on what Isaiah Thomas’ role will mean for the Nuggets’ bench production check out Drew Albee’s piece set to drop soon from Dig In Denver.
The Salary Dump to Nets
As if Vanderbilt’s signing wasn’t foreshadowing enough that one, or both, of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur would be dealt the Nuggets doubled down when news broke of the Isaiah Thomas signing.
Fortunately for the Nuggets, Brooklyn was willing to take on both Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur along with a 2019 protected first round pick (1-12) and a future second rounder in exchange for Isaiah Whitehead who Denver will waive.
Denver unloads $21M in salary on the deal. Nuggets will waive Whitehead, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/ot9P5TajeX
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 13, 2018
The Nuggets active roster is now down to 14 spots which frees up a spot for Monte Morris or another free agent target that would be willing to sign for their remaining $2.5M of the taxpayers MLE.
Most importantly, the Nuggets saved $21M in salary and around $22M in luxury tax for a combined $43M from this transaction, plus the $50M they saved by trading Wilson Chandler. That means the Nuggets are nearly saving $100M that they can use in other areas to make Denver a better place to play and for fans to enjoy the games.
Additionally, this means that Denver is also putting off having to pay the repeater tax rates for at least another year which for reference is a spike of $1 over the first-time tax rates, which shakes out to a maximum difference of about $5M per tax bracket.
Clearing out the Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur contract saves Denver a combined $43M in salary and projected luxury tax. The Nuggets now have 14 players on guaranteed contracts and are now $8.7M below the luxury tax. Denver this offseason has saved… https://t.co/DcFNG7qhB1
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 13, 2018
The Era Change is Complete
By shipping out Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried the Nuggets now no longer have any players remaining who played for George Karl, the last time Denver made the playoffs. In fact, Gary Harris and Will Barton are the last players to have even played under Brian Shaw in 2014-15 and that was for just one season (28 games in Barton’s case). That means that roster is now fully shaped by the culture that the Nuggets front office and Michael Malone are trying to create.
With extensions handed out to Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, and Will Barton as well as draft picks like Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., with the free agent signings of Paul Millsap and Isaiah Thomas this team is coming together for its new era of Mile High Basketball.
It’s an era that will feature fantastic ball movement. Shootouts will be expected from this high powered offense that will simply look to outscore teams on a night to night basis. It’s an era that is hinged on togetherness and relationships among teammates and the coaching staff. Something that has been on full display by the flocks of teammates showing up to support the Nuggets Summer League team in Las Vegas.
There’s new jerseys, new players, and new excitement in the Mile High City and this offseason has completed the cycle that should finally put the Nuggets back into the playoffs, and maybe someday sooner rather than later contending for a championship.