After bringing Denver their first NBA championship, the Nuggets are rightfully enjoying their offseason headlined by Nikola Jokic who is back home in Serbia living his best life watching his horses.
For the front office, there had to be a quick turnaround on basking in the glow of a championship, because two weeks later they had to be ready for the start of free agency. With the majority of their team under contract long-term, including Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon, there weren’t a lot of big decisions for Denver to make this summer, but they did know they were likely to see some key rotational pieces depart and would need to come up with ways to replace them without having much money to spend. That indeed was the case, with the biggest departure being Bruce Brown signing with the Pacers, but provided health of their top stars, the Nuggets will still be a strong contender to repeat in 2023-24. There are going to be a few questions lingering deeper down the rotation, but a fairly quiet offseason isn’t a bad things when you’re the champs.
Here we’ll grade the Nuggets offseason moves in the Draft, free agency and contract extensions, and on the trade market.
After some wheeling and dealing (including a rare mid-Finals trade), the Nuggets were able to move up to the 29th pick in the first round, via the Indiana Pacers. With that pick they took Julian Strawther out of Gonzaga, adding more shooting on the wing as they hope he can potentially step into the regular season rotation next season. On Draft night, our Brad Rowland gave the Nuggets a B- for the selection, noting his shooting is the headlining skill for him in the NBA, but if he’s going to stick on the champs roster the defense will need to improve.
This might be a bit early for Strawther in a vacuum, but Denver can be trusted to maximize his skill set. He is a fantastic shooter and has the size that Denver seems to covet. Defensively, it’s an adventure right now, but there is room to grow with his tools.
Denver also added Jalen Pickett out of Penn State and Hunter Tyson out of Clemson in the early part of the second round, further adding some youth and shooting to their bench unit. While unlikely they get another late round steal who cracks the playoff rotation the way Christian Braun did a year ago, the Nuggets were rather desperate to add some rookie contracts to their cap sheet and add some youth to their bench.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: C+
It’s not a surprise they lost Brown given they could only offer him $7.8 million for next season and he got two years, $45 million from the Pacers. The same can be said for Jeff Green getting $6 million in Houston for next year. The issue for the Nuggets is they weren’t in a great place to replace either, and the result was they got a bit squeezed on the vet market and there’s real questions about their seventh and eighth spots in the playoff rotation. Adding Justin Holiday is a solid Jeff Green replacement, but the hole left by Brown has gone unfilled. Braun will almost assuredly be asked to take a larger role in his stead while Peyton Watson and Strawther figure to get cracks at the Braun role, but their only other signing was Reggie Jackson for $5 million. Jackson wasn’t really part of the playoff rotation a year ago and brings a very different skillset to the backcourt than Brown.
All of this is a bit nitpicky, but then again that’s the margins you are dealing with when you’re trying to win a title. I also understand why Denver ended up making the moves they did because they just didn’t have the kind of role to offer the top vets on the market that a team like Phoenix did. Denver is offering a chance to be the seventh or eighth man in the rotation (at best), which isn’t all that appealing, even for the defending champs. They are still going to be terrific and can absolutely win a title with this roster, but given one of their strengths was that they did not have the same kind of holes in their rotation as other top teams, they have seemingly taken a step back in that area barring some big leaps from young players.
All of the Nuggets trades were involving draft picks this summer, and with those deals they did well to cash in on some future assets right now when they needed a way to fill out their roster with young players under team control long-term. Denver did not want to end up as a team rotating out five different veteran minimum guys every year, which makes a lot of sense given their team-building strategy has always been about creating cohesion and relying on the trust built internally. It’s hard to keep that going when you have significant roster turnover every year, even if the starting lineup stays the same, and Denver is banking on their development system being able to bring at least a couple of their youngsters along to being useful in the regular season, at the least.
The Nuggets never were going to have a huge offseason, as somehow talking Brown into returning was the only chance at a spectacular summer. Operating within their reality, they did perfectly fine but will have some interesting questions to answer once the playoffs roll around next year regarding who comes off of the bench and whether they can prop up the starting lineup the way the bench did this past postseason. All told, the Nuggets are one of the NBA’s best teams and it’s a very good place to be when your only concern (beyond health, which is everyone’s concern) is the 6-8 spots in the rotation. Having the best player in the world on top of that isn’t bad either, and despite a quiet summer, Denver fans are rightfully dreaming of going back-to-back.