A little bit of a surprise trade came mid-day on June 13th between the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With Denver trading JaMychal Green and a 2027 protected first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for the 30th overall pick in this year’s draft. As well as two future second-round picks in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
The deal also provided the Nuggets with an $8.2 million trade exception. Since JaMychal Green is reportedly leaning towards accepting his player option for the 2022-2023 season with the Thunder, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Since the Nuggets are giving up a future first-round pick to get a trade exception and an additional first-round pick in this year’s draft, this is certainly a win-now trade for Denver.
The more assets Denver has to play with, the better the Nuggets will be. The team clearly made this move for a reason, hinting that there must be another move or player that they’re targeting. Meaning that this trade is probably more of a stepping stone for another trade.
Here’s a look at some reasons why the trade made sense and what it means for the Denver Nuggets going forward.
What the JaMychal Green trade means for the Denver Nuggets moving forward: Clears a roster spot
JaMychal Green had a solid 2020-21 season in his first full year with the Nuggets, averaging 8.1 points per game and shooting 39 percent from behind the three-point line. This was after Green opted to sign with the Nuggets over the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2020.
Unfortunately, Green’s second season with Denver was not so good, with his numbers plummeting significantly. Dropping down to 6.4 points per game and shooting just 26 percent from the three-point line. In fact, the 26 percent he shot from the three-point line last year was the worst of his entire career.
While JaMychal Green was solid in his first season with the Nuggets, his numbers during his second season were not so good and he didn’t quite live up to the second contract he received from Denver. Since Green re-signed with the team last offseason, signing a two-year $16.4 million extension after initially declining his player option, per Spotrac.
JaMychal Green brought a lot of toughness and some good interior defense for Denver, something that the Nuggets will surely miss. However, the fact is that Green didn’t produce well enough for Denver last season. It’s always hard to keep a job in the NBA when you have a former first-round pick looking over your shoulder and are coming off a down season.
Trading Green not only saves the Nuggets a little bit of money but it also opens up a roster spot for the Nuggets to potentially add more talent through free agency or the upcoming NBA Draft.
Simply put, the JaMychal Green trade provides Denver with more options moving forward as they look to build the best roster they can to complement Nikola Jokic and the rest of their core.
What the JaMychal Green trade means for the Denver Nuggets moving forward: More Minutes for Zeke Nnaji
The upcoming season is probably the biggest of Zeke Nnaji’s young career. Above all else, he needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full NBA season and play at a more consistent level. At the beginning of the season, Nnaji was averaging 6.6 points per game while shooting an impressive 46 percent from the three-point line. That is until he suffered a freak knee injury that ended up costing him to sit out for the remainder of the year after just 41 games played.
He’s shooting over 43 percent from behind the three-point line in his NBA career, adding to his versatility to play power forward and his ability to guard on the perimeter. Which is certainly a unique skill set to have for a front court player.
Nnaji looked promising during the first half of the season but he will need to stay on the court to truly be able to make an impact. With the Nuggets trading JaMychal Green, Denver will not have to rely on Nnaji’s ability and upside to be an impactful bench piece for this team. Unless Denver adds more to the front court, it’s Zeke’s time to shine, and he must produce.
Zeek Nnaji is a former 2020 first-round pick that Denver invested in, and now they clearly want to see if he can do it for a full season. If Nnaji is able to produce and stay healthy, he is an absolute steal for the Nuggets. Particularly since he has a team option for the 2023-24 NBA season that the Nuggets would certainly accept if he’s able to prove himself as an impactful piece off the bench.
If Denver accepts the team option, he would only be making $4.3 million per year, which isn’t too far off from what he’s making right now ($2.6 million, per Spotrac). This is ideal for a contender like Denver since the team is expected to have to pay the luxury tax.
Cheap, controllable contracts for talented, high-upside players like Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji is exactly what a team like the Denver Nuggets needs to complement their core of players. This way the team doesn’t have to go deeper into the luxury tax in order to upgrade the team.
With limited resources both financially and in terms of moveable assets, it’s important for the Nuggets to take advantage of cheaper deals for quality players.
What the JaMychal Green trade means for the Denver Nuggets moving forward: More flexibility
Probably one of the bigger takeaways that I got out of the Green trades was flexibility. Since Denver received another first-round draft pick through the deal, acquiring the 30th overall selection in the back-half of the first-round of the 2022 NBA Draft.
Having two first-round picks means that the Denver Nuggets can go in many directions. They can either trade both of these picks by packaging them together to try and move up in the draft. Let’s say between picks 14 and 18. Though, I believe this is the least likely thing to happen since Denver would more than likely look to keep at least one of their first-round picks this season.
The Nuggets could also look to trade one of their first-round picks along with a player currently on the roster to acquire an upgrade at a certain position of need. Preferably, to get a 3-and-D player, another guard to compliment Jamal Murray or a stout wing defender.
There are many directions the Nuggets’ GM, Calvin Booth, can go now. Especially with the $8.2 million trade exception Denver now has, which they can use to obtain a player with a salary at or below that amount. Not to mention their taxpayer mid-level exception worth about $6.4 million.
For the Denver Nuggets’ GM, Calvin Booth, this is his first trade since taking over full-time in the front office. All things considered, this is a solid trade for the franchise as they got some real value for a rotation player who’s probably making too much money for the type of season he just had anyway.
The truth is that it was always going to be difficult to give Green minutes in the rotation, especially since Zeke Nnaji and others are expected to receive more playing time next season.
Overall, this probably isn’t the last trade for the Nuggets this offseason, and could very well be the first of many to come for new GM, Calvin Booth. One thing is for sure, expect the Denver Nuggets to be aggressive and do whatever they have to do in order to put more pieces around Nikola Jokic.
The time to win is now, and the front office knows this.