NBA offseason survey: Why did the Denver Nuggets have the worst offseason?

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets wipes his face during a game against the LA Clippers at Ball Arena on 22 Mar. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets wipes his face during a game against the LA Clippers at Ball Arena on 22 Mar. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images) /

ESPN‘s annual offseason survey of coaches, scouts, and executives has been released and one respondent said that the Denver Nuggets had the worst offseason in the entire NBA. Why might they think this?

This survey is typically released in the middle of the offseason, asking various officials across the NBA world general questions about the past few months as well as some of the burning questions in the league. This year’s survey looked at who the best player in the league is, which teams had the best and worst offseasons as well as where Donovan Mitchell will eventually end up.

The Denver Nuggets (or Nikola Jokic) didn’t get a mention throughout the entire article until the eighth question, asking which team had the worst offseason. The Dallas Mavericks “won” here, amassing six out of the possible 15 votes, but the Nuggets picked up one vote here too.

What could have led one voter to say the Denver Nuggets had the worst offseason?

While the Denver Nuggets will start the 2022-23 season with a better-fitting starting and closing lineup, slotting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in as a 3-and-D wing next to the scoring trio of Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray. To achieve this, Denver lost a lot of functional depth.

Tim Bontemps, ESPN writes in the survey that:

"“Denver received a vote, as one executive wasn’t a fan of the trade that sent [Monte] Morris and [Will] Barton to Washington for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith.”"

While the trade at the time seemed like a bit of an overpay, two rotation pieces for one, the one rotation piece in KCP fits perfectly with this roster. I doubt that’s the only reason Denver received a vote for the worst offseason in the league.

Once free agency opened, the Nuggets signed DeAndre Jordan to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal, a move I hated at the time and have only grown to hate more since then.

When the move happened, I wondered why the Nuggets chose DJ over DeMarcus Cousins, a better option who was (and is) still a free agent. Since then, there has been a bit of noise that perhaps the former All-Star wasn’t a great fit off the court with this roster.

Regardless, Andre Drummond, Bismack Biyombo, Tristan Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, and Dwight Howard are all signed to a similar contract or still free agents. If Calvin Booth doesn’t want to commit a lot financially to Jokic’s backup, that’s completely understandable, but there are better options.

And then there’s the JaMychal Green salary dump, a move that seems purely financially motivated. After moving on from Green, the Nuggets were able to duck below the luxury tax line, giving them access to the full mid-level exception. The cost of dumping Green in OKC was a protected 2027 first-round pick and Denver received the 30th pick in return (which ended up being Payton Watson).

At the time, the JMych trade seemed fine, Denver was the best team in the league who had access to the full MLE, every other contender could only spend their taxpayer MLE, worth around half. But then the following happened (in no particular order):

  • OKC bought out part of JaMychal Green’s deal as the forward gave up $2.6 million of his current deal per Keith Smith, Spotrac. His $1.83 million deal with the Golden State Warriors also eats into that figure so Booth essentially swapped Watson for a 2027 first-round pick to save around $4.2 million. But that’s okay, because this enabled them to use the full MLE…
  • Denver used half of their MLE to sign Bruce Brown to a two-year, $13 million deal. The taxpayer MLE this offseason was the exact same. They didn’t spend any of the additional money they opened up.
  • Denver signed the aforementioned DeAndre Jordan. While Green isn’t a natural five, he could at least fill occasional backup five minutes. The depth behind Jokic goes from Zeke Nnaji, JaMychal Green, and DJ to just Nnaji and DJ.
  • Additionally, with Denver’s obligations in the Aaron Gordon trade still yet to convey, Denver isn’t able to outright trade a first-round pick until 2029. Even if this is the roster the Nuggets hope will win a title, it’d be nice to have some draft ammunition to swing a midseason trade.

If this survey respondent is blaming part of the failed offseason on the draft selections of Christian Braun and Watson, then I’d say that’s way too unfair. Yes, Summer League wasn’t the greatest for the Nuggets but they’re also rookies, it’s hard to really judge a draft pick until years into the future, especially for these late-first-round guys.

Did Denver have a successful offseason?

They made their starting and closing lineups better but sacrificed depth along the way. The JaMychal Green salary dump was promising to start, especially since they could’ve bundled the 30th pick with something else for immediate, veteran help.

While, it wasn’t a great offseason, compared to some of the other teams polling in this survey, they, by no means, had the worst offseason in the league.

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