After a quiet July and August, the Denver Nuggets have made a little bit of noise to close the summer. They traded backup center Joffrey Lauvergne to the Thunder for two second-round picks, and an even bigger revelation came about a trade that didn’t happen: Danilo Gallinari said that Denver gave him the option of being traded or not at the deadline, and he declined.
There is a layer of translation added to the typical rumor mill grain of salt in Gallinari’s quote, it inspired some more digging and revealing: Gallinari said in May that he specifically declined to consider being moved to the Celtics or Clippers.
What could these two nuggets mean for Denver heading into the 2016/17 season?
Frontcourt Shaping Up
Now that Lauvergne is gone, the Nuggets frontcourt is a little less crowded. There’s still not enough playing time to maximize the abilities of Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Darrell Arthur, and Kenneth Faried. But trimming down to two centers and two power forwards means that Denver can give all of their bigs a decent look as soon as the season begins.
If the Nuggets’ brass believes in Arthur like I do, they’ll give him the starting nod and grin about the team-friendly contract they somehow retained him for this summer.
Speculation about moving Faried has been loud and won’t die off (he’s still a non-star making significant money). But even if the Manimal is relegated to the bench, that fills a Denver need. Unless one of a few unlikely scenarios plays out—the Jokic/Nurkic pairing works consistently, Gallinari becomes a better defensive stretch-4 or rookie Juan Hernangomez is further along than expected—Faried will be the safest power forward bet, an overqualified super-sub as a worst-case scenario.
We can never know the true nature of the conversations Gallinari is rehashing, but it appears as if the Nuggets value their volume scorer as a building block for the franchise. Who knows if they would have honored his wishes to stay in Denver if a big enough offer had come along (*cough* Blake Griffin *cough*) but their behind-the-scenes communication with him backs up their public insistence that they highly value him.
Gallinari is 27 and not far removed from a very scary, prolonged knee injury. That the Nuggets didn’t prioritize resetting with younger assets around Emmanuel Mudiay and Nokic in place of the Italian sharp-shooter is notable. Feeling him out is also significant; should Denver’s promising roster develop as they hope, his loyalty to the city and organization could be put to a stress test as his opportunities and star power (modestly) shrink to make room for the young bucks. This, along with his forgoing free agency to sign a contract extension last summer, was more confirmation that he’s committed to the Nuggets.
Denver’s Position of Strength
The Lauvergne trade itself might not be a home run for Denver, but getting two picks with as little leverage as they had (the league knew full well about their logjam in the post) was a relative victory. Hindsight might tempt us to think they should have moved the Frenchman around draft-time, when desperation leads to things like Marco Bellini fetching a first-round pick, but Lauvergne was never going to pull any more value without more playing time and production.
Instead, the Nuggets are using their surplus of talent to operate on their own terms. They drafted the best talent available, regardless of position, with all three first-round selections in the draft. The trade leaves them an open roster spot with a handful of non-guaranteed contracts and camp invitees they can take or leave. They also still have about $10 million in remaining cap room–plenty of space to fit a premier player should they deal Faried or absorb a bad contract to hoard even more draft picks.
The Nuggets are operating like they should: as a patient, steady franchise confident in what they have for the long haul.