No big surprises on the FA front, or are there?
The Nuggets declined the team option on Nikola Jokic’s rookie contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. Not a lot of mystery in the move, it was well-known that Denver planned on giving Jokic a max contract. While it wasn’t official until July 8, Denver announced that the Nuggets and Nikola had agreed to a 5-year, $147.7 million dollar contract.
The only pushback on the Joker’s worthiness of a max contract came from sources that clearly don’t see Jokic play. Let’s put all the conjecture to rest. Jokic may well develop into the Nuggets best player, ever. He may already be that. The max extension was a no-brainer. If they could have paid him more, he still would have been worth it. Character, production and work ethic define the young star. The face of the Nuggets for the future and a pillar of the championship roster that’s being constructed, Jokic is worth every penny of a max deal.
Following that, Connelly announced that Denver had agreed to a 4-year, $54 million dollar contract with unrestricted free-agent Will Barton. While fans have been hot-and-cold on Barton, the organization has not wavered in support of the SG/SF. Barton is the most efficient of the young stars in close games and the Nuggets consider him an integral part of the Core. Barton had praise for coach Michael Malone’s confidence in the Baltimore native and his love for Denver and the Nuggets. The quote from Barton below (via nuggets.com) should sing to the hearts of Nuggets fans. This is always the kind of guy you want associated with your team but Denver has a particular affinity for loyalty and Barton is loyal.
"“I couldn’t be happier to be back in Denver and I want to say thank you to the Kroenke family and Tim and Arturas for believing in me,” said Barton. “This entire organization has shown a lot of faith in me and I just feel blessed to be in this situation. I love playing for this city and this team and can’t wait to get back to work.” ~ Will Barton"
Before we could bask in the Jokic and Barton deals, the Nuggets announced that they had signed Torrey Craig to a 2-year, $4million dollar contract. This move was sentimental for many Nuggets observers. It was also shrewd, locking up not only an underrated contributor but a fan favorite as well. Craig underscores the brilliance of the Nuggets summer.
Last year there were two teams. Two sets of conditions we used to judge Malone. The rotation players, the seven or eight that Malone used were all on upward trajectories. Beyond the injured Paul Millsap, the Denver top-seven players all had marked improvement in 2017-18. Murray and Barton flirted with most-improved nods while Harris continued his steady climb. Jokic’s rise was astronomical, putting him in lofty historical company.
Malone deserves much credit for so many of the good things happening with half of his roster. Then, there was the other half: Faried, Jefferson, Juancho, Beasley, Arthur guys that tallied over $20 million in salary and played sparingly, if at all. Malone deserves criticism for overworking his thoroughbreds and not finding common ground with his reserves. In the second-half of the season, Denver often looked unable to close games (consider the blown 19-point 4th-quarter lead to the Clippers). That fatigue was avoidable.
With the moves that the front office has made, the Nuggets should be able to go 10-12 deep and give their starting unit some respite. Torrey Craig is pivotal in this role, being able to guard three positions and possibly stepping into the jack-of-all-trades role that Barton filled last year.
While we praised the Craig signing, the Nuggets announced overnight on July 12th that they had signed free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas. On a one-year, veteran minimum contract of $2 million. The terms are as shocking as the idea that Denver is taking on a player that was fifth in MVP voting just two seasons ago. The move is as low-risk as it gets. If Thomas regains form, the Nuggets have a beast backing up Murray and a bona-fide closer. If he does not, Denver can reasonably look to Monte Morris.
Richard Jefferson and Devin Harris, unrestricted free agents do not appear to be in any future plans for the Nuggets.