In the midst of draft day fever, the Denver Nuggets almost inconspicuously swung a trade to ship out the starting center of their 57 win team. They acquired Memphis Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur and the rights to the 55th pick, which turned out to be the rather unfortunately named Joffery Lauvergne.
The trade was a surprising one to say the least but it was perhaps emblematic of the great sweeping this franchise has done to all remnants of the Karl era. Koufos, rather notoriously, was a large point of contention between Karl and the front office, the former remaining adamant about starting Kofous in lieu of McGee while the latter kept pushing for JaVale to take a greater role. This conflict embodied the main argument between these two parties, winning now versus sacrificing for development so you can win later, and it ultimately contributed to Karl getting fired.
However, there was a good reason why Karl stuck with Kofous for the entire season. It wasn’t so much that he did something special or even that far above average, but his capacity to do the things most bigs do at a competent level was huge for this team. It was mostly the little stuff, post defense (Per SynergySports he gave up a lowly 0.78 PPP on post-ups), setting screens (one of the few players on the team that did this well), and post-ups (where he was an ultra efficient 0.94 PPP on the rare occasion post-ups were called for). These statistical intangibles reflect mostly in his plus/minus, where he trailed only Wilson Chandler to lead the team. On a squad with so many unorthodox bigs, having one that could carry the load of the tradition center was a godsend.
In turn for this the Nuggets received Darrell Arthur, a player who, on the surface, does not look like an ideal replacement. Coming off a season-ending achilles tear in 2012, Arthur turned in a rather disappointing season this year after finally coming into his own in 2011. The numbers speak for themselves:
Koufos is better than Arthur in nearly all areas, goes about his business more efficiently, and does it all with a much lower usage rate. However, this trade was made not as a straight up swap between these two players but as a stepping stone to get McGee into the starting lineup.
Now why Denver didn’t want Koufos to stay on as a backup, providing much better play than Mozgov at a similar salary, is hard to say and why they couldn’t get any more value out of him than Darrell Arthur and the 55th pick is even harder. Ultimately I chalk this up to another case of Denver sacrificing the past for the sake of a clean start, much like the cleaning house that took place in the already well-established front office. It goes along with the philosophy that clashed so brutally with Karl’s, sacrifice some wins now for the sake of development and hopefully your investment will make it all worth it.
Now, as for Arthur, it is not all doom-and-gloom. There is a chance he can get back to the 2011 version of himself, the one who played an integral part in the Spurs shocking downfall in the first round. At the very least he brings a similar workman-style, traditional big skill set that Kosta once gave this team and he adds a pick-and-pop threat that Denver hasn’t seen since the days of Kenyon Martin.
Who knows? Maybe Darrell isn’t just a stepping stone to a hopefully brighter future, maybe he’s about to be a part of it.