It’s been several months since the NBA’s reigning GM of the Year, Masai Ujiri, was inexplicably let go by the Nuggets and replaced with Tim Connelly. Since that time the Nuggets have made a variety of eyebrow-raising moves that have accented the most turbulent offseason in recent memory. Now, in light of the Nuggets’ recent completion of putting together a full 15-man roster under the new regime, our team at RMC will divulge our first impressions of Connelly and Co.’s transactions in our latest 5-on-5. As always, we encourage you voice your answers to the following questions in the comments section below.
1. Now that the Nuggets finally have a full 15-man roster, what can we deduce about the new front office?
Tom: The new front office looks for low-cost players who do at least one thing very well. Foye and Robinson were both very good 3-point shooters last season and Hickson was near the top of the league in rebounding. All three of them combined to make less money than Tyreke Evans or Andre Iguodala. The new front office doesn’t yet seem to care about balancing the roster, employing three point guards who each played over 25 minutes per game last season.
Matt: What they did this offseason only makes sense if they have a win-now command from the Kroenkes, so I am not sure you can really judge them. Otherwise why bring in Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye who, counting the 2013-2014 season, will have played for a combined 13 teams in 20 years? They are veteran journeymen, average players who help a team win a few games but aren’t huge difference makers.
Vytis: That they got desperate real quick after Andre Iguodala left. Obviously it’s not the best of situations to come into. One of your best players leaves and you don’t really have cap space to find a suitable replacement. Meanwhile, the fans are expecting the team to be as good as last year. So instead of admitting defeat and developing young players, the front office went out and tried to get players that would help the team stay competitive.
Joel: Based on what’s happened so far, I’m fairly unimpressed and disappointed. Notwithstanding the possibility of making further moves which puts everything into a more favorable context, their apparent commitment to stacking the roster with middling contract, mediocre players of dubious trade value is frankly baffling. At present, it’s not apparent they have a vision for the future that is more solid and cohesive than grasping at straws. I hope they’ll prove me wrong, but I’m no longer holding my breath.
Kalen: That Masai Ujiri and the Nuggets front office salad days are as good as gone. Connelly deserves a chance and the moves he’s made thus far haven’t been atrocious, but the breadth in talent between the old front office and the new one is already being manifested. There was a time not too long ago when the Nuggets were on a sturdy path to contending for a championship. That path no longer exists — at least, not at this moment.
2. How will the inability to sign Erick Green reflect upon the new front office even if his rights are retained after this year?
Tom: I still hold out hope that a roster-clearing move is coming, and that Erick Green will get some D-league minutes and the occasional stint with the Nuggets. But I won’t see it as a big loss if he spends a year overseas refining his game and then comes in next season more ready to contribute.
Matt: While I disagree with the concept, since the team seems to be in win-now mode, not signing Green doesn’t matter. If Denver is trying to make the playoffs this season Nate Robinson at his price is a much better alternative to a rookie, especially with the added pressure point guards in Denver will face this year creating offense. This allows Green to take some time to develop in Europe and be ready once Robinson moves on.
Vytis: To be honest, the inability to sign Erick Green is way down the list of shocking decisions the Nuggets have made this summer. As much as I would love to see another young, big guard who can shoot on the Nuggets’ roster, I’m not that fussed about it. As long as his rights are retained and he can play overseas and join the team in a year or two, I’m fine with it.
Joel: This is not a big deal. Green did not hit the ground running at Summer League, and it seems like a year of professional experience overseas could benefit his chances of becoming a legit NBA player. More worrisome is the playing time Denver’s returning young, developing players may lose to the many new players the front office has signed. It seems self contradictory given how it was widely reported that Karl was fired, in part, for not giving the developing players enough minutes.
Kalen: It’s hard to say but from my standpoint it displays the new front office’s lack of experience. How many teams around the league draft players from the U.S. and don’t sign them that same year? The Nuggets knew they had a talented rookie and continued to sign players similar to in both size and skill set. Green would have saved the Nuggets money this year and created more playing time for a young up-and-comer instead a journeyman veteran.
3. Of all the moves the Nuggets have made this offseason, which is your most and least favorite?
Tom: My most favorite move is replacing George Karl with Brian Shaw. George Karl has consistently won in the regular season and lost in the playoffs. It was time to give someone else a chance. My least favorite move is trading Koufos for Darrell Arthur. I’m not sure if it’s a bad move exactly, it’s just a confusing move that doesn’t have any clear purpose.
Matt: My favorite is the Nate Robinson signing. The Nuggets need people to create offense for themselves and others and Nate will do just that as well as bring some long-range shooting. My least favorite is a tie between signing J.J. Hickson and trading Kosta Koufos. Out of Denver’s four probable rotation bigs (JaVale, Faried, Mozzy, J.J.) there are zero players in the group who have shown the ability to be average on defense consistently. That is troubling.
Vytis: Most favorite: Can I say not signing Monta Ellis? No? Fine. Honestly, it probably has to be signing Nate Robinson. I love watching him play and while he has a lot of flaws I think the price is very good for what you get.
Joel: No isolated moves made this summer are incredibly bad, but trading Koufos for Arthur, and then signing Hickson strikes me as the worst flub. Koufos should have landed more value. Denver essentially traded a starting center for a third- or fourth-string bench warmer. Among newly signed players, the best contract is clearly Robinson’s, but the best move overall was hiring Brian Shaw, who is Denver’s best hope of making sense and success of this mostly hurly-burly offseason.
Kalen: Obviously cutting ties with Karl was necessary and long overdue. That was a good move. However, letting Ujiri and Iguodala walk was disastrous. As for the players, I really like the addition of Darrell Arthur. If he can stay healthy he has the potential to be an excellent pick-and-pop option off the bench. Conversely, the signing of Randy Foye confuses me. His stats are seriously underwhelming and I’m scared he could take time away from younger guys who need to develop.
4. Many believe the Nuggets are gearing up for a trade. Knowing this, what realistic trade scenario should the Nuggets pursue that would bring a star player back to Denver?
Tom: With Dallas gearing up to miss the playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki might be available. He could be had for Kenneth Faried, the currently injured Danilo Gallinari, and the contracts of Andre Miller and Anthony Randolph. Dallas gets two very good, young players to build around while probably improving their draft position. Denver gets a veteran All-Star who could guide the team to a championship. It would be a risky move, but the upside would be worth it.
Matt: Denver’s two best assets are Lawson and Gallinari, but I can’t see the Nuggets trading either. Faried is most valuable to contenders so the best that comes from him is a late first-rounder, and you can’t move the new guys until December. So what’s left? Hamilton, the Millers, Fournier and Chandler who has to start until Gallinari returns. Omer Asik would fix a lot up front defensively though, as he would instantly be the Nuggets best big.
Vytis: The two All-Star players most available right now have to be Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge. If a trade does happen it will likely be mid-season, especially if it involves Rondo. Problem is the Nuggets don’t really need Rondo with Lawson on board. As far as bringing a superstar to Denver goes, it’s not looking very good and it’s very hard to speculate. The most likely scenario would be waiting till Danilo Gallinari returns and using him as trade bait.
Joel: Come mid-December, if there’s any chance of trading Mozgov in a package including Andre Miller and/or one of Denver’s many power forwards for Houston’s Omer Asik, then Denver should try. Asik reportedly wants to be traded, and the Rockets need to bolster their depth at the one and four. Flipping Asik for multiple players might be their best chance. Between his post defense, rebounding prowess, toughness and sound play, Asik would be a great complimentary player to McGee.
Kalen: I’ve been on the Pau Gasol bandwagon for a while now and have no intentions of jumping off anytime soon. He just turned 33 and still has a good three years left in the tank. He’s the exact type of veteran presence — a guy who’s won titles and been named an All-Star — the Nuggets need to take that next step as a team. A combination of Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari and J.J. Hickson might be enough to incite the Lakers to bite.
5. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the new front office’s ability to construct a hierarchical, 15-man roster?
Tom: Incomplete. Right now we know this front office is capable of adding a few free agents to an existing roster, and capable of salvaging value from an outbound free agent. But we don’t have the full picture yet. Until at least one big trade or another offseason materializes it will be hard to separate what this front office is trying to do from what the previous front office dropped in their laps.
Matt: Three. This team looks like a capped-out seven or eight seed, which is the worst place you can be as a franchise. Unless Brian Shaw is actually the greatest defensive coach of all time this is going to be one of the worst defenses in the league and there isn’t a ton of room to make that better without unforeseen, massive improvement or overhaul. Since a great defense is a must to win a title, that is crippling.
Vytis: Four. The front office addressed the spacing issue by adding some decent 3-point shooters, but other than that, very little makes sense. Koufos, the team’s best and pretty much only good post defender, was discarded while Hickson, Robinson and Foye, all of whom have an inherent difficulty to commit to the defensive end, were brought in. There is also very little indication as to who will soak up the minutes off the bench, leading to a whole lot of uncertainty.
Joel: It’s hard to discern a pattern to Denver’s offseason moves, but it seems they basically want guys who can shoot reasonably well, and are athletic (defense be damned). But the Nuggets’ new identity remains elusive, and I’m concerned about this offseason’s potential long-term harm. However, it’s far from over, and because it’s too soon to make a final verdict, I’ll give the front office a provisional five. That’s higher than my gut tells me, but the lowest I can go without being prematurely unfair.
Kalen: Five. The Nuggets signed a lot of decent players this summer. If you look at the roster from 1-15, there’s no deeper team in the entire league. But that doesn’t meant the pieces will all fit together in unison, nor does it guarantee success come playoff time. The Nuggets had a team full of great role players with several fringe All-Stars and simply added more solid role players to the mix. Furthermore, the type of player the Nuggets went after in free agency (non defensive minded) was somewhat frustrating.
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