The dog days of basketball’s offseason are here. The draft has been completed, free agents have been signed, and trades have been made. Like every offseason, it’s common to overreact to these summer transactions. Throughout the Adam Silver era, the NBA community has been more engaged with the offseason than ever. Thanks to social media, fans now “follow” the league through ESPN posts showcasing breaking news, highlight reels, and gossip. The offseason has become as important to the standard fan as the regular season.
Recently, NBA analysts and casual fans have labeled the Denver Nuggets as offseason “losers.” This grade was (mostly) a result of losing fan-favorite Bruce Brown and re-signing Reggie Jackson – who played just 18 minutes in the playoffs (just under two minutes in the Finals).
It’s Outrageous to Label the Denver Nuggets as Offseason “Losers”
Nikola Jokic: The Ultimate Teammate
Yes, losing Brown stings. He was a key rotation piece throughout the regular season and playoffs. However, let’s put things into perspective. Does he play at the same high level without Nikola Jokic?
Possibly. Brown is a versatile defender, solid ball handler, consistent shooter, and overall high IQ player. He also has a terrific locker-room personality.
However, Jokic turns his teammates into the best version of their basketball selves.
Consider Aaron Gordon. He turned around his underwhelming career with the Orlando Magic and became a vital part of a championship team with Denver. Brown’s salary nearly tripled after one season playing alongside Jokic. Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris reached their peak performance levels when Jokic was their teammate. Will Barton, who played 449 games alongside the two-time MVP and was traded last offseason, is currently unemployed as a free agent.
I am not being critical of Brown, Barton, or any of Jokic’s teammates. Instead, I am giving credit where credit is due. NBA players play better with Jokic than any other athlete in the league.
Why should the Nuggets be considered “losers” of the offseason when Brown was nearly guaranteed to cash out this summer? General manager Calvin Booth and company prepared for this outcome for months. It wasn’t some shock or surprise.
However, I am not saying Denver had a perfect offseason. Re-signing Jackson to a two-year, $10.25 million contract using the mid-level exception on the first day of free agency raised eyebrows. He initially signed in February but didn’t play a meaningful role for the Nuggets since his acquisition. Theoretically, crucial cap space could have been spent elsewhere in the free-agent market. Last summer, Denver used their mid-level exception to sign Brown.
Does re-signing Jackson classify Denver as a “loser” of the off-season? Of course not.
Denver’s Under-the-Radar Youth Movement
The Nuggets should be favored to repeat as NBA champions because their starting core remains intact. Christian Braun is more than ready to take Brown’s role as sixth-man. An intensive defender and smart offensive player, Braun is already beloved amongst the Nuggets community.
Peyton Watson, a favorite of mine, has shown flashes of becoming the next big name in Denver sports. A high-flying athlete with long arms and a high motor, Watson can be an All-NBA defender when healthy and motivated.
In Summer League, second-round rookie Hunter Tyson exceeded expectations and showcased his shot-making, athleticism, defensive IQ, and competitiveness. Rookies Jalen Pickett and Julian Strawther also impressed the Nuggets community.
The NBA collective seems to ignore this brewing youth movement in Denver. Instead, it points to journeyman Justin Holiday (ten teams in a decade-long career) as the Nuggets’ only offseason move.
Denver is preparing its roster for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which took effect on July 1st. The new CBA includes financial and roster-building consequences for exceeding luxury tax limits. This stop teams like the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers from overspending on players and “buy” dynasties.
My point is that the Nuggets are stocked with young players on their rookie contracts who are NBA-ready and can maximize their potential simply by having Jokic as a teammate.
Why should the Phoenix Suns be considered a “winner” of the offseason when serious consequences are looming for their excessive payroll? Why isn’t the Charlotte Hornets considered a “loser” of the offseason when they clearly whiffed on a generational talent in Scoot Henderson? But the Denver Nuggets are considered offseason “losers?” Seems weird to me.