Sometimes, order colors perception.
When free agency opened Thursday afternoon, within moments Denver’s two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had verbally agreed to a five-year supermax extension worth in excess of $264 million. The largest contract in NBA history will keep Jokic in Denver until, at least, the 2027-2028 season.
That news, ensuring a competitive future for years to come, comforted Nuggets fans, though it was expected. Jokic all but broke the news himself in the aftermath of Denver’s first-round playoff ouster to Golden State.
Shortly thereafter, the Nuggets agreed to another deal with a center that drew derision from all corners of the internet. Veteran center DeAndre Jordan agreed to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract, according to a league source, with the 33-year-old tasked with backing up Jokic.
Could the Nuggets have done better than signing Jordan, whose last season with the Lakers and 76ers was underwhelming? Maybe. Would Jordan have been available a day or two into free agency, as the market settled? Perhaps. But the Nuggets agreed to a deal with Jordan shortly after the opening bell. It was an unenthusiastic start to free agency and wouldn’t have been as palatable had general manager Calvin Booth not succeeded with his subsequent moves.
The Nuggets did their homework on Jordan. They vetted his engagement, made their requisite phone calls and felt comfortable bringing him into their locker room. They’d learned enough about former center DeMarcus Cousins that they weren’t willing to make the same commitment. Over the past two seasons, Jordan’s played for the Nets, Lakers and Sixers. None of those situations helped his cause, and if the Nuggets can remain drama-free, there’s a belief that he’s going to be a positive addition while playing limited minutes.
Beyond Jordan, who’ll address an ongoing issue at backup center, Booth had a clear agenda. It’s the same agenda he’s had since assuming primary decision-making responsibilities over the Nuggets when Tim Connelly left for Minnesota recently. He saw how Golden State and Boston employed numerous two-way players in the NBA Finals and designed to do that in Denver.
That was the primary impetus for jettisoning Will Barton and Monte Morris in exchange for Washington’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith last week and then further bolstering the defense in free agency. In Caldwell-Pope, the Nuggets believe they have a defensive stopper capable of sharing some of the burden put on Aaron Gordon last season. In the playoffs, he will prove essential.
Next, Booth moved on to Davon Reed, who agreed to a two-year deal to return to Denver, sources said. Reed ingratiated himself to Nuggets coach Michael Malone in spot minutes last season and will help fortify the second unit.
As the first day of free agency closed, the Nuggets’ big additions amounted to their own former two-way player (Reed) and Jordan. But Friday morning yielded the piece that galvanized the class.
When the Nuggets agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal with former Nets wing Bruce Brown, it crystallized Booth’s vision for overhauling the roster with long, defensive-minded players. Brown already has a fan in Malone.
In Caldwell-Pope, Brown, Reed and Denver’s two first-round picks, Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, Booth targeted players who could switch on defense, disrupt passing lanes, play bigger than their height and stay on the floor in the postseason. In Booth’s team construct, that was almost a mandate.
The onus, and the gamble for that matter, is on Bones Hyland being able to man the second unit at point guard. The Nuggets are banking on the shifty second-year guard being able to take over primary playmaking responsibilities, which isn’t a strength of Brown or Reed. Both Brown and Reed, though, will serve as insurance in the second unit in the event Braun takes time to develop into a contributing player. Smith offers similar coverage if Hyland isn’t ready to assume a larger playmaking role.
And with a healthy Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray available, Malone can always stagger those offensive firehoses and infuse scoring into a defense-first lineup.
Around Jokic, Murray and Porter, Denver’s offense will soar. It was on the other end of the floor where the Nuggets couldn’t stop dribble penetration or adequately protect the rim last season. Will Booth’s free agent gambit work? Check the standings in January.