One of the NBA’s youngest teams just got a whole lot greener.
The Denver Nuggets didn’t want to pay another young prospect to sit on their bench. So, on a night they dealt Kosta Koufos to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Nuggets also traded their first-round pick in Thursday night’s draft to Utah.
The Nuggets sent Frenchman Rudy Gobert, the 27th overall pick, to the Jazz for cash and the 46th pick, which they used to grab Virginia Tech guard Erick Green, the ACC’s player of the year and the NCAA’s leading scorer last year when he averaged 25 points.
“We had a clear deficiency last year in shooting,” new general manager Tim Connelly said. “He certainly checks that box.”
First-rounders get guaranteed contracts; second-rounders can be stashed overseas or in the developmental league – or cut altogether – without any such financial ramifications.
Gobert stands to make $2.8 million over three years, including nearly $900,000 this season. So, the 7-2 power forward with the 7-9 wingspan will stretch out in Salt Lake City instead of Denver.
Koufos also will be house hunting soon.
The Nuggets traded him to the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur and the 55th pick, opening the way for $11 million-a-year super-sub JaVale McGee to start.
That wasn’t what drove the deal, though, Connelly said.
“Not really. I don’t think it’s fair to the three centers that we had. At times you can cannibalize each other. But that wasn’t the purpose,” said Connelly, who added that he tendered center Timofey Mozgov before the draft. “I think the purpose was to find a guy that’s more complementary to JaVale and (Kenneth) Faried.”
Connelly raved about Arthur’s athleticism and skill set and suggested it will be up to new coach Brian Shaw to determine if Arthur will push Faried for the starting power forward job next season.
“It was a difficult evening. We traded a key piece of our team last year, a guy that has a really bright future, and it was not easy,” Connelly said. “We targeted a certain type of player, and Arthur fits that role. He’s an elite frontcourt defender; he’s able to spread the court; he’s been a part of several successful playoff teams.
“But it was not an easy trade. Koufos is a consummate professional and a great kid.”
With the 55th pick, the Nuggets landed French forward Joffrey Lauvergne, who played in Europe.
In his first draft since taking over from Masai Ujiri, Connelly wasn’t in the market for another young first-round prospect who won’t log many minutes on a deep roster that already features 20-year-olds Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller, 22-year-old Jordan Hamilton and 23-year-olds Faried and Anthony Randolph.
“We were not enamored with anybody in the first round,” Connelly said.
Connelly joined the Nuggets on June 17 after three years as assistant GM in New Orleans. His arrival was part of a major shake-up this summer that followed a franchise record 57-win season and a sweep of the league’s executive and coach of the year honors.
Ujiri bolted to Toronto and team President Josh Kroenke fired George Karl after rejecting his overtures for a contract extension following an eighth first-round exit in nine trips to the playoffs. Then, Pete D’Alessandro, Ujiri’s right-hand man, followed Ujiri through the turnstiles for the GM job in Sacramento and he took Mike Bratz, the Nuggets’ director of player personnel, with him.
Just in time for the draft, Kroenke hired Connelly and Shaw.
As a longtime assistant, Shaw was known for his work with younger players, mentoring the likes of Andrew Bynum during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and tutoring Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson in Indiana. With the league’s third-youngest roster, the Nuggets went an NBA-best 38-3 at home last season and their 57 wins marked their most ever in the NBA, but it came at the expense of developing some of their younger players such as McGee and Fournier.
After losing to the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in six games in the first round, the Nuggets have made lots of news with a major shake-up that now includes Koufos, whose solid, steady play last season kept Mozgov on the bench and McGee fighting for playing time as a pricey reserve.