Denver Nuggets make non-basketball trade, dump money

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images /

The Denver Nuggets’ trade of Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried represents strong value, but fans should have no illusions: It was not a basketball move.

In quick succession last night, the Denver Nuggets made two moves that were a long time coming. In agreeing to sign Isaiah Thomas, the team now has a much-needed backup point guard. In the trade of Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried, Denver is now out of the luxury tax.

Denver making moves to avoid the tax (at least partially) always seemed inevitable. Will Barton’s gargantuan contract, agreed to just under two weeks ago, removed all doubt.

That follow-up deal appeared to be the trade of Wilson Chandler to the Philadelphia 76ers, which lowered Denver’s tax bill to a reasonable amount.

Following the Chandler deal, there was optimism Denver would swallow a small tax payment, preserving precious assets. Last night, the Nuggets proved that optimism unfounded:

This is not a basketball trade. This is a financial trade made at the expense of the on-court product. Arthur and Faried may not be contributors, but that 2019 first round pick is a major asset, and Denver will most likely hand it over for non-basketball reasons.

The objective of this trade is to save Stan Kroenke money. In that sense, fans should be outraged. The long-term health of the Denver Nuggets is worse today than it was yesterday because Stan Kroenke is unwilling to pay the luxury tax.

That’s bad. That’s not the slavish dedication to winning you need to be an elite franchise.

This, however, is not the Oklahoma City Thunder trading future MVP James Harden to escape luxury tax penalties.

As far as non-basketball trades go, this is actually a pretty good one. A month ago, when people were discussing using the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to dump money, I looked into the cost of dumping salary.

I concluded jettisoning Faried’s $13.8 million salary would cost nothing near a first round pick. This was my idea of fair:

I stand by it. This is a very fair non-basketball trade for Denver. A first round pick is market price to dump roughly $20 million in dead money.

However, there was no need for this move. It was unrealistic to expect Kroenke, with a team playing in a small market and not contending for a championship, to pay the monster bill he was set to foot after the Barton signing. The Chandler trade (also a non-basketball move), however, brought the bill into a reasonable range.

In the Chandler trade and this trade, the Nuggets have gotten worse, both in the short-term and long-term. That shouldn’t happen for financial reasons.

Related Story: NBA Trade Grades - Nuggets dump Kenneth Faried to Nets

There are, of course, minor basketball consequences stemming from the Arthur/Faried deal.

For one, Denver might not have enough power forwards now (kidding, they still have all the power forwards). Now $8.6 million under the luxury tax line, Denver has a lot of wiggle room, whether that be for trades or free agent signings.

Denver now has access to the $3.8 million Bi-Annual Exception to acquire a free agent. The team could use that money to bring in valuable wing depth (maybe David Nwaba, who just became an unrestricted free agent and whose strong defense and slashing ability would fit well in Denver).

The Nuggets also have three very large Traded-Player Exceptions (from Arthur, Chandler and Faried), which could be used to bring in talent through trade or sign-and-trade.

These minor benefits, however, are secondary. The motivation for trading Arthur and Faried was singular: escaping the luxury tax.

Next: 2018 NBA free agency tracker: Grades for every deal so far

While the Nuggets acquitted themselves well, paying a “fair” amount to dump such exorbitant contracts, no owner should ever get a pass from fans for prioritizing money over the health of his franchise.