Denver Nuggets 2018 NBA free agency grades from a chaotic first night

Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) and center Nikola Jokic (15) and guard Jamal Murray (27) celebrate after a play in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the Pepsi Center.
Feb 3, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) and center Nikola Jokic (15) and guard Jamal Murray (27) celebrate after a play in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With the first night of NBA free agency concluded and in the books, it is time to look back on the two moves that the Denver Nuggets made to kick off the new NBA calendar year. While there were no trades, no new additions to the roster, or anything that will make the Nuggets a fundamentally different team than they were last year, Denver instead locked in both Nikola Jokic and Will Barton to new contracts solidifying their core for many years to come.

First, the Nuggets gave Nikola Jokic a five-year max contract to keep him in Denver for the long haul. They then followed up that contract by giving Will Barton a shiny new four-year deal that is worth up to $54 million if all of his incentives are reached.

If one thing is true from the first night of free agency, it is that the Nuggets ownership has come out of the gate putting their money where there mouth is. With Gary Harris’ four-year, $74 million extension kicking in, Jokic’s $146.5 million commitment, and Barton preparing to sign for $54 million, there is suddenly an extra $274 million set to be paid out over the next five years and the Nuggets have not blinked. That is a massively positive sign for Denver.

So, how did the signings grade out after one night of free agency?

Nikola Jokic agreeing to a five-year max contract worth $146.5 million

Grade: A+

What is there really to say here other than congratulations?

The Nuggets have one of the best offensive players on Earth in Nikola Jokic and he is still just 23-years-old. He is the embodiment of Denver’s offensive philosophy of altruism and the reason that the Nuggets are not wasting away towards the bottom of the lottery each year. Jokic’s ascension to stardom carried the Nuggets out of mediocrity and there is no denying that he is clearly the best player the Nuggets have acquired since the drafting of Carmelo Anthony back in 2003.

While Denver could have just accepted Jokic’s $1.6 million team option this season and kept their financial flexibility in tact, they instead opted to appease their Serbian sensation by declining his team option as soon as legally allowed and offered him a full five-year maximum contact that will pay out a total of $146.5 million. This was essentially an early pay raise from $1.6 million to $25.5 million for the 2018-19 season. As a show of good faith after the Nuggets raised Jokic’s yearly salary by just under $20 million, Jokic agreed to not push for any player options on any year of his contract making the deal a straight-up five-year contract with no player or team options of any kind.

Denver did exactly what they needed to do; just give Jokic his max contract as soon as possible to keep him happy and taken care of in the Mile High City. Now, for the next half-decade, Jokic will assuredly be in Denver, and because of that, the Nuggets get an A+ for this contract.

Will Barton agreeing to a four-year deal worth upwards of $54 million

Grade: B

This grade is going to surprise some, and infuriate others.

Yes, the Nuggets are now approaching a total team payroll of nearly $200 million for the 2018-19 season, but who cares? Denver was already essentially capped out with no other tool than the mini mid-level exception to improve the roster. Instead of standing pat and watching important pieces of their roster get poached by opposing teams, Josh Kroenke opened up his seemingly limitless checkbook and began writing exorbitantly-large checks; one of which was to give Barton $13.25 million a year for four years — with the final $1 million of his contract being based off incentives.

Barton is an irreplaceable player for Denver. Not only was he one of the most hyper-versatile players on the Nuggets’ roster — filling in as the de facto point guard, starting at small forward, or coming off the bench as a backup shooting guard — but he also was the emotional leader in the locker room. While the roller coaster ride of an NBA season has its ups and downs, Barton does not as he stays even-keeled, yet flashy and confident. That is what made him so important to the Nuggets locker room. He can be the funny and flashy “Thrill” or he can buckle down and be the overly-intense Barton instead.

In addition to being a leader, he also acted as the mentor for the Nuggets young starting back court of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. If asked, both guards have speak unbelievably high of Barton and the impact that he has had on their careers. Harris and Barton even became close friends last season. Now, their lockers are next to each other and they always sit next to one another on the team plane.

Barton has became the glue that holds together the Nuggets young roster. While $54 million may seem like a lot of money for Barton, it is important to remember that he arguably brings as many positives off of the floor as he does on the floor. Without the three-position versatility and unselfish veteran mindset of Barton, so much of what makes the Nuggets so lethal would dissipate rapidly.

Good on the Nuggets ownership stepping up to make sure that the did not lose Barton in free agency.

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