When former president of basketball ops Tim Connelly left the Nuggets for the Timberwolves last summer, Calvin Booth assumed the job as Denver’s top basketball decision-maker with a quiet confidence. Booth knew what was at stake this season and over the next couple of years, and he wasn’t about to take the responsibility that he had just been handed lightly.
He also trusted his vision for the Nuggets’ roster.
“You talk about Nikola, MVP of the league,” Booth said back in June. “I’m the steward…of his peak years.”
Booth then went to work.
He drafted Christian Braun. He traded for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He signed Bruce Brown in free agency. All three have been instrumental to the West-leading Nuggets’ 39-18 record. At Thursday’s trade deadline, Booth bolstered Denver’s bench by adding Thomas Bryant who plugs what was the biggest hole on the Nuggets’ second unit. Denver now has a real weapon at backup center.
Shortly after the Nuggets put the finishing touches on a 119-105 road win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, Booth’s latest move was revealed. Reggie Jackson, one of the top buyout players available, is planning to sign with Denver. It’s a signing that the Nuggets needed to make, especially with how Denver’s point guard play struggled over the last couple of games with Jamal Murray sidelined and Bones Hyland no longer in a Nuggets uniform. Booth acted swiftly to nab arguably the top point guard on the open market.
Think about that. The Nuggets just got the top buyout player available. How times have changed in Denver.
Booth’s latest move followed a pattern that we’ve watched play out several times over the last 10 months. Denver’s general manager identifies a problem and then quickly moves to solve it. Booth felt the Nuggets needed to add defenders last offseason, so he brought Caldwell-Pope, Brown and Braun to Denver. The Nuggets needed an upgrade at backup center, so Booth dealt for Bryant. You can argue that even his most scrutinized move — signing DeAndre Jordan in free agency — has been a positive. Jordan hasn’t been good in between the lines but has been an invaluable locker room voice and presence. He’s been worth the roster spot from that perspective.
Over the last couple of months, it became apparent that Hyland likely wasn’t going to be in Denver’s long-term plans and that the Nuggets couldn’t trust him in the playoffs and on a team that’s trying to win a championship. Booth then signed a veteran point guard with playoff and big-game experience to soak up backup point guard minutes off the bench.
With the Bryant and Jackson additions, Booth completely refurbished a Nuggets second unit that has struggled for most of the year.
Think about the Nuggets’ trade deadline like this: Denver got Bryant and Jackson for Hyland, Davon Reed and one second-round pick. Not bad. Booth has been on an Executive of the Year-worthy run.
Jackson, 32, hasn’t had a great season for the Clippers. He’s averaging 10.9 points per game on just 41.8% shooting from the field. Jackson is shooting a mediocre 35% from 3. He lost his starting spot in January and Clippers clearly felt he wasn’t going to be an important piece to their playoff run. They traded him to the Hornets on Thursday for Mason Plumlee, and Charlotte and Jackson are in the process of agreeing to a buyout. Jackson brings length to the floor, and at 6-foot-2 with a 7-foot wingspan has good size for the position.
But Jackson also brings stability and will be able to come in and absorb minutes while Murray remains out (I’d be surprised if we saw Murray in either of the Nuggets’ two remaining games before the All-Star break). A Jackson-Brown-Braun-Vlatko Cancar-Bryant lineup looks solid on paper. On offense, that group can default to the Jackson-Bryant pick-and-roll. If the Nuggets want to dial back Murray’s minutes over the final two months of the regular season, stagger him less with the bench, and preserve his health, Jackson can fill that role.
He’s returning home too. Jackson moved to Colorado in sixth grade and stayed through high school. He played at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs and won Colorado Gatorade High School Player of the Year and Mr. Colorado Basketball in 2008. Jackson always has family and friends in attendance when he plays in Denver.
Booth tweaked the Nuggets’ personnel and has upgraded Denver to a championship-level roster. You feel like this team has everything it needs now. Offense, defense, depth and experience. The Nuggets are on their way to…homecourt advantage in the playoffs, likely the No. 1 seed in the West, and potentially a long postseason run. Booth has put the Nuggets in position to win their first NBA Championship in franchise history.
So far, he’s been a proper steward.