Nuggets fans woke up this morning to reports that starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo has re-signed with Denver. Including bonuses, the deal is estimated to pay in the neighborhood of $45 million over five years. Afflalo was a restricted free agent, and the most coveted shooting guard on the market.
For Afflalo, this contract is a just reward for 300 hard-fought games in four NBA Seasons. The athletic guard out of UCLA was drafted by the Detroit Pistons for his defensive prowess, and came into his own as an offensive threat during two years in Denver. A leap from 8.8 points per game in ’09-’10 to 12.6 ppg in ’10-‘11 cemented Arron as the Nuggets’ top shooting guard, and Afflalo started all 69 of the games he played in last season as a result.
Coupled this with the re-signing last week of veteran big man Nene, the Denver front office continues to look like a very strong group. Just over a year into his tenure as the Nuggets’ top executive, VP of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has overseen a midseason rebuild based around the Carmelo Anthony trade and a strong run to the playoffs. The signing of Nene and Afflalo shows a commitment to maintaining that momentum, and should give Denver basketball fans reason to believe that the Nuggets will be a well-managed club for years to come.
With restricted free agent Wilson Chandler and unrestricted free agents Kenyon Martin and JR Smith stuck playing ball in China until spring, Ujiri & Company was able to focus on retaining Afflalo and Nene. Denver’s ample cap space scared off any potential suitors for Afflalo, and the Nuggets made no secret of the fact that they would match any offer sheet that might take him elsewhere.
Now that Denver has been able to keep their top two free agents in a lockout-shortened offseason, they can turn full attention to the marathon journey ahead. Each NBA team will play 66 games between Christmas Day and the end of April. Less offseason conditioning and a ton of back-to-back game nights will test every roster in the league. For the Nuggets that means relying on rookie draft picks Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton to carry some of the load in the absence of Chandler, Martin and Smith.
Luckily the young guns will have some help thanks to another solid move by Denver’s front office. Even before they locked up Nene and Afflalo for five years apiece, the Nuggets were working a trade with the reigning NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks to acquire swingman Rudy Fernandez and reserve forward Corey Brewer. As fantastic as Afflalo has been, his aggressive play (especially on defense) has led to cramps and fatigue at various points throughout his career. The addition of Fernandez – and the expected impact of Hamilton’s considerable scoring talents – will work to once again make Denver a very deep, incredibly athletic basketball team.