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Trade grades: Nuggets ship JaVale McGee to 76ers in salary dump

In an outright salary dump, the Denver Nuggets unloaded JaVale McGee to the Philadelphia 76ers at the cost of a protected first-round pick originally belonging to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In exchange the Nuggets technically acquired the rights to 2005 draftee Cenk Akyol – if only for the sake that something must be exchanged in order for the deal to completed.

McGee has played just 22 games for Denver between this season and last. He returned to the lineup in January after again missing time with a stress injury in his left leg, though he had yet to work his way back into the Nuggets' playing rotation. The deal to part ways with McGee was Denver's second on the day, following their trading of starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo to the Portland Trail Blazers.

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Denver Nuggets: B-

The Nuggets seem to have stopped short of a full liquidation at this year’s trade deadline, opting to retain the services of Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and Jameer Nelson – all of whom were subject to rumor leading into Thursday. Instead, Denver has opted for more modest plays to set the stage for future renovation. Unloading McGee’s cumbersome salary – while creating a corresponding $11.3 million trade exception – is a significant component of that approach. 

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Free of the $12 million obligation to McGee for next season, the Nuggets will now enjoy a new level of financial flexibility. The savings alone are substantial; in conjunction with Afflalo’s outgoing salary (shipped to Portland in a separate deal), Denver is now off the hook for a possible $19.5 million in 2015-16. That salary could clearly be better spent elsewhere for a team in the Nuggets’ position, perhaps through the two significant trade exceptions now in play as a result of these deals.

The cost of doing business is a protected first-round pick, originally acquired by the Nuggets in their trade with the Cavaliers for Timofey Mozgov. Any first-round pick – even one as protected as this – is a real asset that a rebuilding team like the Nuggets would be loathe to surrender. Yet under the circumstances, Denver has all of its own future first-round picks, a protected first acquired from Memphis that’s likely to convey this season, the right to swap firsts with the Knicks in 2016 and the protected 2016 first acquired from Portland in exchange for Afflalo. This was an asset to spare, and Denver did so while making real financial headway and retaining the means to make future moves.

Philadelphia 76ers: B+

As far as this season goes, the Sixers have effectively spent money they would have spent anyway in order to pick up a first-round pick. Philadelphia’s cap sheet was so sparse that it was able to accommodate McGee’s contract without yet reaching the salary floor. Had he not been acquired, that same money would have been paid out among Philadelphia’s other players – who stand as the only real losers in this deal. Here’s hoping Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel (not to mention those Sixers on minimum salaries) hadn’t already planned out how to use their salary floor “bonuses.” Having McGee as a teammate isn’t quite as fun as a speed boat.

• MORE NBA: Big Board 3.0: Top 20 prospects in 2015 NBA draftAlthough to what extent McGee will actually be a member of the 76ers organization remains to be seen. McGee doesn’t fit the timeline of Philadelphia’s rebuild nor its priorities in developing Noel and Joel Embiid. He is the patron saint of bad, losing habits, yet has just been acquired by a team that works hard to prevent those habits’ formation. Sixers coach Brett Brown spoke volumes in his brief comment on McGee (via Sixers beat writer Tom Moore):

There is no fit here, yet the Sixers’ landing McGee gave Denver the motivation to complete this deal. It’s possible Philadelphia will eat what remains of McGee’s salary by waiving him or requesting that he not report. Even if he does wind up actually playing for the Sixers, it would take significant movement for his presence to much interfere with Noel and Embiid getting the kind of playing time and reps that Philadelphia has made a priority. The takeaway is clearly the pick – Philadelphia’s third first-round selection in play for this season (along with its own pick and one from Miami) to add to its four stockpiled second rounders. The Sixers, at no real immediate cost, have generated another asset.