Keeler: Bruce Brown got money too dumb to turn down. Now Christian Braun can make Nuggets look like smartest guys in the room. Again.


Bruce Brown is a reliable condiment-making entrée money. But like ranch dressing and ketchup, the man goes with almost everything. And everyone.

We’re happy for you, Brucey B. Honest. Conventional wisdom said the Nuggets’ do-everything former sixth man would land a bag around double the $7.8 million max that Denver could offer for ’23-24. Indiana tripled it.

BB11 did what 98.6% of us would do in the same situation. Having bet on himself last summer, and won a ring in the process, this time he took the cash upfront.

After making $15 million over his first five seasons in the league, the Pacers guaranteed Brown a whopping $45 million for the next two, including a reported $21.95 million in ’23-24 with a club option to follow.

It’s a short career and a long life. Brucey went from a parade to plentitude in about 15 days. Which is a pretty dang good fortnight, no matter how you slice it.

The greatest compliment you could leave BB11 is the way he made the tough stuff look easy. The second-greatest is that watching him leave, even though we all knew it was coming, still hurt like the Dickens. Brown was a selfless, stalwart, salty skeleton key, capable of unlocking almost anything you threw at him. The Boston native could handle the ball or bang down low. He could go small in a big lineup or big in a small one.

To top off a championship core, the Nuggets needed a Torrey Craig who could land his shot against elite defenders and an Austin Rivers who could actually defend elite shooters. Brown offered both in one package.

BB11 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were — and are — the sort of ruthlessly efficient, cold, 3-and-D assassins that flipped a so-called “soft” roster into an impenetrable stone wall, giving an already-good basketball team a football mentality.

Brown was Will Barton with better shot selection, defensive chops and situational awareness, one of the great finishing pieces in Denver sports history. Brucey took the Nuggs to peaks they’d never touched. The Nuggs helped make him rich beyond belief.

We’ll always have Miami.

We’ll no longer have Nikola Jokic feeding BB11, though, and more’s the pity. Like Jordan, LeBron, Magic, Bird, Walton, the Big Honey provides teammates instant elevation, a star who makes role players good and good players great. Every rotation the Joker touches turns to gold, with running mates looking anywhere from 15% to 30% better than they might if paired with any other big man in the game.

To both the eyes and the metrics, Brown and Jokic went together like a hammer and pick. Per tracking data, the Nuggets posted a 120.1 offensive rating — as, in points per 100 possessions — whenever the two were on the floor together during the regular season, with a plus-9.4 net rating as a duo. The net rating for that tandem in the postseason hopped up to a plus-10.4, with an offensive rating of 117.3, during that 20-game sprint to glory.

Brown’s on-off plus/minus during the playoffs, a Basketball Reference stat that measures his team’s success whenever a player’s on the floor, was a plus-4.4 net — that was the third-highest total of any Nuggets rotation regular, trailing only Aaron Gordon (plus-20.6!) and Jamal Murray (plus-9.9). When you go with everything, almost anything works.

As the page turns. Christian Braun, the floor is yours. Remember Game 3 at Kaseya Center? The bulldog who went right at Jimmy Butler? The kid who put up 15 points and four boards in 19 minutes? That’s gotta become less the sensational exception and more of the beautiful, reliable norm.

With veteran Reggie Jackson back in the fold to back up Jamal Murray at the point, Brown’s departure leaves the biggest holes on three major fronts: treys, defense and sheer chutzpah.

As a rookie, the 6-foot-7 Braun showed flashes of nailing the latter two parts of that equation, no problemo. At his peak, the former KU Jayhawk was a perfect pest, the kind of guy you love when he’s on your side but fans of the opposition want to punch in the kisser. The jumper, though? The jumper — Braun drained 35.4% of his triples during the regular season, then was just 2 for 10 in the playoffs — still needs work.

Still, if you’re looking for a lifeline, it’s in the chemistry that Braun’s already formed with the Nuggs’ two best big men. Get this: According to NBA data, Denver’s most efficient two-man combo during the regular season among duos that played at least 20 games together was not, in fact, Murray and Jokic — it was Joker and Braun, with a plus-19.2 efficiency rating in 48 games. Of the Nuggets’ five most efficient two-man pairings last season that also logged at least 20 appearances, Braun was a part of two of them (Jokic-Braun, No. 1; Aaron Gordon-Braun, No. 5).

When you win a title, everybody eats. Can Braun become that perfect condiment? The Nuggs still have plenty of expensive, primo dishes on the menu. Without a little ranch dressing at arm’s reach, it’s gonna be tough to replicate a championship meal.

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