16 Jun 19
The Denver Post
The business of basketball never sleeps.
But for the Nuggets, rather than having to negotiate a trade demand from a star player (New Orleans) or dreading a potential departure of a Finals MVP (Toronto), Denver is faced with several so-called good problems this summer.
The most pressing issue pertains to the $30 million team option on veteran forward Paul Millsap. How they choose to handle it will dictate much of their flexibility this summer. If the Nuggets exercise it, a decision they must make by June 29, they’ll retain one of their most reliable defenders, albeit at a steep price.
If not, they’ll have options on a new deal and can negotiate with Millsap as soon as free agency begins the evening of June 30. Both sides have publicly expressed optimism about a reunion, and it’s possible Millsap’s willing to take a relative pay cut after the Nuggets paid him $60 million over the last two seasons.
One hypothetical outcome could see him return on a three-year deal that averages around $12 million to $15 million annually. In this scenario, with the salary cap expected to rise to around $109 million (up from $101) and the team already committed to around $90 million, the Nuggets would still have $4 million to $7 million to maneuver in cap room.
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However, their best mechanism for adding a player would probably be by using their mid-level exception, which is valued at around $9 million. It’s a provision afforded annually to teams to add pieces while operating above the salary cap and can be split among several players — as the Nuggets did this year. And it could easily net a free agent of value. Denver also has its bi-annual exception, which was worth $3.3 million this past season.
Coming off their promising 54-win campaign, the Nuggets are in an enviable situation. They’ve got the means to add pieces, either via free agency, trade or buying into the draft, but they’ve also put themselves in a situation where staying put is entirely reasonable. Rest assured that just because the Nuggets don’t currently have a pick in Thursday’s draft doesn’t mean that they’re not considering the possibility of acquiring one. It’s just that there aren’t many glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed. Their other calculus this offseason involves rookie Michael Porter Jr; it’s not as if the Nuggets want to clog up the frontcourt with a player of his caliber needing minutes.
“While we don’t have a pick this year, it’s a great chance to be active with any potential trade chips you might have,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “We have some potentially useful traded-player exceptions that could come in handy. I think we have a roster that’s very well thought of league-wide, so we’ll be aggressive going into the draft, and aggressive on draft night, and we’ll see if that aggression leads to any deals.”
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The next question for Connelly and the front office is just how many roster spots could be available heading into next season. It’s unlikely Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Lydon will return, and there’s also the possibility that Trey Lyles, depending on how the Nuggets approach his restricted free agency, won’t be back. One spot will likely go to 2017 second-round pick Vlatko Cancar, who has been playing in Liga ACB in Spain. One or two other spots could be up for grabs.
The other significant tool at Denver’s disposal is the traded-player exception; they have three as a result of last summer’s salary shedding. The biggest one was acquired in the Kenneth Faried/ Darrell Arthur trade with Brooklyn and is worth $13.8 million. It essentially says the Nuggets can acquire a player (or players) worth that much salary without having to send matching outgoing salary. Any of the three can be used in a sign-and-trade or a regular trade. The Nuggets won’t use all three since they’re worth, in total, more than $30 million, but they can be valuable in facilitating trades. Keep in mind that they’ll expire one year from the date of the original trade.
The last housekeeping item on the Nuggets’ offseason to-do list concerns their three first-round picks from 2016. Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez are all extension-eligible at the start of free agency, which runs through Oct. 21. Each player warrants discussion for an early extension and there will be much more on this topic as the summer unfolds. If no deal is reached, each player would then become a restricted free agent next summer. There are some benefits to holding off, considering their lower cap holds, but playing this season out without a new contract could also be risky for Denver. These negotiations usually come down to whether the team believes it has seen enough from a player to incur a financial risk before it has to.
The Nuggets are in such a healthy position that they don’t need to make any massive roster overhauls this summer. That’s a testament to the roster construct and the care with which it was built.