Free Agents (Cap Holds)
Over a year removed from the blockbuster trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York, the Nuggets have moved quickly to lock up their new franchise cornerstones. Three players acquired in that deal, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Kosta Koufos, received extensions for three or more years, while veteran guard Arron Afflalo signed a five-year contract to stay in Denver.
While the Nuggets only have about $47MM committed to 2012/13 salaries so far, the offseason likely won't be about pursuing free agents as much as it will be about continuing to lock up their current players. JaVale McGee and Ty Lawson are next in line for potential long-term deals, with McGee facing restricted free agency this summer and Lawson entering the final year of his rookie contract. If both players receive new contracts from Denver in the coming months, the Nuggets will essentially have their core in place through 2016.
Of course, it's no guarantee that McGee will be re-signed or that Lawson will be extended. McGee has only been a Nugget for a couple months, having been acquired from the Wizards in a deadline deal. He showed flashes of brilliance in the team's playoff series against the Lakers, and moving from Washington to Denver seemed to reduce the mental lapses and errors in judgment that plagued him as a Wizard. Typically, bidding is fierce for big men in restricted free agency, and perhaps the Nuggets would be unwilling to match an aggressive offer for McGee, but I fully expect them to at least think hard about matching offers up to $9-10MM.
Lawson may actually be the better bet to receive a long-term contract from Denver this summer, following an impressive third season in which he set career highs in PPG (16.4) and PER (19.4), among other categories. The Lawson that showed up in the postseason (19.0 PPG, 6.0 APG, 51.4 FG%) looked like a player on the verge of stardom, and one that the Nuggets won't want to let hit the open market next summer.
If the team re-signs McGee, its free agent options will likely be limited to the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, but that wouldn't be a bad scenario -- with McGee, Kenneth Faried, Al Harrington, and Koufos in the frontcourt, along with Gallinari, Chandler, Afflalo, and Corey Brewer on the wing, and Lawson manning the point, there are no glaring holes that need to be addressed in free agency. Another point guard will be necessary, whether that means re-signing Andre Miller or looking elsewhere, and if the Nuggets decide to amnesty Chris Andersen, acquiring another big would make sense. But the Anthony trade allowed Denver to address multiple positions in a single stroke, and the club can afford to look for value on the free agent market rather than desperately trying to land any particular player.
Also at the Nuggets' disposal is the 20th pick in the draft. If McGee isn't re-signed, that could be a spot to target a young center like Fab Melo, but otherwise the Nuggets have the freedom to take the best player available, which could end up being a guy like Moe Harkless, Quincy Miller, Tony Wroten Jr., or Marquis Teague. With no need to insert a rookie into the rotation, the team could even consider selecting French guard Evan Fournier and stashing him overseas for the immediate future.
The Nuggets' roster is well-constructed, with balance at every position and no obvious weaknesses. Time will tell whether this young squad can develop into a legit contender without an elite, go-to scorer like Anthony, but for this summer at least, I expect the Nuggets to continue the approach they've taken since the 'Melo deal. In addition to maintaining strong depth throughout the roster, that will mean locking up the young players that figure to be part of the nucleus in Denver for years to come.