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Offseason In Review: Denver Nuggets

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees and more will be covered as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.




Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The Nuggets clearly determined that a change in leadership was key. The optimism that surrounded the team when it won 57 games in 2012/13 had disappeared amid injuries, underwhelming play and disillusionment by the time the Nuggets fired coach Brian Shaw nearly two years later. Interim coach Melvin Hunt had the support of the players, but Michael Malone, who was seemingly on the right track for the Kings before they fired him last December, won over team president Josh Kroenke and GM Tim Connelly in interviews for the job. The Denver brass consulted with the new coach a few months later when they traded point guard Ty Lawson to the Rockets for four players the team waived prior to opening night, a move that cleared the way for No. 7 overall pick Emmanuel Mudiay to take the reigns.

New coach and new point guard aside, the Nuggets largely remain the same, and judging by their moves this summer, they actively sought to keep it that way. A late September deal with Mike Miller was their only free agent signing that wasn’t a re-signing, and they took advantage of a salary cap rule that no other team has used since the existing collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011 to secure Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler for the long term. Thus, the fate of Malone and Mudiay will largely define the 2015 offseason for Denver.

Malone is a hard-nosed coach whose Kings teams played at a relatively controlled pace, but he acknowledges that the Nuggets want an up-tempo attack and insists he can direct one. He also sought to dispel the notion that he has any hard feelings toward Pete D’Alessandro, whom the Nuggets hired to a front office role this summer and who was Sacramento’s GM when the Kings fired Malone. Conflicting reports painted different pictures of the role D’Alessandro played in Malone’s dismissal.

Still, that relationship is likely secondary to the bond that Malone and Mudiay must form. The coach has expressed an understanding that while he doesn’t have much stomach for losing, it behooves the future of the team that he give Mudiay every opportunity to learn this season. Jameer Nelson will be around to help, thanks to the deal the Nuggets gave the 33-year-old point guard who initially had his doubts about Denver. The Steve Mountain client opted out but re-signed with the Nuggets at a raise, even though he was coming off a career-low 8.3 points per game. He’s embraced the leadership role that the Nuggets value him highly for, as Matt Moore of detailed. Nelson can also mentor another developing point guard, as the Nuggets elected to eat two fully guaranteed seasons on Nick Johnson‘s deal to keep former second-round pick Erick Green on his partially guaranteed contract.

Not every veteran the Nuggets kept this summer is around merely for leadership purposes. Denver clearly wants to benefit on the court from the rejuvenated Gallinari, who looked strong down the stretch last season and over the summer while playing for the Italian national team. The Nuggets “absolutely could have” traded for multiple first-round picks for either Gallinari or Chandler, as Zach Lowe of ESPN reported, and while they explored the idea of a Gallinari swap at the deadline and apparently at draft time, too, Gallinari’s affection for Denver helped secure his place there, Lowe wrote. Indeed, Gallinari has said he wants to finish his career with the Nuggets, and thanks to the team’s deft use of the renegotiation-and-extension rule, he’s set to remain under contract until 2018, unless he opts out a year early. The former No. 8 overall pick was previously poised to hit free agency in 2016, just as the cap is set to surge.

Chandler also could have elected free agency in 2016, but he decided against wading into a lucrative market to lock in as many as four eight-figure annual salaries on his new deal with the Nuggets. He’s been the subject of frequent trade rumors the past year, and as a 28-year-old role player on a rebuilding team, those aren’t necessarily going to go away, even though the Nuggets can’t trade him until January. The combo forward gave up the chance to choose another team that might offer a more logical fit, but he was well-compensated for that choice.

Darrell Arthur also had financial motivation to stick with Denver. He admits he almost bolted for the Clippers in free agency this past summer, but the Clips could only have paid him the minimum salary, and the Jerry Hicks client wound up with almost twice that to stay in Denver. It’s a pay cut from the more than $3.457MM he made last season, but he remains in place as part of a crowded frontcourt. So, too, does Kenneth Faried, in spite of trade rumors that have surrounded him the past couple of years, and chatter about the idea of a Faried trade hasn’t stopped, Lowe wrote recently. Stability marked the Nuggets offseason, but that doesn’t mean the same will be true going forward.

Denver invested in youth as well as its veterans, locking in Will Barton on a three-year deal and signing draft-and-stash prospect Nikola Jokic to a four-year deal. Both are in the rotation to start the season. Barton originally came via last season’s Arron Afflalo trade, a positive signal that if the Nuggets do start offloading more of their veterans, the front office is savvy enough to identify prospects who can become contributors. Jokic also proves Denver’s acumen for drafting big men, as he and Jusuf Nurkic, a product of the 2014 draft, form an intriguing combination at center.

The Nuggets seemingly have one foot in the future and the other planted firmly in the present. That’s a challenge for Malone to navigate, but it’s clear that player development is a priority even as the Nuggets hesitate to strip down their roster and go for a full-scale rebuild. The strength of the Western Conference will likely keep them out of the playoffs, enhancing their chances in a draft in which they could have as many as four first-round picks. The Nuggets, if they continue to draft well, have a decent chance to climb back into the Western Conference elite before the deals they made with their vets this summer run to term.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.

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