Offseason Outlook: Denver Nuggets

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • Will Barton ($1,181,348) — $1,181,348 qualifying offer3
  • Ian Clark ($1,147,276) — $1,147,276 qualifying offer4

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (7th overall)
  • 2nd Round (57th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $53,124,036
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $4,927,335
  • Options: $2,854,940
  • Cap Holds: $22,117,078
  • Total: $89,677,385

The Nuggets roster still in many ways resembles the one that went 57-25 in 2012/13, but nothing has truly been the same in Denver since the team suffered an upset loss in the playoffs that season to the Warriors. GM Masai Ujiri left the following summer and the team replaced coach George Karl with Brian Shaw. Injuries, including the ACL tear in Gallinari’s left knee that may have been the true catalyst for Denver’s misfortune, derailed Shaw’s first season, but even with Gallinari and others back this year, the Nuggets still fell well shy of a playoff berth, and the team dismissed Shaw amid seeming apathy among the players.

Mar 4, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) drives to the basket in the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Denver has moved slowly to replace Shaw, with interim coach Melvin Hunt among a field of candidates with whom the Nuggets only recently progressed into the interview stage. Hunt, Michael Malone and Mike D’Antoni seem like the primary candidates, though the team has also interviewed Blazers assistant David Vanterpool and Wizards assistant Don Newman, with Mike Woodson also reportedly lurking as a possible interviewee. Malone is the only one known to have garnered a second interview, though reports paint conflicting pictures about whether Denver’s apparent deal to bring Pete D’Alessandro back to the Nuggets front office threatens Malone’s candidacy. Hunt at one point appeared to nudge his way to the front of the pack, and while it’s not clear whether Hunt remains the favorite for the job, he has the support of the players.

Team president Josh Kroenke, GM Tim Connelly and the rest of the Nuggets braintrust will have plenty more to address once a coach is finally in place. Connelly spoke recently of a “period of transition” on the horizon as he made it clear that the team will make an aggressive push to land the sort of star the roster has lacked since the Carmelo Anthony trade. That’s easier said than done in an offseason when two of the most prominent trade candidates are already Nuggets. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are losing confidence in the organization and have let the team know that unless it makes a significant trade or hires an inspiring name as coach, they’d rather Denver trade them than keep them through a rebuilding process, as Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported. Connelly made the reported tension and frustration between Lawson and the organization readily apparent, making a public call as this year’s trade deadline passed for Lawson to “grow up.”

The Nuggets nonetheless held out for multiple first-round picks in exchange for Lawson as they discussed him at the deadline, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported. This month’s draft presents another opportunity to talk about Lawson with teams, and this time, the Nuggets would have more certainty about the prospects they could reap if they acquired additional picks for this year. Denver probably isn’t going to end up with a star with their own pick at No. 7, but the Nuggets would stand a better chance of doing so if they packaged that pick along with Lawson in offers to the Lakers, Sixers and Knicks, the teams in possession of picks two through four. Each has a need at the point. The Lakers were among the teams expressing interest in Lawson at the deadline, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for either Philadelphia or New York.

The Mavs don’t appear to have Lawson at the forefront of their priorities, even though there’s apparently a level of mutual interest between Dallas and the six-year veteran. Kings coach George Karl apparently would love to acquire Lawson or any of the players he used to coach on the Nuggets, but just how willing Denver, with D’Alessandro in tow, would be to deal with Sacramento this summer remains to be seen, never mind the confusion that’s reigned in the Kings front office.

Faried emerged as late-first-round steal in his first two NBA seasons under Karl, but multiple reports have indicated that the Nuggets weren’t quite sold on the power forward even as they inked him to a four-year, $50MM extension this past fall. People around the league sensed as the deadline neared that Faried could be had for a particularly strong trade offer, Lowe wrote, even though it seemed a few weeks prior that Denver didn’t want to trade him. The Raptors were loosely connected to Faried in between those times, and they seem like a team that would like to have him, given their lack of a clear-cut starter at the four and the presence in Toronto of GM Masai Ujiri, who drafted Faried when he was Denver’s GM. Still, the Raptors don’t have a high draft pick and probably aren’t willing to part with stars, so trading Faried to them would probably represent a lateral move at best for Denver. Power forwards in a more traditional vein, like Faried, aren’t in vogue these days, so the Nuggets will likely find tough sledding if they try to find a trade partner who covets him.

The Nuggets, frustration with Lawson aside, probably don’t want to trade players on their roster as much as they simply want to trade for others who can become the clear-cut No. 1 option on offense that they’re been missing. The Kings have seemed steadfast against trading DeMarcus Cousins, though surely the Nuggets would cast aside any reservations they might have against doing business with the Kings if he became available. Denver was among the many teams going after Kevin Love last summer, and if Love again is on the market as either a free agent or trade commodity, the Nuggets will probably revisit that pursuit.

Denver would probably find it much easier if Love were available via trade than in free agency, given that the Nuggets don’t have the capacity to open anywhere close to max level cap room unless they clear significant salary in other moves. The desire for cap flexibility would probably fuel the team’s desire to unload Lawson, Faried or both as much as any catalyst, but the Nuggets may well want to hold off until they know a star free agent is willing to join them.

Indeed, Denver’s ledger is crowded with deals that carry into next season. Midseason trade acquisition Will Barton is the most prominent of only three free agents on the Nuggets, and it appears there’s mutual interest in a new deal. Denver has the chance to match bids for him with a small qualifying offer, and while the Nuggets will likely tender that offer, Barton probably isn’t too high on the team’s list of priorities, considering the multitude of other matters at hand.

The Nuggets, with changes on the horizon, seem likely to draft the best available player should they keep the seventh pick, even though Duke small forward Justise Winslow, Croatian small forward Mario Hezonja and Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein seem the most likely candidates to fit that bill. Those players would fill the same positions that mainstay Danilo Gallinari and promising 2014 draftee Jusuf Nurkic occupy, but Denver can’t be too worried about the way its pieces fit together when it seems poised for a shakeup. Our Eddie Scarito has Winslow going to the Nuggets in the latest Hoops Rumors Mock Draft.

New faces, from the draft and from trades, will likely dominate the Nuggets roster next season. It’s nonetheless conceivable that they keep the team intact to a degree, and certainly it would seem that Nurkic, whom the team thinks of as a steal, according to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, is a strong candidate to return. Deveney wrote that Lawson is likely to stay put, and indeed, there appears a decent chance that the Nuggets simply won’t find offers that would do much for them and decide to sit tight in the hopes that better proposals surface toward next season’s trade deadline. Still, Kroenke’s remark about a period of transition ahead makes it difficult to envision that the team won’t undergo a major shakeup relatively soon.

Cap Footnotes

1 — Green’s salary would become fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through August 1st.
2 — The cap hold for Nelson would be $3,278,400 if he opts out, as he reportedly plans to do.
3 — The cap hold for Barton would be $947,276 if the Nuggets elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
4 — The cap hold for Clark would be $947,276 if the Nuggets elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
5 — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why these players technically remain on the books.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. 

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