Over the next several weeks, Hoops Rumors will be breaking down the 2016 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2016/17 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Denver Nuggets.
Free agent signings:
- Darrell Arthur: Three years, $23MM. Third year player option.
- Mike Miller: Two years, $7MM. Second year non-guaranteed.
- Robbie Hummel: Two years, minimum salary ($150K guaranteed)
- D.J. Kennedy: Three years, minimum salary ($50K guaranteed)
- Jarnell Stokes: Two years, minimum salary ($150K guaranteed)
- Nate Wolters: Three years, minimum salary ($50K guaranteed)
- Acquired cash ($730K) from the Thunder in exchange for the draft rights to Daniel Hamilton (No. 56 pick).
- Acquired Thunder’s 2017 second-round pick (protected 31-35) and Grizzlies’ 2017 second-round pick (protected 31-35) from the Thunder in exchange for Joffrey Lauvergne.
- 1-7: Jamal Murray. Signed to rookie contract.
- 1-15: Juan Hernangomez. Signed to rookie contract.
- 1-19: Malik Beasley. Signed to rookie contract.
- 2-53: Petr Cornelie. Will play overseas.
Other offseason news:
Check out our salary cap snapshot for the Denver Nuggets right here.
For the third straight season the Nuggets missed out on making it to the playoffs, notching just 33 wins. But despite returning virtually the same squad from 2015/16, Denver is a franchise on the rise. The team has loads of young, talented players on its roster, as well as a coach in Michael Malone who appears to be a perfect fit for the organization. The Nuggets still lack a true star to build around, but their solid depth at key positions should allow them to swing a major trade if the opportunity presents itself.
Denver’s offseason was almost entirely centered around the NBA draft, with the team owning three top-20 picks in the first round. While possessing multiple draft picks doesn’t ensure success, it certainly appears that GM Tim Connelly knocked it out of the park with his choices, snagging Jamal Murray (No. 7), Juan Hernangomez (No. 15) and Malik Beasley (No. 19).
Murray is the true gem of the Nuggets’ newcomers, though it remains to be seen just how and when he’ll get an opportunity to play with Denver’s overcrowded backcourt. With Emmanuel Mudiay entrenched at the point and Gary Harris and Will Barton both likely to see significant minutes at shooting guard, Murray will have to fight his way onto the court, at least in the early part of the season. Murray does have the ability to play both point guard and shooting guard, which will help his cause, but he’ll likely split time with Jameer Nelson as Mudiay’s backup at the point to start the campaign. The Kentucky product does bring with him an extremely valuable skill — the ability to attack and finish at the rim, which was an area of weakness in the Mile High City a year ago. Murray is also a solid outside shooter, nailing approximately 40% of his three-point attempts during his lone season in Kentucky. If he develops as expected, he’s the type of talent who will force the team to make a trade in order to free up more minutes for him.
Hernangomez was considered a steal at No. 15 overall by a number of draft experts. The Spaniard fits the mold of a prototypical stretch-four, but he’ll likely take longer to develop than Murray will. That may be a good thing for the Nuggets, given the logjam they have in the frontcourt. It’s with players like Hernangomez that the Nuggets’ lack of a D-League affiliate becomes glaring, as that avenue would be extremely valuable to a franchise with this many young players and lack of sufficient developmental minutes to go around. Beasley, the team’s No. 19 overall selection will also suffer from the lack of a D-League squad, since his path to playing time is likely the most difficult of the trio of 2016 draftees.
The Nuggets had an opportunity to free up some minutes for its younger players this offseason, with the team reportedly having been offered a first-round pick from multiple teams in exchange for Barton. The former second-round pick enjoyed a breakout season off the bench for Denver last season, averaging 14.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.5 APG, and his contract represents one of the better bargains around — he’s set to earn just $3.533MM annually in each of the next two seasons. Barton has flourished since Denver acquired him from the Blazers during the 2014/15 campaign, but with a projected future backcourt of Mudiay and Murray, flipping him while his value is high may have been a wise move. While he remains an excellent asset in Denver’s coffers, he is potentially blocking the development of some of the team’s younger players. While another first-rounder in the 2016 draft wouldn’t have been appealing given the team’s already young roster, swapping him for a future pick or two may have been the better move for the long-term.
The team made just two moves on the free agent market, re-signing both Darrell Arthur and Mike Miller. Neither move is a game-changer for the franchise, with both players being more valuable for their experience and leadership than what they’ll provide on the court for the franchise. I like the return of Miller. He probably won’t see much action, but he should continue to serve as a solid mentor for the team’s young wings and can provide some solid outside shooting in small doses. The second year of Miller’s deal is non-guaranteed, so it’s a low risk signing that could provide numerous intangible benefits to the young club.
I’m not as bullish on retaining Arthur, given the team’s depth in the frontcourt. It may turn out to be a prudent move given the health issues both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have dealt with over the past few seasons. Kenneth Faried also only appeared in 67 contests last season. Still, locking the 28-year-old for three more seasons doesn’t thrill me given the team’s wealth of players and likelihood of having multiple first-rounders in the 2017 draft. The Nuggets will more than likely receive Memphis’ first round pick in 2017, which is top-five protected. Given its solid backcourt and pivot positional depth, it makes sense that Denver will look to add younger forwards in the near future.
Denver’s greatest need moving forward is to add a star player to the mix as well as to find the right spots for their current crop of players. While the team is extremely versatile, there are far too many players that don’t have an obvious and set position in the rotation. The team should focus this season on trying to swing a big trade by consolidating its depth and landing an All-Star caliber player. The trio of Faried, Chandler and Gallinari all have value around the league, and given their injury histories, Denver would be wise to gauge their trade worth and see what Connelly can do with them. A package of one or two of the trio, plus Barton and future draft picks should make for a solid starting point in negotiating with other teams at the February trade deadline.
The Nuggets are likely a season away from being a playoff team as it currently stands. Allowing for internal development alone, the franchise should be able to make some noise in the Western Conference in the near future. But superior depth will only take you so far, which is why it is vital for the team to do everything it can to add a star player to the mix. Come the postseason, it is the stars who help teams advance past the first round. But whatever direction the team eventually chooses to go with its roster, things are starting to come together in Denver and fans will have something to cheer about sooner rather than later.
Salary information from Basketball Insiders used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.