After winning his first Most Valuable Player award in 2020/21, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was even better in ’21/22. And he had to be — with guard Jamal Murray sidelined while recovering from an ACL tear and forward Michael Porter Jr. on the shelf due to back surgery, Denver was missing two of its top three scorers for nearly the entire season.
Given the absences of those two key players, it should have been a lost season for the Nuggets, but Jokic was so good that you got the sense the team still had a chance to make some noise in the playoffs if Murray and Porter could make it back.
Unfortunately, time eventually ran out on the Nuggets’ season before Murray and Porter were ready to return, and despite Jokic’s heroics – and his second consecutive MVP trophy – the club just didn’t have the pieces to keep up with the eventual Western-champion Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
The Nuggets’ Offseason Plan:
Having a healthy Murray and Porter back in their lineup will go a long way toward turning the Nuggets back into a legitimate contender. But that doesn’t mean the team should be content to sit back and view those returning stars as its offseason “additions.”
Murray and Porter will make the Nuggets’ offense more dangerous, but neither player is an above-average defender, so Denver is in need of one or two more wings who can defend (and ideally who can shoot too).
Newly-promoted head of basketball operations Calvin Booth will be tasked with finding those players, though he’ll have limited resources to do so on the trade market. The Nuggets have given up two future first-round picks and four second-rounders without acquiring any extra picks of their own, reducing the team’s ability to sweeten its offers with draft assets.
That means the Nuggets may have to dangle players like Will Barton, Monte Morris, and possibly Zeke Nnaji as they pursue defensive upgrades. All three are solid contributors on reasonable contracts, but Bones Hyland‘s emergence and Murray’s return should help make at least one of Barton or Morris more expendable.
The Nuggets technically also have the ability to trade the No. 21 overall pick, though they’d have to wait until after the draft to officially move it, due to the rule preventing teams from leaving themselves without a first-rounder in two consecutive future drafts.
It won’t bring back an impact player on its own, but attaching the No. 21 selection to some combination of Barton, Morris, and/or Nnaji would be enough to open up some intriguing possibilities for Denver. On the other hand, the Nuggets’ roster is getting expensive and adding a low-cost rookie could help keep their tax bill in check, so perhaps they’ll hang onto this year’s first-rounder or attempt to move back into the second round rather than trading out of the draft entirely.
Booth and his basketball operations team will have several decisions to make on free agents, including DeMarcus Cousins, Austin Rivers, and Davon Reed. Cousins played well as a backup center behind Jokic and helped bring some toughness to the second unit — I’d expect Denver to try to re-sign him, as long as no other clubs offer him a sizeable raise. The Nuggets only have his Non-Bird rights.
Rivers’ and Reed’s futures could be tied to the Nuggets’ other roster moves. They’ve shown they’re capable of playing rotation minutes, but they’ll be pretty low on the depth chart if Murray, Hyland, Morris, and Barton are all still in the mix and may seek other opportunities in that scenario.
The Greens – JaMychal Green and Jeff Green – could both reach free agency if they turn down their respective player options. I’d consider Jeff far more likely to test the market than JaMychal, given that JaMychal’s option ($8.2MM) is the more expensive of the two and he’s coming off a down year.
Assuming JaMychal opts in, the Nuggets could use his expiring contract to help salary-match in a trade, potentially opening up a larger role for Nnaji. Jeff’s ability to knock down jump shots and guard multiple positions on defense makes him a valuable depth piece, but he’s entering his age-36 season, so the team won’t want to pay him too much more than his option amount ($4.5MM).
Jokic, Murray, and Morris are extension-eligible this offseason, but only Jokic is a sure thing to get a new deal — he and the team are expected to finalize a five-year, super-max agreement that will lock him up through the 2027/28 season. The timing probably isn’t right for an extension for Murray, who hasn’t played in over a year, or Morris, who would be ineligible to be traded for six months if he signs for more money or more years than extend-and-trade rules allow.
Salary Cap Situation
Note: Our salary cap figures are based on the league’s latest projection ($122MM) for 2022/23.
- Nikola Jokic ($33,047,803)
- Jamal Murray ($31,650,600)
- Michael Porter Jr. ($30,500,000) 1
- Aaron Gordon ($19,690,909)
- Will Barton ($14,375,000)
- Monte Morris ($9,125,000)
- Zeke Nnaji ($2,617,800)
- Bones Hyland ($2,201,520)
- Total: $143,208,632
- JaMychal Green ($8,200,000): Early Bird rights
- Jeff Green ($4,500,000): Non-Bird rights
- Total: $12,700,000
Restricted Free Agents
- Facundo Campazzo ($4,000,000 qualifying offer / $4,160,000 cap hold): Early Bird rights
- Vlatko Cancar ($2,228,276 qualifying offer / $2,228,276 cap hold): Bird rights
- Total (cap holds): $6,388,276
Two-Way Free Agents
- Markus Howard ($1,811,516 qualifying offer / $1,811,516 cap hold): Early Bird rights
- Davon Reed ($1,616,044 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Total: $3,427,560
- No. 21 overall pick ($2,770,920)
- Total: $2,770,920
Note: These are players who are either already eligible for an extension or will become eligible before the 2022/23 season begins.
- Nikola Jokic (veteran)
- Monte Morris (veteran)
- Jamal Murray (veteran)
Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds
- Bryn Forbes ($5,400,000 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- DeMarcus Cousins ($1,811,516 cap hold): Non-Bird rights
- Troy Daniels ($1,811,516 cap hold): Non-Bird rights 2
- Richard Jefferson ($1,811,516 cap hold): Non-Bird rights 2
- Austin Rivers ($1,811,516 cap hold): Early Bird rights
- Total: $12,646,064
Offseason Cap Outlook
With $143MM+ in guaranteed money committed to just eight players, the Nuggets are on track to go well beyond the projected luxury tax line of $149MM, so they’ll be limited to the $6.4MM taxpayer mid-level exception unless they shed a contract or two.
Cap Exceptions Available
- Taxpayer mid-level exception: $6,392,000 3
- Porter’s salary will be worth 25% of the salary cap. If the cap ends up above or below $122MM, this figure will be adjusted upward or downward.
- The cap holds for Daniels and Jefferson remain on the Nuggets’ books from prior seasons because they haven’t been renounced. They can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.
- This is a projected value. The Nuggets could instead have access to the full mid-level exception ($10,349,000) and bi-annual exception ($4,050,000) if they remain below the tax apron.
Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.
24 thoughts on “2022 NBA Offseason Preview: Denver Nuggets”
#BBBBB – Bring back Bol Bol baby
Lakers want to make playoffs
They need to beat up Mavs, Nuggets or Wolves
wolves 19th pick
Nuggets 21st pick
Mavs 26th pick
I could see Jeff Green opting out and signing another 1 year deal with a PO to give him a little more security.
I hope Jeff does come back he is good insurance. Gary Payton would be a good signing for Denver. Wesley Matthews, too.,
All Jeff did this season was throw down some great dunks. He has little impact defensively and doesn’t stretch the floor enough to play alongside Jokic with Gordon on the floor too – something Malone will continue to put out there until Porter Jr has shown he’s healthy and effective…
JaMychal played great with the second unit so I think Jeff is the odd man out unfortunately.
It’s the Calvin Booth show. He’s potentially the most consequential GM in the league right now. His actions over the next 18 months, will determine whether Jokic will be holding up some championship trophies in the next 5 years. I wish him luck.
Trade MPJ and the 21st overall pick for Harrison Barnes and the 4th overall pick.
Then take Jaden Ivey 4th overall.
Leaving you with a team of
1. Murray. Morris
2. Ivey. Bones
3. Barnes. Barton
4. Gordon. Green
5. Jokic. Cousins. Zeke
With loads of places to fill in FA for depth.
My line of thinking comes from having the back to back MVP and not being able to progress to the finals mainly due to injuries to other key players. MPJ is the biggest injury concern and didn’t have the season we expected, so I’d sell high now while the value is still there. What you get back in the wing defence of Harrison Barnes who also offers plenty of playoff experience and can play any role needed on offence. You also get Jaden Ivey in the draft who projects to be a great scorer at the next level.
As for the kings, they build off a known player and ability. Every knows how good MPJ could be and is and they are banking on that being better than Ivey. Fit wise I think MPJ is a better fit for them and a three strong attack of Fox MPJ and Sabonis could be intriguing to say the least. MPJ is use to playing with a ball centric centre who can play-make for others so adjusting shouldn’t be overly hard.
That’s a weird trade (if the Nuggets had the #4 they wouldn’t take Ivey, another smallish combo guard). But OK. I’d say if there are teams out there that think MPJ is gonna be MPJ again, he’s definitely gettable. It’s a possibility.
He’s listed as 6’4 which is small for a 2 guard. Reading player comparisons tho Hes compared to DWade, Ant, Spida and those types of SGs. All 3 of those guys are 6’4 SGs, explosive, love attacking the rim and good/decent defensively and have a great work ethic. Specifically that attacking the rim style would be perfect playing off a Nikola Jokic creator. Also a great complementary backcourt fit next to Jamal Murray who offers a good amount of outside shooting.
Ivey is not small… has a powerful build. I would have called him a 2-3 before saying he’s a 1-2.
I’m no MPJr guy but Denver loses the cash slot w an expiring Barnes here
I like the idea of a Porter trade and I like Barnes for that team but it runs into problems w Silvers cap year after next
Considering MPJ just got a max of near enough, you be getting Barnes on an expiring and then could resign him on a longer term deal and still save money in the process
Just not sure saving money is the issue for Denver (especially if they can’t use it on anything else)
Id do it if I was Den just to lose the risk but there might be a better trade for Porter if you wait till he comes back healthy for a bit and you can optimize the money slot since they seem willing to pay it anyways. He’s at peak low value today, that can change by as early as next January. Like your idea of trading him just not this offseason
You wouldn’t do it for the pint of saving money that’s just another bonus. Your doing it to avoid the injury issues, to get better defensively, and to hopefully have a better playoff run
It’s an intriguing idea – Sacramento would probably be the only team gullible enough to take the dice roll on MPJ in exchange for a top 5 pick
If I was Denver though I’d probably look to make it a 3 team and move #4 for a player who can impact my team now, while Jokic is at peak power
I would make this trade from DEN’s standpoint. But I highly doubt SAC does the trade, even if they (unlike me) like MPJ as a player. He’s coming off back surgery, with a newly minted max deal (that would be hard to justify even if he were healthy). I don’t think DEN will be able to sell, nor SAC willing to buy, (this) high.
At #4, Ivey wouldn’t be a bad choice, but I’d prefer another (in addition to Barnes) big athletic wing (Mathurin or Sharpe), or even a trade down for Daniels, Eason, etc.
Cheers mate, Favourite reply so far.
I do like MPJ as a player a lot but at the same time you have to be realistic with injuries and the lack of production that we all expected this past season. I still see a lot of potential in him and in the right situation I think he thrives. I don’t think that Denver is that place for him, he would suit being a 3 on a older more proven two way side such as Boston, GSW, Miami, possibly even Philly.
I definitely don’t think Sacramento is that place but I do think it would be a better spot for him and I think Sacramento (are dumb enough) would really push for him.
As for Denver I think it’s a really smart but risky move. Barnes is exactly what they need, experienced, versatility, role playing and the defence. Not to mention the #4 pick which means another young player to build with. I do agree a bigger wing would be more ideal but Ivey is by far the better prospect and more likely to be a star.
Just the whole idea would be going for a playoff push and staying healthy instead of loading up of young talented players and then being derailed by injuries
Too late now; Porter is theirs.
Dealing MPJ for OG and Birch would make more sense than for Barnes.
Barnes can’t be your starting 3. Starting 4 ok. And Gordon isnt a 3.
Raptors would be gambling on upside. Would also mean they intend to play Siakam at the 5 more. Or they could flat out move Siakam in a Gobert deal.
Or maybe it’s part of a 3 or 4 team deal that lands them Gobert.
But OG would make a lot of sense for the Nuggets.
Don’t hate this idea. OG is young, can defend really well, and can give you some buckets. But he’s complaining about a lack of touches because of Barnes, will be be happy not getting touches because of Jokic and Murray.
I think Toronto would be a terrific spot for MPJ long term. If he can return back to his best or close to it which is a big ask he and Scottie Barnes would make for a solid young forward pair. I think they would like MPJ’s length and skill set.
I like this deal
I Think OG would love playing with Jokic as he is a good cutter and would be wide open in the corners all of the time.
He essentially can duplicate what Gordon provides except with significantly better 3pt shooting.
That being said I don’t think the Raptors would make this deal as MPJ is too much of an expensive risk and OG is the safer and more plug-and-play kind of guy.
Jamal Murray will be one of the more interesting players to watch this season. Even before his injury he was a guy who could look All-NBA for one week then like a role player the next.
At 25, how does he come back?
Given MPJ’s uncertainty an incredible amount will depend on the answer to the Murray question.
Booth is inheriting a roster that seems to have an equal chance of imploding or contending – and there doesn’t seem much he can do about it either way.
My perfect Nuggets offseason is,
Both Greens opt in as they are likely to do so,
Package the pick and Zeke Naji to try and get Lu Dort. If thats not enough then maybe deal Morris to a third team to get another Pick for OKC.
Move Barton to the Bench where he can take as many bad shots as he wants
Bring Back Gary Harris on the MLE
Resign Cousin’s if possible, second preference would be Belicia as he can pass/shoot/rebound and could potentially share the floor with Jokic
Hold on to the Greens as Depth or potential salary filler for a trade at mideason should an injury.
New lineups would be
PG: Bones/Morris (if not involved in the Dort trade)/Facu as depth
SG: Gary Harris/Austin Rivers???/someone who can shoot
SF: Barton/Davon Reed
C: Cousins or Belicia and a cheap defensive backup
I think this revised team would have depth, and experience, imporved perimeter defence and would be filled with win now veterans that can support Jokic while he is in his prime
“They” say Cousins wants to start. (He has done all that rehab!) May not have a market for him starting tho.
Dort would be great, esp if Porter returns.