Denver Nuggets

Embiid Bonus Could Affect Sixers’ Cap Space

Joel Embiid‘s strong start could lead to a bonus that would affect the Sixers’ ability to compete on the free agent market next summer, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN.

The second-year center signed a five-year extension over the summer that has a base value of $146MM, but could rise as high as $178MM if he reaches certain benchmarks. That includes a hefty bonus if he is named Most Valuable Player or earns first-team All-NBA honors this season. Embiid, who came into tonight averaging 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, is certainly a candidate to make the All-NBA team at center, especially with the injury to Rudy Gobert and the move of Anthony Davis to power forward.

The bonus would raise Embiid’s cap hit from $25.3MM to $30.3MM for 2018/19 and would cost Philadelphia $5MM in cap space for each subsequent year of the contract. The Sixers have nearly $32MM in projected cap room right now, not counting $1.6MM team options for T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes, so $5MM could affect their ability to offer a full max contract.

Emiid’s contract also contains a minutes clause that could boost his future earnings. He can make his contract fully guaranteed starting in 2020/21 or 2021/22 if he plays at least 1,650 minutes in three consecutive years or three out of four starting with this season. He has accumulated 532 minutes in 18 games, putting him on pace to reach that figure for this year.

Marks passes on a few other tidbits related to contract incentives:

  • The punch from Bobby Portis that hospitalized Nikola Mirotic has cost the Bulls forward $1MM in bonuses. Mirotic had four benchmarks valued at $250K each, and although each was unlikely, he needed to play 65 games to be eligible and he has already missed 20.
  • Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who played just one game this season before needing knee surgery, missed a chance to earn several bonuses worth $750K.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap has a $500K incentive for making the All-Star team, which is impossible after wrist surgery that will keep him sidelined until after the February 18 game. Millsap had been an All-Star the past four seasons in the East. He also would receive a $150K bonus for playing 65 games and averaging seven rebounds per 36 minutes, but that’s out of reach because of the injury. He can still get $150K if the Nuggets make the playoffs, but for now his cap hit for next season will be cut from $29.7MM to $29.2MM.
  • Gobert took the biggest hit because of injury, which could cost him up to $2MM. The Jazz center, who is not expected back until the middle of the month because of a bone bruise in his right knee, had a pair of $250K incentives based on 67 games played, along with a $500K bonus for being named first team All-Defense and $1MM for making the All-Star game.
  • Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon needs his scoring and rebounding averages to total more than 16 to collect a $900K bonus. He was at 11.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG before his recent injury.
  • The Trail Blazers could see a smaller luxury tax bill if Maurice Harkless continues to struggle with his three-point shot. Currently shooting 24.3% from distance, Harkless needs to reach 35% at the end of the season to get a $500K bonus. If he falls short, Portland’s tax bill will dip from $4.3MM to $3.5MM.

Nuggets Hope Jokic's Ankle Injury Is Only A Sprain

  • Nikola Jokic injured his ankle on Thursday night, and while the Nuggets are running additional tests today, initial X-rays were negative, and the team is optimistic that the injury is just a sprain, a league source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Long Road For Craig's NBA Debut

  • After three years of playing overseas, Nuggets forward Torrey Craig got his first taste of NBA action Tuesday, writes Christopher Dempsey of The 26-year-old signed a two-way contract over the summer and was called up to Denver this week after averaging 25.7 points per game in the G League. “It wasn’t too many nerves,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. So, I’m well adjusted to the atmosphere, to the game of basketball.”

Extension Talks Never Got Serious For Jazz, Favors

While not many veteran NBA players qualify for contract extensions, Derrick Favors has been extension-eligible for each of the last two seasons, and came into the 2016/17 campaign hoping to sign a new deal. However, as Favors tells ESPN’s Zach Lowe, he and the Jazz never got close to working out an agreement, despite the fact that Utah had excess cap room to renegotiate his contract.

“They wanted to re-sign Gordon [Hayward], maybe extend George Hill,” Favors said. “And I got hurt. I understand the business part of it. If they had come to me, I’d have been open to it.”

Unrestricted free agency is fast approaching for Favors, who is earning $12MM in 2017/18 on an expiring deal. Considering the Jazz didn’t show much interest in extending Favors’ contract last season when they had plenty of cap flexibility, it’s probably safe to assume the team won’t make an effort to lock him up to an in-season extension this year either, even though he remains eligible. In fact, though he doesn’t cite any sources, Lowe suggests that Utah is more likely to explore the trade market for the 26-year-old.

According to Lowe, it’s not clear if the Jazz could even extract a low first-round pick or an equivalent young player for Favors at this point. Lowe names the Pistons, Pelicans, Bucks, and Nuggets as teams that might be among the potential fits, but cautions that none of those clubs are likely to give up much for a rental.

Favors’ production has been up and down since the start of the 2016/17 season, though he has played well over the last couple weeks with Rudy Gobert sidelined. Having seen more playing time at center during that stretch, Favors has averaged 15.9 PPG and 8.8 RPG in eight games.

Paul Millsap Undergoes Surgery, Out Three Months

After some debate, Paul Millsap and the Nuggets decided that surgery would be the best option for the injured forward. Per Shams Charania of The Vertical, Millsap underwent successful surgery on his left wrist today and is expected to be sidelined for three months.

Last week we wrote about Millsap injuring his wrist in a game. It was determined by way of an MRI at the time that the forward hadn’t fractured it but sprained it. Eventually, word spread that it was a torn ligament.

While Millsap has taken time adjusting to his new role with the Nuggets, he’s put forth respectable numbers, including 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Just as the 32-year-old seemed to be acclimating himself, however, this setback has thrown a wrench in plans.

Nikola Jokic Exhibiting New Leadership Skills

The time is now for Nikola Jokic to blossom into a leader. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone recently told his third-year big man as much given the absence of veteran power forward Paul Millsap in the lineup, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes.

The Nuggets have stressed that they need to see Jokic exhibit more leadership qualities, his production on the floor, while impressive, no longer enough for a young team eager to claim its first playoff berth since 2013.

Mizell writes that Jokic came through this week, uncharacteristically speaking up to motivate a lethargic looking Nuggets roster one night and then showing off his mental toughness by returning to the court on an injured ankle the next time out.

Millsap Explores Alternatives To Surgery

Nuggets forward Paul Millsap is exploring alternatives to wrist surgery that would keep him out of action for about three months, according to Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. The four-time All-Star, who came to Denver this summer on a three-year contract worth more than $90MM, has been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his left wrist.

Poll: Will Nuggets Make 2017/18 Postseason?

The Nuggets are currently tied for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, at 10-7, but the team got some bad news on Tuesday. Veteran big man Paul Millsap is reportedly set to undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist, and while his recovery timetable hasn’t been finalized, reports have indicated he may miss the next three months.

It’s a big blow for the Nuggets, who used nearly all of their available cap space in the offseason to add Millsap, a reliable power forward capable of complementing Nikola Jokic on offense and helping to stabilize a defense that had been one of the NBA’s worst last year. Denver’s defense still hasn’t been great this season, but it’s been better, and Millsap – who is averaging 15.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 BPG, and 1.1 SPG – has been a big part of that.

The Nuggets still haven’t confirmed a recovery timeline for Millsap, but if we assume he’ll be sidelined for three months, that would put him in line to return shortly after the All-Star break. If Millsap were to return on February 23, Denver’s first game after the break, he’d miss the team’s next 41 contests, or exactly half the regular season.

The Nuggets still have a talented roster without Millsap in the mix. The team went 40-42 last season, and is counting on further development from young centerpieces like Jokic and Jamal Murray in 2017/18. But the roster isn’t exactly stocked with experienced, playoff-tested veterans like Millsap, so his absence will be felt.

At 10-7, the Nuggets currently trail the Rockets, Warriors, and Spurs in the Western Conference, and they’re tied with the Trail Blazers and Timberwolves. Those five teams look like probable playoff clubs. Behind Denver, teams like the Pelicans (9-8), Grizzlies (7-9), Thunder (7-9), and Jazz (7-11) will be some of the teams battling for one of the other three postseason berths in the West, with the Lakers (8-10) and Clippers (5-11) among the dark horses.

What do you think? Can the Nuggets withstand Millsap’s absence and put themselves in position to get back to the playoffs this season, or will the injury be too much for the team to overcome? Vote in our poll and jump into the comment section below to share your thoughts!

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An Early Look At Five 2018/19 Player Options

Back in 2016, player option decisions were essentially mere formalities. With the NBA salary cap set to spike, nearly every veteran with a player option on his contract decided to opt out and explore the free agent market. Only three players – Tim Duncan, Mo Williams, and Caron Butler – exercised their player options that year, and none of those players have appeared in the NBA since then.

The market shifted a little in 2017, as five players picked up their player options, and several other players perhaps should have. Dante Cunningham, Rudy Gay, Aron Baynes, and Nick Young are among the players earning less this season than they would have if they’d exercised their options, and David Lee opted out of his deal only to announce his retirement a few months later.

The NBA’s salary cap continues to increase, but it’s no longer jumping at nearly the same rate it was in 2016, which means veterans holding player options for 2018 may be less inclined to explore the market — there simply aren’t as many teams willing to throw money around.

A look at the list of player options for 2018/19 reveals several options that will likely be picked up. For instance, Wesley Matthews ($18.6MM), Darrell Arthur ($7.5MM), Wesley Johnson ($6.1MM), Jason Smith ($5.5MM), and Ron Baker ($4.5MM) are unlikely to find offers on the open market that are more lucrative than their option salaries. Of course, there are also still plenty of options that will be quickly declined — the odds of Paul George exercising his $20.7MM player option are slim.

Somewhere in between those two extremes, there are several 2018/19 player option decisions that remain unclear. These players may be leaning one way or the other right now, but the decision isn’t so obvious that it should be considered a lock quite yet. Here are five of those player option decisions worth keeping an eye on this season:

  1. Carmelo Anthony verticalCarmelo Anthony, Thunder ($27,928,140): The Thunder’s new-look roster has been dubbed a one-year experiment, but even if things go south in Oklahoma City this season, there’s little reason not to expect two of the team’s “Big Three” players back next year. Russell Westbrook is on a long-term extension, and Anthony’s $27.9MM option is probably too lucrative to pass up, considering he’s 33 years old and is seeing his production decline. If the season goes really poorly for the Thunder, maybe Anthony opts out just to get a change of scenery, but at this point, I’d count on him opting in.
  2. Jeremy Lin, Nets ($12,516,746): After an injury-plagued 2016/17 season in which he appeared in just 36 contests, Lin had high hopes for the 2017/18 campaign. However, he didn’t even make it through a single game this year, rupturing his patellar tendon in the Nets’ opener. When Lin is healthy, he’s a dynamic point guard who could command a solid long-term deal. But he’ll be 30 next summer and will be coming off a major injury. It might make sense to just play it safe and opt in for one more year in Brooklyn.
  3. Wilson Chandler, Nuggets ($12,800,562): Chandler has been a Nugget since 2011, making him the team’s longest-tenured player, but it has been a bumpy ride at times. Although Chandler has averaged between 30.9 and 31.7 minutes per contest in every season since 2013/14, he hasn’t always been happy with his role over the years, with a report back in February suggesting he was hoping for a trade. Chandler has struggled this season, and his three-point efficiency has been on the decline, but if he can bounce back, he’d be an appealing free agent target for teams in need of a wing with some size or a small-ball power forward. He probably wouldn’t earn more than $12.8MM per year, but he should be able to exceed that figure in terms of total salary.
  4. Cory Joseph, Pacers ($7,945,000): Long regarded as one of the NBA’s top backup point guards, Joseph’s numbers in Toronto and now Indiana have been fairly modest. Still, it might make sense for him to pass up an $8MM salary in search of a larger payday and perhaps a chance to earn a slightly larger role. An improved outside shot figures to make Joseph more appealing to potential suitors — in his first five NBA seasons, he made just 29.4% of his three-point attempts, but he has increased that mark to 38.5% since the start of the 2016/17 season.
  5. Enes Kanter, Knicks ($18,622,514): Kanter’s option decision was considered so obvious that his probable opt-in was reported back in August, with his decision deadline still 10 months away. Has his strong play in New York changed that? Probably not. Despite averaging a double-double with 13.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG so far, Kanter remains an average defender at best, and big men who don’t either protect the rim or shoot three-pointers have limited upside in free agency. Although the future for Kanter looks brighter than it did a few months ago, it’s still hard to imagine him turning down an $18.6MM salary for next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Nuggets Will Rely On Struggling Players In Millsap's Absence

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