Nikola Jokic

Contract Notes: Jokic, Gordon, Nurkic, Jazz

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic didn’t technically sign a maximum-salary contract when he re-upped with the club this summer, but he can increase his 2018/19 earnings to the maximum if he helps lead Denver to postseason success.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks details (subscription required), Jokic is one of several NBA players with incentives in their contracts for the coming season. In Jokic’s case, he’s currently about $862K shy of his maximum salary, but he can earn $431K if the Nuggets advance to the playoffs, and another $431K if they win in the first round.

Here are a few more details from Marks on this season’s incentives and bonuses:

  • Aaron Gordon has a potential path to an All-Star nod in an Eastern Conference that lost more top talent this offseason. Gordon’s new contract with the Magic calls for a $500K bonus if he’s named an All-Star, per Marks. He could also further increase his earnings by being named to the All-NBA and All-Defense teams at season’s end.
  • Jusuf Nurkic can earn an extra $1.25MM this season if he appears in 70 games and the Trail Blazers crack the 50-win threshold, according to Marks. Nurkic played in 79 games last season, but because Portland only had 49 wins, this incentive is considered unlikely and doesn’t currently count against Nurkic’s cap hit.
  • Davis Bertans has to meet several criteria in order to earn a $250K bonus on his new contract with the Spurs — the veteran forward must play in 70 games, make 165 three-pointers, and average 6.5 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, as Marks details.
  • Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Derrick Favors all have incentives on their new deals with the Jazz, with a focus on games played — they all must appear in at least 67 games to start earning their bonuses. Favors, in particular, has plenty riding on his performance, as he can earn $2.8MM in incentives. Of those incentives, $900K are considered likely and already count against his cap charge.
  • Marks also notes that several players will have a chance to become eligible for super-max contracts with their current clubs if they make All-NBA teams this season. That list includes Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Draymond Green (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), and Kemba Walker (Hornets). Additionally, Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns would start at 27.5% of the cap if he’s named to the All-NBA Third Team, 28.5% if he’s named to the Second Team, and 30% for First Team.

Rockets Making Strong Effort To Land Jimmy Butler

The Rockets are making a “strong effort” to acquire Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Timberwolves, sources tell Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link). Berman’s report comes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski indicated on Wednesday that Houston was pursuing Butler.

Wojnarowski, who suggested that the Rockets were “trying to be creative” as they explored trade possibilities for Butler, wrote that it would be tricky for the club to pull off a deal for the All-NBA wing without involving a third team. Berman, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics.

It’s hard to imagine Houston being able to trade for Butler without giving up Eric Gordon, whose $13MM+ salary would make for a good salary-matching piece and whose ability to make an immediate impact might appeal to Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets also have full control over their future first-round picks, though the value of their 2019 selection would be limited, since it’s likely to fall in the late-20s.

Although the Rockets are apparently pushing to land Butler, they’re not the only team involved. Wojnarowski’s report on Thursday named the Clippers and Cavaliers as other clubs in the mix, with the Heat still considered the most aggressive suitors. The Wizards and Mavericks have also gauged the asking price on Butler, while the Nets have interest but haven’t engaged Minnesota recently, per Woj.

Here’s more on Butler:

  • The Heat are open to the idea of taking on Gorgui Dieng‘s contract from the Timberwolves “under the right circumstances,” according to Wojnarowski.
  • Wojnarowski indicates that potential trade partners are skeptical of Thibodeau’s willingness to move Butler, since he’s making counter-offers he knows would never be accepted. In an appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer provided an example, reporting that the Timberwolves asked for Ben Simmons when they made a counter-offer to the Sixers (hat tip to Dane Delgado of NBC Sports). We passed along a report earlier today suggesting that Philadelphia has since pulled out of the Butler sweepstakes.
  • The Nuggets were mentioned several days ago as a potential dark horse for Butler, but T.J. McBride of Mile High Sports hears that Denver views Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris as “untouchable” (hat tip to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports). A trade for an All-Star like Butler is probably a long shot without any of those players involved.
  • Earlier today, we relayed an update on the Kings‘ potential involvement in the Butler talks — Sacramento is still interested in getting involved as a facilitator, but will be cautious about adding too much multiyear money to its cap.

Western Notes: Smith Jr., Nader, Caboclo, Jokic

Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. is looking forward to the challenge of playing more at the shooting guard spot with the addition of rookie Luka Doncic, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News writes. Coach Rick Carlisle said he’s not concerned about how Smith and Doncic will mesh, even though Smith mainly played the point last season. Smith wasn’t thrilled about playing the two-guard spot at times last season, according to Sefko, but the second-year guard is now a willing participant. “I made strides toward the end of the year playing off the ball. And I got better playing with it, too,” Smith told Sefko. “I believe both guys can play with it and without it.”

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Thunder have to decide by September 1st whether to fully guarantee Abdel Nader‘s salary for next season, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. Nader will receive $450K of his $1,378,242 salary if he’s not retained. If Nader sticks, the Thunder will have 15 players on guaranteed contracts along with both two-way slots filled. It would be a surprise if the Thunder let Nader go, since they traded with the Celtics for the swingman last month.
  • Forward Bruno Caboclo believes he can learn a lot from the veterans on the Rockets, as he told Blake Murphy of Uproxx.com.  The former Raptor signed an Exhibit 10 contract, giving him a chance to make the opening night roster with the possibility to become an affiliate player if he doesn’t. “I’m a lot more mature right now, and I think I’m gonna learn a lot on this team,” he said. “Me and my agent, we saw every option, and we thought that Houston was gonna be the best option for me. It’s more betting on my talent and if I don’t sign here, I’m not gonna be stuck in one team.”
  • Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will not play for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament next month, according to a Sportando report. Serbia will face Greece and Estonia. Jokic signed a five-year contract with Denver this summer.

And-Ones: ROY Predictions, Offseason Rankings, NBAGL

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has the best chance to win the Rookie of the Year award, according to an ESPN panel. Doncic will fill up the stat sheet and might wind up with the ball more often than second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr., according to Mike Schmitz. Top overall pick Deandre Ayton ranks second on the poll, with Schmitz noting that the Suns big man likely to get more playing time than any other rookie. Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Cavaliers point guard Collin Sexton and Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. round out the top five.

We have more from around the league:

  • Retaining Paul George in free agency and dumping Carmelo Anthony‘s contract while receiving projected sixth man Dennis Schroder in return earned the Thunder the top spot on NBA.com’s David Aldridge’s offseason rankings. The rankings are based upon what teams have done during the offseason. The Lakers ranked No. 2 by virtue of signing LeBron James and handing out one-year contracts to other players, thus allowing them to be a force again in next year’s free agent market. The Nuggets gained the No. 3 spot by locking up Nikola Jokic and making trades that cleared roster spots and eased their luxury-tax situation.
  • Forwards DJ Hogg (Texas A&M) and Malik Pope (San Diego State) and swingman BJ Johnson (LaSalle) are among the top 10 prospects at the G League Invitational, according to Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype. The invitational takes place Sunday in Chicago and over a dozen of last year’s prospects received training camp invites afterward.
  • The Warriors’ over-under odds for wins next season is 62.5, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Celtics ranked second overall with a 57.5 over-under win total with the Rockets third at 54.5. The Hawks have the lowest projected win total at 23.5. The odds for each NBA team were passed along by ESPN’s Ben Fawkes.

Contract Details: Jokic, Payton, Craig, Bradley

While Nikola Jokic‘s new five-year deal with the Nuggets was reported as a maximum-salary contract, that’s not technically accurate. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe (via Twitter), the base value of Jokic’s new deal falls just short of the max, since it includes about $1MM per year in bonuses linked to team success.

As Lowe explains, about half of those annual bonuses can be earned if the Nuggets make the playoffs, while the other half can be earned if the club advances to the second round. Because Denver didn’t achieve either of those benchmarks in 2017/18, those bonuses are currently considered “unlikely” incentives and don’t count against the Nuggets’ cap.

In 2018/19, for instance, Jokic’s cap hit will be about $24.6MM rather than the maximum $25.5MM, tweets Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. However, if the Nuggets were to win a playoff series in 2019, Jokic would earn his first-year bonus and his second-year bonuses would subsequently be considered “likely,” causing his future cap hit to increase.

Here are several more specific details on newly-signed contracts from around the NBA, all via Pincus unless otherwise indicated:

  • Elfrid Payton, who was signed using most of the Pelicans‘ bi-annual exception, got a flat $3MM salary for 2018/19 (Twitter link).
  • As expected, the Nuggets used a portion of their mid-level exception to sign Torrey Craig to his new two-year deal. Craig will earn a flat $2MM salary in each season, for a $4MM total (Twitter link).
  • Avery Bradley has a fully guaranteed $12MM salary in the first season of his two-year contract with the Clippers, but only $2MM of his $12.96MM salary for 2019/20 is guaranteed (Twitter link). The Clips will have to make a decision on Bradley’s second-year guarantee by July 3, 2019.
  • The Knicks gave second-round pick Mitchell Robinson guaranteed salaries of $1.5MM and $1.6MM in his first two years, with non-guaranteed minimum salaries in years three and four (Twitter link). The four-year deal, which has a team option in year four, should be worth just shy of $6.6MM in total.
  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk‘s three-year contract with the Lakers has a guaranteed first-year salary of $1,487,694, followed by non-guaranteed minimum salaries for years two and three (Twitter link). The third year is a team option.

Nuggets Sign Nikola Jokic To Five-Year Max Deal

JULY 9: The Nuggets have officially signed Jokic to his new mega-deal, the team announced today in a press release.

“It’s not every day that you find a player with the incredible skillset to lead an NBA franchise that Nikola has, but also the character and personality to match that,” Nuggets vice chairman Josh Kroenke said in a statement. “Seeing Nikola grow on and off the basketball court is something in which our organization has taken immense pride, and we were determined to do whatever it took to keep Nikola in a Nuggets uniform for a very long time.”

JUNE 30: Jokic has agreed to a five-year, maximum-salary deal with the Nuggets, according to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). A full max contract for Jokic projects to be worth $147,710,050.

Denver also reached an agreement to re-sign Barton.

JUNE 25: The Nuggets will decline Nikola Jokic‘s team option for 2018/19 in order to make him a restricted free agent, as we detailed on Sunday. Once Jokic officially reaches free agency, he and the team intend to finalize a five-year, maximum-salary contract, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

Denver’s plans for Jokic come as no surprise, given the comments made by president of basketball operations Tim Connelly following last Thursday’s draft. At the time, he suggested the Nuggets would do all they could to make sure they locked up their star center for as many years as possible.

“Nikola’s going to be here for a long, long time,” Connelly said. “I think whatever we do, we’re going to ensure he’s here as long as possible. When that moment happens, we’re going to talk to Nikola and his brothers and his representation. He’ll be in Denver for a long, long time. He’ll be buying (a home) here.”

Had they simply exercised their 2018/19 option on Jokic, the Nuggets could have kept him under team control for a mere $1,600,520 next season. However, taking that route would have risked alienating Jokic and his representatives, and would have put him on track to unrestricted free agency in 2019, at which point he would have been free to join any other team. By declining that option, Denver ensures that it will have the right of first refusal, though the team will simply negotiate directly with Jokic’s camp rather than waiting for an offer sheet.

Jokic, 23, enjoyed the best season of his three-year career in 2017/18, setting new career highs in PPG (18.5), RPG (10.7), APG (6.1), and 3PT% (.396), among other categories. While the former second-round pick isn’t an elite defender, he’s one of the NBA’s best frontcourt play-makers, and will be paired up front with a strong defensive presence in Paul Millsap.

As for the exact value of Jokic’s contract, a five-year deal can be worth up to $146.45MM based on a $101MM cap projection. Such an agreement would start at $25.25MM, eventually increasing to $33.33MM by 2022/23. We outlined the exact year-by-year breakdown when we took an early look at maximum salary projections earlier this year.

Adding $25.25MM to the Nuggets’ salary commitments for 2018/19 will increase the team’s total guaranteed money to $131MM+ for 12 players. That figure doesn’t account for Will Barton, who will be an unrestricted free agent. If Denver wants to re-sign Barton, the club will likely make a strong push to shed another salary, with Kenneth Faried‘s and Darrell Arthur‘s expiring contracts serving as the most obvious trade pieces.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Nuggets Decline Nikola Jokic’s Option, Extend QO

JUNE 25, 10:20pm: The Nuggets filed the paperwork to decline their team option late Monday night, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. That clears the way for Jokic to sign what will likely be a five-year max contract next month, Wojnarowski adds.

JUNE 25, 2:19pm: The Nuggets have officially extended a qualifying offer to Jokic, per RealGM’s transactions log. That’s a signal that the club has formally turned down his option.

As we heard earlier today, Jokic and the Nuggets are expected to finalize a five-year, maximum-salary contract once free agency begins.

JUNE 24, 1:50pm: In a story primarily regarding the decision of Wilson Chandler to exercise his player option with the Nuggets for the 2018/19 season, Gina Mizell of The Denver Post is reporting that a league source says Denver will decline the $1.6MM team option for franchise big man Nikola Jokic.

By declining the option, the Nuggets will make Jokic a restricted free agent eligible to sign a maximum-salary contract with Denver this summer – something that Jokic’s camp has been jockeying for since early-May (link).

The reported declination, while substantial, really comes as no surprise, with Jokic’s agent telling the Nuggets earlier this year that picking up his client’s 2018/19 option would hinder Denver’s chances of locking Jokic up long-term.

Moreover, if Denver does exercise the option, Jokic would become an unrestricted free agent next summer, leaving the Nuggets without a right of first refusal during free agency

“Nikola’s going to be here for a long, long time,” president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said following Thursday night’s 2018 NBA draft. “I think whatever we do, we’re going to ensure he’s here as long as possible. When that moment happens, we’re going to talk to Nikola and his brothers and his representation. He’ll be in Denver for a long, long time. He’ll be buying (a home) here.”

Assuming the report is accurate and the Nuggets decline his option, Jokic, 23, will be eligible to sign a five-year contract worth approximately $146.45MM this summer.

Jokic’s Agent Advises Nuggets Not To Pick Up Option

Nikola Jokic’s agent told the Nuggets that picking up his option for next season would hinder their chances of locking him up long-term, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic tweets.

If Denver exercises its team option for 2018/19, Jokic would become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Currently, Jokic is arguably the biggest bargain in the league. He made $1.47MM this season and the team option is just $1.6MM.

If the Nuggets declines their option, Jokic will be a restricted free agent this summer and they’ll be able to match any offer. The team option deadline is June 29th.

Jokic is represented by Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.

The Nuggets want to keep Jokic, but matching an offer sheet rather than paying him $1.6MM in 2018/19 would have major luxury-tax implications for next season unless they can dump some salary. Still, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly talked at season’s end about wanting to get Jokic’s signature on a long-term contract sooner rather than later, so the team and the center’s camp may be on the same page when it comes to that option decision.

Jokic had a breakout season in 2016/17 and continued to increase his production despite a stronger lineup around him. He averaged 18.5 PPG and 10.7 RPG in his third NBA season while connecting on 39.6% of his 3-point attempts.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, G League, Sefolosha

After missing the playoffs by one game for the second consecutive season, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are tired of going home after the regular season ends. Yet, as reported by Gina Mizell of The Denver Post, there’s reason for optimism, with Connelly declaring that “this is the most confident I’ve felt in our core group since I’ve been here.”

The first order of business for the Nuggets is locking up budding superstar Nikola Jokic to a long-term contract. Jokic actually has a team option worth $1.6MM for next season, but because he was a second-round pick and has been in the league for three or fewer seasons, he becomes a restricted free agent if Denver declines his option, allowing the Nuggets to match any offer from another team.

Both of the Nuggets other young potential stars – Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – are already locked in for next season, meaning the next order of business is re-signing sixth man Will Barton. “We’re hopeful we can get something done,” Connelly said. “(Barton is) our guy. We love him. I think if he’s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”

Barton added, “We’re building something real special here.  I love playing with Jok and Jamal and Gary. The guys we have in the locker room, I like being around. The coaching staff has really come a long way with trusting me and me trusting them. Just the whole (Nuggets) organization, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • In more after-season content from the Nuggets, Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com relays some of Connelly’s positive thoughts on the Nuggets’ season. “Certainly, when you’re on the outside, looking-in you have to address some needs,” Connelly said. “I think there will be some pretty interesting financial decisions we’ll make this offseason. But standing in front of (the media) now, I finally can say with full confidence that we have a core that can be really good for a long time. They all want to be here, and they are all about the right things.”
  • The Trail Blazers are closing in on setting up a G League team in Beaverton, OR, reports Adam Johnson of Two Ways and 10 Days. There have been suggestions of Seattle as a prime location for a Portland G League team, but it seems the Blazers are looking to bring a potential afilliate closer to home. Nike, the NBA’s new uniform supplier, is headquartered in the Portland suburb.
  • Jazz swingman Thabo Sefolosha may be out of the lineup with injury, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing a role against his former team, the Thunder, reports Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. “I try to just help when I see something like offensively, defensively, something that we can do a little differently,” Sefolosha said. “Just whatever I see, I like to communicate, whether it’s with the coaches or with the players, so I try to stay involved as much as I can.”

Nuggets’ Connelly Talks Malone, Jokic, Barton

Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly confirmed today to reporters that head coach Michael Malone will return for the 2018/19 season, writes Gina Mizell of The Denver Post.

While Malone was always considered likely to continue coaching the Nuggets, the team’s inability to secure a playoff berth created a little speculation about his job security. In his end-of-season presser, Connelly dismissed the idea that the club would want to replace Malone.

“There’s improvement across all levels of our team,” Connelly said. “I guess (questioning Malone’€™s job status is) the unfortunate narrative of professional basketball, but ‘Mo’€™s done a fantastic job.”

While Malone will return next season, the same can’t necessarily be said of all the players on the Nuggets’ roster. Connelly acknowledged today that Denver will face some “pretty interesting financial decisions” this offseason, including a big one on Nikola Jokic.

There’s no doubt that Jokic will be a Nugget next season, but the team will have the option of exercising or declining his inexpensive team option — turning down that option would allow the Nuggets to re-sign Jokic as a restricted free agent, rather than risking losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

“He’s a guy that’€™s been tremendous in how quickly he’€™s developed and a guy that we love and he loves Denver. So, the sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better,” Connelly said, according to Arnie Stapleton of The Associated Press, hinting that the Nuggets may look to sign Jokic as an RFA this summer.

The Nuggets’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent in 2018 will be Will Barton, who said this week that he’d “love” to re-sign with Denver, but would like a starting role going forward. For his part, Connelly said he hopes the Nuggets can get a deal done with Barton and keep him on their roster.

“He’€™s our guy,” Connelly said of Barton. “We love him and I think if he’€™s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”