Denver Nuggets: The Best And Wildest Options In Free Agency
The Denver Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs. Now they face some tough decisions in the offseason. What free agents can and should they target?
The 2016-17 NBA season was a wild ride for the Denver Nuggets. They seem to have exceeded expectations, assuming that’s possible after narrowly missing out on the playoffs and trading a center to the division rival that leapfrogged you for the eighth seed.
Disappointing, but not devastating when put into context. The Jusuf Nurkic trade backfired, but it did give way for the emergence of Nikola Jokic. Denver may have found its franchise cornerstone moving forward with the 22-year-old Serbian big man.
They also saw the emergence of Gary Harris as one of the top young guards in the league. He was one of the best players on the team in the second half of the season and he developed important chemistry with Jokic. Harris shot 54.5 percent on attempts following a pass from Nikola.
Now, following Danilo Gallinari‘s announcement of an impending opt-out, the Nuggets will have some tough financial decisions to make. Before any real moves can happen in free agency, Denver must make a decision on what to do with Gallo.
This requires some serious reflection and answering questions which will help shape the team’s identity moving forward.
This list is meant to highlight the many paths that the general manager Tim Connelly and his staff can take this summer, ranging from practical options to pipe dreams. Should they keep Gallo and run it back with the young core? Should they break the bank for a star?
Let’s dive into Denver’s free agency options.
What To Do With Gallo?
The 28-year-old Italian born wing is hoping to cash in on a major pay day. Danilo Gallinari has announced his decision to opt out of the final year of his contract, but made it clear that he’d prefer to remain in Denver.
This will force Tim Connelly to make a tough decision and reveal his hand early this summer. Gallinari’s cap hold is $22,575,000—which won’t matter should he sign elsewhere, but will hamper the Nuggets’ ability to chase any stars in the meantime should they retain his rights.
On the other hand, should the Nuggets decide that they are ready to move on, they could renounce his rights—and it would be possible for Denver to clear more than $35 million in cap space.
So Denver will have an immediate decision to make about the type of summer and team that they want to have. The Nuggets should re-sign Gallo and run it back with most of their core intact.
It doesn’t seem likely that Denver will sign any of the top-tier talent available. And why rush when you’re one of the few teams in the league that’s set up well for the future?
Denver should be weary of handcuffing themselves on big names. The Nuggs have multiple young players, whom they’ll want to lock down, that are approaching the end of their rookie contracts.
But should the Nuggets decide to get aggressive and renounce his rights, what type of free agents would they be looking at?
The Ideal Fit
In a perfect world, Denver renounces Gallo’s rights and makes an aggressive push for Gordon Hayward. Hayward has long been the best offensive option on a team known for its stingy defense.
By signing in Denver, Hayward would have a chance to be the featured scorer on one of the best offensive teams in the league. In addition to scoring at a much higher clip, Denver averaged more possessions per game than Utah and averaged five more assists as well.
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Hayward’s numbers would improve in an offensive where he receives more looks and is able to benefit from more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
The former Butler Bulldog would be able to fill any void at the free throw line that a Gallinari departure would leave. Hayward averaged just .5 fewer makes from the stripe per game last season, while scoring more and shooting more efficiently.
He’s also capable of creating his own shot, as he’s done for years in Utah. This is the type of player that Denver needs when Jokic is either resting or in foul trouble.
Alas, Hayward already resides on a playoff team in the West. If Hayward were to leave the Jazz, it’s much more likely that he does so to team up with his former college coach Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics.
Boston has a need for one more scorer and they could sign him at the 3. Then they could feature Jae Crowder and a plethora of assets in an enticing package, should they feel inclined to make another move. This is what makes the Gallinari situation so tricky.
If the Nuggets renounce his rights, they must do so with the understanding that they may whiff on Hayward. So what then?
A Defensive Upgrade And A Quality Backup Plan
In the event that Denver waives Danilo’s rights, they’ll need to have a backup plan at the small forward position. Yes, Hayward is ideal, but also unlikely. So what do the Nuggets do if they come up empty-handed in the Gordo-sweepstakes?
Wilson Chandler has proved his value in Denver as a versatile defender and scorer. He’s found ways to contribute in multiple lineups, both as a starter and off the bench.
Chandler could always slide down into the 3 position. But there are affordable options to add depth on the wing.
Barring an extension, P.J. Tucker will enter free agency this summer. He would be an affordable and enticing option to replace Gallo at the small forward, while hanging onto cap space that will eventually be needed to lock down this young core.
Tucker would immediately become the best defensive player on this Nuggets team, and should be considered as a quality backup plan.
This next option is less practical and less of a true fit than it is fun to speculate over. Paul Millsap is likely to decline his player option and sign a lucrative long-term contract.
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At first glance, this is a sexy option. Millsap is one of the more versatile and capable defenders in the league. Sliding him next to Jokic would improve this miserable defense right away.
He also rebounds well, something the Nuggets do at an elite rate, and his ability to stretch the floor would make for a tasty pairing with Denver’s point-center.
But a second glance at any plans involving Millsap reveals some serious red flags. Denver already has multiple forwards whom they feel comfortable handing minutes to. While the Nuggets could move Faried to attempt an upgrade at the 4, they don’t need to.
Signing Millsap would likely require dishing out a long-term max contract to a player north of 30 years old.
It might be a fun move to make with your team in NBA2k, but it just doesn’t fit Denver’s timeline. Plus, there’s no guarantee Millsap would even want to play in Denver. All signs point to his desire to return to Atlanta, should they feel inclined to open up their wallets.
Please God, the Point God?
Now we’re having fun. There is an outside chance—and really we are talking about the slimmest of possibilities here—that Chris Paul ends up signing in Denver. Despite being on the wrong end of 30, Paul is still considered one of the best two-way point guards on the planet.
Paul has a player option for the 2017-18 season, which he’ll likely decline. While he’s due to make $24,268,959, he would earn some serious cash as an unrestricted free agent.
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Denver could execute their go-for-broke plan, by waiving the rights to Gallo and Miller. That would leave them with plenty of room to throw the kitchen sink at Paul. From there, the Nuggets could get creative in the trade market.
With two point guard prospects and a valuable contract attached to a versatile veteran in Wilson Chandler, Denver would have genuine assets to deal.
But make no mistake, this is a pipe dream. Thanks to some additions to the new CBA, Chris Paul can re-sign with the Clippers for up to $210 million.
Analysis: That’s a lot of money.
If Paul is going to walk away from such an opportunity, it’s hard to imagine him doing so outside of the event in which space opens up on a true contender. Paul wants a ring. While the future is bright in Denver, they’re a long way away from luring someone of such legendary status.