Nuggets Gaining Leverage With J.R. Smith

As bad as I feel for Clipper fans after the departure of Elton Brand it really was good news for the Nuggets.  Brand signing with Philadelphia triggered the Corey Maggette signing with GoldenState.  The only remaining team with cap space and the determination to use it is the Clippers. 

How does that affect the Nuggets?  Had Philly not acquired Brand or Josh Smith they probably would have gone after Maggette.  That would have left a hole for GoldenState to fill and I think they would have had interest in J.R. Smith.  The way things have played out the Nuggets do not have to worry about another team signing Smith to a ridiculous offer sheet. 

The Nuggets now have all the leverage with Smith and as long as they offer him something starting slightly north of the midlevel exception (MLE), which has been set at $5.585 million, they should be able to lock him up.  The question then becomes how many years should they give him.  I am very high on J.R. and believe he can become a tremendous player, perhaps even an all-star, but he has still yet to prove he can play at a high level for more than a couple of months.  He also has much to learn as far as how to play defense and when to launch a 30 footer and when not to.

He did show signs of maturing last season, but will a long guaranteed deal remove any incentive for him to continue to grow?

Ideally I would like to see him sign a three year deal for $18 million.  However, I am sure some team out there would be willing to throw their entire MLE at him.  That would mean a five year deal totaling roughly $32.4 million (with a starting salary of $5.585 million and 8% annual raises).  I doubt that Smith will accept a three year contract when he can certainly get a five year deal by signing a full MLE offer sheet.

Ultimately matching a MLE offer sheet may be the best and most realistic route to keep J.R.  Financially, it would be a pretty good deal for Denver.  In year five of an MLE contract his salary will be around $7.3 million.  If he is scoring at the same rate as he did this year, has learned how to position himself on defense and is anywhere near reaching his potential, that salary will be a bargain.  Even if he never gets any better than he was this season the Nuggets will probably still be happy with his contract.  J.R. was already seventh in the NBA in points per minute with an average of 25.5 points per 40 minutes plus he was one of 33 players to shoot over 40% from the three point line. 

The more I write about J.R. the more surprised I am no one has signed him to an offer sheet yet.

The one thing Denver has to avoid is J.R. holding out, signing his one year tender and then leaving via unrestricted free agency after next season.  Most players do not like going that route as it delays their payday and opens up the possibility to suffering an injury and missing out on their payday altogether.

At some point over the next couple of months I am pretty confident that J.R. will be signed by the Nuggets to a long term contact that will be a good deal for both parties.

Nuggets no longer such a luxury

More good news for the Nuggets is the luxury tax level has been set at $71.15 million, which is $3.285 million higher than last season.  That means if the Nuggets maintain their payroll at the same level as last season, they have already saved $3.285 million in luxury tax payments due to the higher tax limit.  Not too shabby.

Other items from around the NBA

When the NBA implemented their age restrictions one of the first thoughts many of us had was, why wouldn’t the top high school players just go overseas and earn some serious cash for a season instead of going to college, attending classes and being financially despondent for a year?

It took a couple of years, but we finally have a U.S. high schooler heading to Europe.

Brandon Jennings, a point guard from New York, has declared that he will not be attending the University of Arizona this fall, but will head overseas to play ball.  There is no news yet on what team or teams may be interested, but if he plays on a top flight ACB (Spanish) or Lega (Italian) league team, or even a team that has qualified for the Euroleague, it will be very interesting.  The competition will be stiffer than he would face in Division I basketball and he will be taking a big risk. 

If he plays, and plays well, his already high draft stock will undoubtedly skyrocket.  On the other hand, if he sits and watches, he may end up torpedoing his draft stock.

It will be a very interesting situation to monitor what happens.  Whether he succeeds or fails, look for him to be the Kevin Garnett of this movement.  I expect you will see more and more following him.  Some will be great (Kobe Bryant) and some will fall on their face (Leon Smith), but all of them will be fascinating to keep track of.

Surprise, surprise, apparently the Kings are looking to deal Ron Artest and apparently the Lakers have offered Lamar Odom.

Clipper fans are in shock over the departure of Elton Brand and I cannot blame them one bit.

Ridiculous Upside provides some great summer league analysis on the top free agents playing in Orlando.

I guess I should share some of my own thoughts on the summer league.  As impressive as Michael Beasley was in his first game he was equally unimpressive in his second game.  The difference was the Nets really focused their defense on him while the Bulls simply expected Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah to stop him.  Beasley tore up one on one coverage, but really struggled when the Nets crowded him man to man to take away his outside shot and brought help defenders over to cut off his driving lanes.  The Nets basically covered Beasley like the Celtics covered Kobe in the finals.  The only concern I have about Beasley is he is not explosive around the rim.  He has had a lot of shots blocked.  Nevertheless, I think once he gets on the floor with someone like Dwyane Wade and the defense cannot focus solely on him, he is going to put up some numbers.

Derrick Rose has been unimpressive and I still believe he has been slightly overrated.  He has definitely displayed his quickness and strength, but I am convinced his floor vision is highly overrated at this point. 

Mario Chalmers completely outplayed Rose in their first matchup.  Chalmers was a terror on defense and although he does not have elite floor vision either, he can run an offense.  It is amazing how effective Chalmers is at deflecting passes and poking the ball away from the dribbler.  His outside shot is not falling and it may take a while for him to adjust to the NBA three point line, but I am as sold as ever on him as a solid point guard who would have been a great fit in Denver.

Courtney Lee was very good for Orlando.  He hit some threes proving that he does have NBA range on his jumper and he reminds me a little of Rodney Stucky when he drives. 

The Oklahoma City team, which the announcers much to my pleasure have taken to calling the Thundercats, has looked very impressive.  Yesterday Jeff Green, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook simply dominated the game.  Of course, it is not fair to have Kevin Durant playing in a summer league game at this point, but that does not mean it wasn’t fun to watch.

The games are shown via webcast here every day and the announcers, Dante and Galante, are nice and weird.  They have been called the basketball version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 by one emailer.  As long as you can avoid being fired, I recommend you check it out.

The Bucks are close to finalizing a five year extension worth as much as $72.5 million with Andre Bogut.  I hope Bogut celebrates by going to Outback Steakhouse and chowing down some Aussie Chops.

I think GoldenState could still be pretty solid next season.  Push Monta Ellis over to the point, play Maggette and Stephen Jackson at the swing positions with Al Harrington and Andris Biedrins in the front court and that is a pretty decent group.  However, I do not think they are a playoff team next year.

Orlando has agreed to terms with Mickael Pietrus.  Hopefully they are putting together an offer to his brother Florent because, well, they are brothers who play basketball.

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