It feels so good to write about actual basketball related stuff again. With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching (Dec. 25th, why that's Christmas Day!), who will the Nuggets be focusing on in free agency? Well, two of their own free agents should be a high priority in Arron Afflalo and Nene Hilario. And with plenty of other holes to fill, Masai Ujiri and his staff will be very busy ...
If you are not prepared for what is about to take place ... let me explain something to you. The NBA season is going to start December 25th, less than a month away, and that means teams have a very limited window to attack free agency and get deals signed. We saw this when the NFL Lockout ended earlier this year, free agents signed deals at a pace Dominic Toretto would happily blow a gasket for ... FAST & FURIOUS! You have to love my continued efforts to force bad Vin Diesel movie references into my articles. Right?
To break this thing down, let's do a couple of things ...
- Free agency will begin December 9th!
- The salary cap will be set around $58 million. The Nuggets currently sit around $28 million in committed payroll ... so $30 million under the cap. It's being reported that teams must spend at least 85% on payroll, so a cap floor of around $49 million will be in place. Denver will need to spend, at least, $21 million on salaries.
- Early reports indicate that the window to match contracts on restricted free agents has shrunk from 7-days to just 3-days! So, if Afflalo signs a deal with the Bulls, the Nuggets would have 3-days to match the contract.
- I'll remind you who is currently under contract with the Nuggets, we'll go over the "in-house" free agents (Nuggets from last season) and I'll look ahead to some guys I think the Nuggets should possibly target. Bear in mind that I have no training in basketball management, but also keep in mind that I'm phenomenal at NBA Jam. Let's go ...
First things first: Who is actually under contract with the Nuggets for 2011-12?
Shooting guard: Jordan Hamilton, unsigned rookie
Small forward: Danilo Gallinari, $4.19M (has an NBA-out with Italian team) / Kenneth Faried (unsigned rookie)
Both Denver rookies, Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried aka Manimal, should have contracts very soon and should be in training camp along with the rest of their teammates. I don't expect any lingering contract issues as the Nuggets are short on bodies and will need the rookies to run a proper camp - and so they don't get left behind with such a rushed learning curve.
The player above that are playing overseas all have NBA-out clauses -and- should be back and in camp on time, so the Nuggets should be good to go there as well. We'll get to the other guys that are overseas in a minute.
And let's all remember that Raymond Felton is now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers following a draft night trade that allowed the Nuggets to acquire Andre Miller and Jordan Hamilton's player rights.
Also something to note, the NBA amnesty clause. This clause would allow the Nuggets to buy-out a current contract. I haven't seen details on it yet and it's just a rumor of being a part of the new CBA for now, but it might come into play with a long term contract that the Nuggets want to get rid of ... the targets are Al Harrington and Chris Andersen. No need to use it on Miller as he's just got one year left. Birdman Andersen is a fan favorite, so I don't see Denver using it on him. I think it'll be used to rid the contract of Big Al or it wont be used at all.
Who is and who isn't coming back: The 'in-house' free agents who were Nuggets in 2010-11
Remember, unrestricted free agent means the Nuggets can't do anything to keep the player in Denver. And restricted means the Nuggets will be able to match any contract offer the player signs with another team.
- Arron Afflalo, SG (restricted): I'm about 99.9% sure that Afflalo will be re-signed and his phone should ring just as soon as the free agency period begins ... and it should be Ujiri on the other end. Let's just hope some team, like the Chicago Bulls, doesn't come calling. My worry will go away once he's inked a deal, I see big things for AAA in Denver.
- Nene, C (unrestricted): The Brazilian is going to be a hot commodity on the free agent market. Who has the money to sign him? Does he care about making decent money or will he go unconventional and go all-in for a title shot? I think the Nuggets have a 30% chance of bringing Nene back - him declining an extension might have been the writing on the wall ... plus he left $12 million on the table by opting out of the last year of his old deal.
- Gary Forbes, G/F (restricted):The talented UMASS product showed that has some NBA skills last season, when he was given a chance to play. He also showed the typical growing pains that a rookie endures in his first season with the best-of-the-best. I think the Nuggets have an 85% chance of bringing the 26 year-old back - Denver needs a backup behind Afflalo in a major way.
- Melvin Ely, C (unrestricted): There is a 0% chance he comes back to Denver, he's currently playing in China with no NBA-opt out and no real NBA future ahead of him.
- Wilson Chandler, F (restricted): There is a 1% chance he lands with the Nuggets this season as he's playing in China without an NBA-opt out. The 1% chance ... if he gets booted from China or if Denver can sign him in March when their season is over. Denver will retain his NBA player rights.
- J.R. Smith, G/F (unrestricted): There is a 10% chance he plays for the Nuggets this season as he's also in China without an NBA-opt out clause. If anyone is going to get the boot from China, it's J.R. Swish - and if he comes back, the Nuggets could really use him and he may want to come back. Strange, but I think it's true.
- Kenyon Martin, F (unrestricted): K-Mart's days with the Nuggets are over, there is a 0% chance he comes back as he's also in China without an NBA-opt out and he publicly burned his bridges with the Nuggets on his way out of town. It was fun Kenyon, some of the time.
For those of you keeping score: I feel strongly that Denver will bring back Afflalo and Forbes. I do not think Nene will be back with Denver, but I've been wrong before.
What are the Nuggets' needs in free agency?
When I think about free agency, I don't just think about what great players the Nuggets could potentially sign. I look at the team and think about various aspects of what it needs. Andre Miller will be the eldest statesmen, but he's not the most vocal leader around. I believe Afflalo will become the team's leader as his work ethic and desire to win just point to him in a Shane Battier type role - with much more on-the-court skills. Chris Andersen is the most tenured Nugget, as he's been around since ... 2008. What I'm getting at is that the Nuggets need to ink a smart veteran or two to show the young guys the ropes, you don't want an Allen Iverson type to lead Hamilton and Faried astray - so be smart and bring in a classy vet to teach the pups.
The Nuggets are also a young team with a ton of salary cap room, so the team shouldn't look to sign any aging veterans looking for one last pay day and they don't want the wrong long-term deal with Gallo and Lawson needing raises soon. So, what are the options? Let's break it down by position ...
Point Guards: George Karl loves to carry a lot of guards. We saw Chauncey Billups, Ty Lawson, and Anthony Carter all get run in the Nuggets back-court in the same year. I don't believe the Nuggets will look too hard for another point guard, but with an aging Miller and aggressive Lawson it'd be wise to have another ball handler with J.R. gone.
- Acie Law, Warriors: Hasn't found the success he had at Texas A&M in the pros. A score first guy, who can't score much.
- T.J. Ford, Pacers: Lost his job in Indiana to Darren Collison and will have to accept a backup role somewhere.
- Earl Boykins, Bucks: With Miller back in Denver ... why not Doug Moe's favorite player too?
- Marcus Banks, Hornets: The perfect guy to have on the bench, beware if he has to actually play.
- Anthony Carter, Knicks: A George Karl favorite! Who else wants AAACCCCCCC back? Anyone? No one?
- Antonio Daniels, 76ers: Aging veteran would be perfect if he is willing to accept a role on the bench.
- Earl Watson, Jazz: Thought it'd be fun to put all three former Nuggets point guards on here.
Thoughts: I'm not a big fan of any of the options. Patty Mills is a restricted free agent with the Trail Blazers and while I like his speed, he's probably too small to bring to Denver with Lawson already here. A big guard would be perfect, like another Miller type player. Maybe look at the draft next season.
Shooting guard: With only Hamilton on the roster, the Nuggets really need more guards. Afflalo should be back, but even with him hopefully re-signed, Denver will still need another shooting guard ... heck, even with Forbes back they'll still need another guard. Hamilton is such an unknown that Karl will want management to bring in a proven veteran, but one that is willing to come off the bench as AAA will get the bulk of the minutes at this position.
- Jamal Crawford, Hawks: Too expensive and will want to go to a serious contender.
- Delonte West, Celtics: I've always liked him. He's more of a point guard, but he's probably not a guy you want around rookies.
- Anthony Parker, Cavaliers: Reminds me of Afflalo in his demeanor. Great shooter and tough defender, plus he's a veteran who could sign a short team deal to pave the way until Hamilton is ready.
- Caron Butler, Mavericks: Too expensive and will try to find a starting role.
- DeShawn Stevenson, Mavericks: It's probably either Butler or Stevenson in Dallas. A wild man who has a traveling tattoo artist ... Forbes and Lawson got new ink this summer and I bet Birdman did, too. Good defender and three-point shooter, but might be looking for more money after his championship performance.
- Tracy McGrady, Pistons: The Detroit experiment didn't work too well. A one-year deal could help get Hamilton ready.
- Mike Dunleavy, Pacers: Too many injuries, but a good shooter. Defense is suspect, but could help in Denver.
- Shannon Brown, Lakers: J.R. Smith type player with tons of athleticism. He wants more minutes and wore out his welcome in Los Angeles. I wanted Denver to sign him a few years ago; now is their chance.
- Michael Redd, Bucks: A walking injury ... getting out of Milwaukee will be great for him. Fresh start needed.
- Chris Douglas-Roberts, Bucks: Can't shoot, but an athletic guy who can defend and get to the rim.
- Willie Green, Hornets: Always kills the Nuggets, if you can't beat 'em ... sign 'em!
- Nick Young, Wizards (restricted): Tons of talent, head has never been in the right place.
Thoughts: A gamble on Nick Young could pay off if Denver thinks Hamilton is more of a small forward, but tying up money in a restricted free agent might be too risky. I'd love to see the Nuggets ink Anthony Parker; he'd be great for the young guys and can still get it done on the floor as Afflalo's backup for a year or two.
Small forward: Besides point guard, this is probably the Nuggets position with the most depth. Gallo will hold down the starting role as long as he's in a Denver uniform. And depending on how you feel about Hamilton and Faried, you could see each of them getting a lot of minutes here as well.
- Al Thornton, Warriors: He has played for the Clippers, Wizards, and Warriors in his short career. At 27 years-old he's still fairly young and can score the basketball. With Thornton, the Nuggets could play Faried more at power forward.
- Shane Battier, Grizzlies: I think Memphis should re-sign him, but with Rudy Gay coming back there may be no point. A contender should jump at the chance to get him, too.
- Thaddeus Young, 76ers: Ready for a breakout season and needs to be getting more playing time somewhere. Was a nice sixth man for Philly, but I don't see him wanting to continue doing that.
- Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz: We'll all be surprised if he signs anywhere besides New Jersey.
- Grant Hill, Suns: The aging vet has a season or two left, but where will he sign?
- Glen Davis, Celtics: I don't know if the C's can afford to let him walk and he's too short for my liking.
- Troy Murphy, Celtics: The sweet shooting lefty is having trouble with the sweet shooting part.
- Brian Scalabrine, Bulls: If it comes to this ...
- Chris Wilcox, Pistons: Had a bright future at Maryland, left school too early. Bust.
- Craig Smith, Clippers: Short, but an incredibly strong player with a nose for the ball.
- Leon Powe, Grizzlies: Former Nugget draft pick (traded on draft night) had a nice career going before a major knee injury derailed him. Might be worth the risk, but not as a reliable starter.
- Kris Humphries, Nets: Was last season's success just contract year play? Risky player, but a heck of a rebounder who could be an asset for the Nuggets and not just their public relations department. Answering divorce questions would probably get old fast for the Nuggets teammates.
- Carl Landry, Hornets: Love Landry's game; a bit short as well. A nose for the ball and an underrated scorer.
- David West, Hornets: The second biggest prize next to Nene for teams in search of big men. The former All-Star will get some strong offers, but his knee injury will slow him down this season.
- Jason Smith, Hornets: Former Colorado State standout had some nice games with the Bugs. Would be a fan favorite, but Birdman has that on lock.
- Malik Allen, Magic: Bring back Tacos ... we want Tacos! Would be a savvy vet for the young guys.
- Darnell Jackson, Kings: Just 25 years-old and has some talent. Would need to come in and earn a role on the team. Probably not a guy you want starting for your squad.
- Greg Oden, Blazers: Biggest risk vs. reward name around. Can he stay healthy? He needs out of Portland.
- Tyson Chandler, Mavericks: Mark Cuban would be nuts to let him walk.
- DeAndre Jordan, Clippers (restricted): Blake Griffin has been talking like Jordan is already re-signed so don't get your hopes up.
- Marc Gasol, Grizzlies (restricted): Memphis can't afford to let him go and as a restricted free agent, they wont have to.
- D.J. Mbenga, Hornets: Lawson can dunk on him in practice every day!
- Shelden Williams, Knicks: I liked Williams' work with the Nuggets last season and was sad to see him go. He could play some backup minutes somewhere in the league.
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