Now that the 2013 season is officially over for the Denver Nuggets, the task of improving the team for 2014 is underway. Much is being made of Denver's lack of shooting, and an additional presence in the post seems necessary as well. However, I believe the Nuggets' biggest need to be that of backup PG. With Gallinari out for a significant amount of time next season, and Andre Miller producing a befuddling -15 +/- over the 6 game series against the Warriors, the Nuggets are suddenly suffering from a shortage of reliable ball handlers. The upside of Miller is that he offers a decent post-presence at the PG position, as well as veteran savvy and leadership while Lawson figures out how to lead the team vocally. The downside of Miller is that his shooting is anemic and his defense is even worse. There is another available free agent who would offer veteran savvy and leadership, as well as slightly better defense, markedly better shooting and a better post presence. I'm talking, of course, about Chauncey Billups.
To make signing Billups happen, the Nuggets would likely need to do two things: First, they would have to find a taker for Miller. Given the fact that Miller still has 12-15 productive minutes a game left in him, and given that his paycheck is a smallish amount (3.3 million a year guaranteed for the next two years), this would likely not be a difficult proposition. Several teams inside of tax territory would have no problem swapping the Miller contract for a similar contract that may offer some additional shooting and / or rebounding. Mike Dunleavy(MIL), Steve Novak (NY), and Anthony Morrow (DAL) all fit this bill. Many believe Denver to be chasing Kyle Korver, but Novak is essentially the same player and would likely be slightly cheaper as well. Maybe turning Miller into a shooter is a better idea than signing a shooter outright.
The second thing the Nuggets would need to do is offer Chauncey assurances that he would be in Denver to stay. Chauncey has made no secret of the fact that he's upset at the organization for trading him twice. But there's an easy fix to this problem, too: The NBA allows teams to offer a no-trade clause to any player with 8 or more seasons of service time, and 4 or more seasons of time with the team signing the contract. Since Chauncey has played for Denver in 5 total seasons, the Nuggets are one of two teams (the other being Detroit) who could offer a NTC to Chauncey. At this stage in his career, Chauncey might be done chasing dollars, and could prefer familiarity and a chance at a ring to a slightly larger deal for an unknown team or fringe contender.
Of course, the Nuggets' entire approach for the off-season will probably be determined by Andre Iguodala's decision to either opt out of his existing contract, or pick up the option and give it one more go-round in the Mile High City. Mosgov and Corey Brewer are free agents, too, and their respective situations will be under evaluation as well. However, in a hypothetical world where Iguodala picks up his option, Denver could do a lot worse than trading Miller for Novak, allowing Mosgov and Brewer to walk and signing Chauncey and another cheap, shooting wing (Roger Mason / Cartier Martin are both cheap. Dorell Wright is a little bit pricier, but offers a similar skillset).
Much has been made of George Karl's decision to play his "trust" guys in crucial spots of games. To some degree, his trust in Corey Brewer and Andre Miller had a negative effect on the Nuggets' chances against the Warriors. Perhaps the answer isn't to ask Karl to trust other players, but rather to give him other players to trust. Coach Karl has admitted a fondness for Chauncey in the past, and, on a personal level, I'm sure we all trust him a lot more than we trust Miller or Brewer. Plus, given Coach Karl's affinity for playing two point guards at once, I'm much more optimistic about a Billups / Lawson backcourt than I am about a Lawson / Miller combination. The shooting would be much better, if nothing else.
There are downsides, to be sure. Chauncey is rapidly approaching the age of reduced productivity. And certainly, giving a player a no-trade clause backs you into a corner regarding roster construction. However, I don't believe it unreasonable to assume that Chauncey can still produce at a high level for 15-20 minutes a game, and the problems of any potential NTC would be somewhat mitigated by limiting the terms and guaranteed dollars of the contract.
If Denver can structure something that works for both parties, I would love to see #1 back in Denver. It would fill our city with equal parts nostalgia and optimism, and allow Chauncey to close his career in the city that loves him most. I can't imagine a more perfect ending for Denver's native son.