When I was younger, I used to have this terrifying recurring dream. The dream played into the fear of heights that I used to have (spending a summer roofing houses will alleviate said fear). We'd go out on this hiking trip up a mountain built of ivory, yes ivory, and once atop the mighty tower there were metal handrails steps. I was confused as to how this "natural" mountain had these handy steps built in, but I soon realized why they were there.
The wind would start up, and before you knew it - if you were not desperately gripping the handrails, then you'd be blown off the mountain. The dream would end with me clutching the rails with my hands, while the rest of my body blew in the hurricane like winds. I'd feel my grip start to loosen, but once I lost it ... I would wake up.
The dream that had been the Nuggets success was rudely interrupted these past two seasons. We all know the backstory, Masai Ujiri was allowed to walk away and all we got was some story of a misguided handshake deal. George Karl was fired shortly after that (a bold move by Josh Kroenke, but not one I totally disagreed with), and just like that the team that was still building was gone.
We're not here to, again, rehash the past, but to look at where the Nuggets could go from here. Like any good dreamer, I've been thinking about different scenarios for the Nuggets since about January. Now that the offseason is here, I've been narrowing down what I'd like to see the team do. We'll get into two different plans, but first we have to talk about this current roster ...
Current roster moves:
Unsigned Draft Picks: Second rounders: Nikola Jokic (2014, 41st overall)^, Izzet Turkyilmaz (2012, 50th overall), Cenk Akyol (2005, 59th overall), Sani Becirovic (2003, 46th overall), Xue Yuyang (2003, 57th overall). The Nuggets could sign these guys to NBA deals at any time, in accordance to their professional contracts in various parts of the world.
^ = Jokic is expected to sign with the Nuggets this summer, according to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Darrell Arthur (his $3.4 million came off the books). These free agents are free to sign with any team they choose.
Restricted Free Agents: Will Barton ($1.1 million qualifying offer), Ian Clark ($1.1 million qualifying offer). These free agents must be extended qualifying offers from their teams by a set date, or they become unrestricted free agents. If the team extends a QO, then they have the ability to match any contract that player may sign with another team. The player can also sign the qualifying offer only, play out that season, and become an unrestricted free agent the following season.
Non-guaranteed Deals: Wilson Chandler ($7.1 million)*, Randy Foye ($3.1 million)**, Jamaal Franklin ($947,276), Erick Green ($845,059). These players are under contract with the team, but the team has the ability to waive the players but they must pay them a certain amount of guaranteed money off the final year(s) of the contract. (I believe the deals do not count against the cap if the player is waived and paid by certain dates.)
*Wilson Chandler's deal is now fully guaranteed for the 2015-16 season, the date to "buy him out" has passed, according to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.
**Randy Foye's $3.1 million remaining on the final season of his contract becomes fully guaranteed after July 11th, according to sources familiar with the contract situation.
Player Option: Jameer Nelson ($2.8 million). These players decide if they want to opt-in or opt-out of the final year(s) of their contract. If the player opts-out then they become unrestricted free agents.
Summary: The Nuggets will have anywhere from $0 to $7.4 million in cap room this summer, depending how how the deals above play out with Foye and Nelson, according to Basketball Insiders.
Chandler's contract is now fully guaranteed, as noted above, and we should expect him to be on the roster opening night - unless something unforeseen happens this summer. Foye has been seen as a locker room voice and veteran that the team relies on, and the same can be said for Nelson. The Nuggets must decide what to do with Foye, and have until July 11th to figure that out. Nelson could opt-out in search of a longer contract in the two to three year range, and would be free to re-sign with the Nuggets if he does choose to opt out or he can look for another team.
Arthur isn't likely to re-sign with the Nuggets, not with Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, and Joffrey Lauvergne on board. And not likely since Danilo Gallinari can play some power forward, as can Chandler, and we still don't know if Nikola Jokic will be coming over this summer (a move the front office might make).
I do expect the Nuggets to hang onto Clark, Green, and Franklin - at least until after NBA Summer League is over. And the team should also attempt to bring back Will Barton, too. Barton proved to be a reliable piece off the bench, and could turn that into a regular gig in Denver.
So, that doesn't leave the Nuggets with a ton of moves to make in free agency. Actually, it leaves them stuck with pretty much what they have. Let's get into my dreamer plans then ...
Idiot Blogger Plan 1: Sign-and-trade for LaMarcus Aldridge
Are you done laughing now? Not yet? Ok, I'll wait ... and keep on waiting. We'll call this plan the Final Hurrah! Aldridge will be entering his 10th NBA season when the 2015-16 campaign gets under way and he turns 30 years-old this summer. Statistically, LMA has been a rock for the last five seasons. His numbers haven't wavered much and you can pencil him in for 20 points and 10 rebounds on a nightly basis.
Why go after Aldridge? He's still in the prime of his career, and would allow the Nuggets ownership and front office to make one final push with the core they have in place. This move would almost certainly get the Nuggets back into the playoffs, and they might be able to re-load a little bit in other areas of the roster with Aldridge in the mix.
How could they get Aldridge? First, the Nuggets would have to convince LMA that Denver is the only place for him. Tim Connelly and Company would have to make the greatest sales pitch of all time, and Aldridge would have to let Portland know that Denver is the only team he is going to sign with. Seems impossible doesn't it? Well, it's pretty much what Andre Iguodala did when he left Denver for Golden State. And the Warriors were in a similar place as the Nuggets, from a salary cap standpoint.
The Warriors looked dead in the water from a salary aspect before they made a complex deal to bring Iguodala into the mix. Remember this multi-player and draft pick deal?
The Golden State Warriors have acquired veteran guard/forward Andre Iguodala (E-gu-doll-a) in a sign-and-trade deal from the Denver Nuggets and guard Kevin Murphy from the Utah Jazz as part of a three-team trade, it was announced today. As part of the deal, the Warriors sent center Andris Biedrins, forward Richard Jefferson and guard/forward Brandon Rush, along with two future first round (2014 & 2017), two future second round (2016 & 2017) draft picks and cash considerations, to the Jazz, as well as a future second round (2018) draft pick to the Nuggets. The Nuggets also received guard Randy Foye in a sign-and-trade deal from Utah, while the Jazz also received a future second round (2018) pick from Denver.
Denver would have to make a similar salary shedding deal to bring in LMA. The team would need to likely create about $18 million in room to bring him in on a max deal. That could be accomplished by trading Kenneth Faried ($11.2M) and Wilson Chandler ($7.1M) or Faried ($11.2M) and Hickson ($5.6M). The Nuggets would also likely have to surrender a future first round pick or two in any deal (Nuggets own future Blazers and Grizzlies picks). The Warriors got incredibly lucky that they were able to find a team to take on just salary (Utah Jazz), as they didn't surrender much in that mega-trade. Unfortunately for Denver, they don't have many albatross contracts to surrender with players of little value.
Again, Iguodala was very motivated to get to the Warriors, and Aldridge would have to really be sweet talked into joining the Nuggets. It's a total long-shot, but a move like that might be worth investigating. Putting a team of Ty Lawson, Chandler, Gallo, LMA, and Nurkic together could be very interesting. And when you consider a bench that could be made up of Nelson, Barton, Harris, Lauvergne, and the no. 7 pick in the draft (potentially, we'll find out May 19th), that makes it a little more interesting.
If Denver was able to pull off a stunning move that like, then hiring an experienced coach would make a lot of sense, too.
This isn't a perfect plan, and probably not a realistic one, but we need to look at what a Final Hurrah! plan would look like. Nuggets Nation seems to be torn on moving forward with the roster at hand or finally rebuilding in a proper way. Would the addition of LMA mean anything more than the Nuggets competing for perhaps a mid-playoff seed? A lot would then depend on the coach and what roster moves could be made during the season to strengthen the Nuggets' position. But it's a move that could allow the team to push forward.
The contract Denver could offer LMA once they got him would be: 4-years and roughly $79.66 million (with 4.5% annual raises). The first year of the deal would be around $17.6 million, according to an article on Boston.com. That'd mean LMA would turn down a 5-year and $107 million deal with 7.5% raises from the Blazers, who have his Bird Rights.
Idiot Blogger Plan 2: The Rebuild
You really have to stay with me for this one. It's a doozy! In order to get on board with this plan in full, we probably need to wait until after May 19th to make sure where the Nuggets will be selecting in the draft, but lucky for you - I can go about this a couple of ways.
ASSuming the Nuggets get the 7th pick: Keep the pick and trade for another Top 6 pick.
Step 1 You keep that pick and draft the best available player. Targets include: Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Kelly Oubre, and the unlikely chance that D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay drop to Denver (other prospects may be on the team's radar).
Step 2: Trade into the Top 6 using Ty Lawson (I would hate to see Lawson go, but it could be the re-start Denver needs) and whatever else you have to use (expect for that Knicks first round pick swap in 2016). Assuming a team from behind the Nuggets doesn't leap into the Top 3, you can target the following teams for their pick:
Knicks: With an aging Carmelo Anthony, Phil Jackson might be "very open" to dealing their pick, with caveats (but PJax could trade the pick in any right scenario). Here's the latest with the Knicks, from Ian Begley of ESPN:
Phil Jackson has said he will likely keep the pick if it falls within the top four, but will consider dealing the pick if it falls to No. 5. Of course, Jackson could change his thinking between now and draft night. League sources with knowledge of the Knicks' thinking said last month that the team would be very open to trading the pick if it falls outside the top two.
If the Knicks are willing to trade the pick if it's no. 3-5 then the Nuggets should leap at that opportunity and try to move up to take Russell or Mudiay. Heck, they should be on the phone with Phil every day.
76ers: Sam Hinkie is the master of all trades involving draft picks. Philadelphia's willingness to listen to offers is probably enough for the Nuggets to make a call and gauge their interest. Obviously the Sixers are years away from competing, so a deal for Lawson or Faried may not intrigue them much. But what about those future first round picks? Denver should explore their options with the Sixers, no matter how remote.
Lakers: Similar situation as the Knicks with an aging star in the form of Kobe Bryant. Rumors have been circling a Rajon Rondo and Kobe teaming all season. Rondo could be the slow down guard that Byron Scott likes, but we all saw how ineffective Rondo was this season. He cannot stretch the floor and doesn't play off the ball well. That's a death sentence when you're Kobe's teammate. Would the Lakers want to add a rookie to play with Kobe or could the Nuggets swoop in and make a deal? Unless the Lakers fall back two spots in the lottery, they will keep their pick this season - and won't have to send it to the 76ers.
Kings: A reunion of George Karl and Ty Lawson has been whispered about. A deal for DeMarcus Cousins would be intriguing to the Nuggets front office, but what could a deal like that look like in final form? The Kings have been drafting guys for years in the lottery and they might be willing to take Lawson instead of trying to strike gold with another risky pick. The sixth pick wouldn't likely mean the Nuggets have a shot at Russell or Mudiay, but they could add another skilled player to the mix.
Surprise team: If a team in the 8-14 range jumps into the Top 3, the Nuggets might be able to make a deal - totally depending on the team.
Wolves/Magic: Two young teams that seem to be embracing the rebuild. I don't think either team would be willing to trade their picks for what Denver would be willing to offer (in this Idiot Blogger scenario that's future picks/players). They'd likely stonewall Denver's efforts.
ASSuming Denver moves into the Top 3 on Lottery Night: Take the best available point guard (Mudiay or Russell) and trade for another lottery pick.
Step 1: The Nuggets would really have to decide what to do if they get a top three pick. Do they take a chance on Karl-Anthony Towns? What about Jahlil Okafor? What if Denver landed a top two pick, identified that they could still get Russell or Mudiay and traded back a pick or two to gain more assets and land their man? That'd be a dream scenario.
Step 2: Again, offer up Lawson and whatever else you must (not the Knicks' 2016 pick swap though) to get back into the top seven. Target the player you want: Mario, Winslow, Stein or whomever and dial up the same teams listed above and try to get another top flight prospect.
I tend to lean more towards going the route of the rebuild. It's tough to say how good the players are in this upcoming draft and if the Nuggets should mortgage their current and future success on it, but with a potential pick swap coming with the Knicks next season, the future picks Denver owns from the Blazers and Grizzlies, and the Nuggets having all of their own future first rounders, the cupboards could be restocked in a hurry.
If you look at the roster, the team is already going younger. Danilo Gallinari could be the elder statesmen at just 26 years-old (maybe 27 year old Chandler, too), Barton is 24, Jusuf Nurkic is 20, Lauvergne 23, Harris 20, and Nikola Jokic at 20 could be on his way over.
The re-tooling of the Nuggets roster is already under way. Josh Kroenke and Tim Connelly shouldn't be afraid to be bold again.