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Denver Nuggets depth chart and salary cap

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The NBA Draft had major ramifications on plans during the rest of the offseason. How much money can Tim Connelly and company spend? Will any major moves be made?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the Denver Nuggets finished wrapping up their first round selections during the NBA Draft this year, stiffs moderator Russ Hamilton declared at Stiffs Night Out that he was excited but confused. Seemingly, the correct moves were made talent wise, but the roster construction seemed a little odd.

Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez were ideal selections from a talent and fit standpoint. There is no questioning that. The questions began when Malik Beasley was taken at 19th overall. Beasley is undoubtedly a talented shooter, but he is also undoubtedly a shooting guard.

The new logjam that the Nuggets feature in the backcourt will shape the decisions they make throughout the rest of the offseason and beyond. This is not necessarily a bad thing; too much talent is a good problem to have. That being said, the front office has some questions to answer across the roster.

Here is a look at the depth chart the Nuggets currently feature:

Denver Nuggets depth chart

Position Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Starter Emmanuel Mudiay Gary Harris Danilo Gallinari Kenneth Faried Nikola Jokic
First Reserve Jameer Nelson Will Barton Wilson Chandler Joffrey Lauvergne Jusuf Nurkic
Second Reserve Jamal Murray Malik Beasley
Juancho Hernangomez

Now, I penciled in Joffrey Lauvergne because of how unlikely it is for the team to let him go this offseason. While his contract is non-guaranteed, his low salary and relative youth are very useful, not to mention he's one of the few players in the league that could be considered a stretch five.

A lot of the roster construction depends on Juancho Hernangomez. If Hernangomez comes over, he makes 13 players on the current depth chart. The maximum allowed is 15, and teams carry the max most of the time. That means two spots are currently up for grabs.

There are five current Nuggets players that could make a claim for a roster spot, but who, if any, are likely to come back?

In-house candidates to fill out the roster

  • D.J. Augustin is an unrestricted free agent, and while he has said the right things about desiring a return to Denver, it is unlikely that he is retained, with Mudiay's need for the lion's share of the minutes, and  some minutes set aside for Murray. Nelson is also a quality veteran who can still play, so the likelihood of D.J. coming back is slim.
  • Axel Toupane's contract is non-guaranteed, and he showed some talent at the end of the season in a consistent bench role. Unfortunately, the Nuggets drafted two guards, and they are likely better than Axel already. His return is unlikely.
  • JaKarr Sampson is also non-guaranteed, but because he has the size to play small forward, he's slightly more likely to be back. I don't think he's necessary, and his talent level is sub par, but if the Nuggets want a cheap third small forward, Sampson is the guy.
  • Mike Miller to me is the most likely guy to be back because of his veteran presence. All reports coming out of the Denver locker room say that Miller was incredibly valuable off of the court. He's not going to be helpful on the court, but if he's as needed as they say, the 15th roster spot might be his.
  • Darrell Arthur just declined his player option to explore free agency, but with Faried currently penciled in as a starter and two other candidates in Joffrey and Juancho, it seems unlikely he gets invited back. Arthur has always been a great presence, and his outside shooting cannot be understated, but he might be hard to re-sign.

Ramifications

As it stands before the rookie contracts and without any of the non-guaranteed figures, the Nuggets are committed to $58,244,749 for the 2016-17 season. This number is representative of the nine guaranteed contracts currently on the roster.

After the rookie contracts kick in and Lauvergne's non-guaranteed deal is factored in, the number increases to just about $66,933,669. That number was found through the data collected by Forbes on rookie salaries this year.

$3,283,080 (Murray) + $2,032,140 (Hernangomez) + $1,663,980 (Beasley) + $1,709,720 (Lauvergne) = $8,688,920 (New)

$8,688,920 (New) + $58,244,749 (Guaranteed) = $66,933,669 in estimated total salary committed for next season.

The salary cap is expected to expand to $94 million during the 2016-17 season, leaving the Nuggets an estimated $27 million in cap space to use however they like. It may seem like the Nuggets will have a ton of room, but most max contract stars will sign for about that amount this season.

The Nuggets likely won't sign a max contract star, and they might even be hard pressed to sign anyone at all based on the roster. That doesn't mean they should abandon looking though.

Free Agency ideas

My preference is to bring over Hernangomez and re-sign Mike Miller to a one year deal if he wants to return. Miller and coach Dee Brown continuously worked with Mudiay on his jump shot form. He shot 36 percent from three point range in the second half of the season, a far cry from the atrocity of a jump shot he showed at the beginning of the season. The results speak for themselves.

This puts the Nuggets at 14 roster spots going into the rest of free agency. The biggest hole is likely as a third center behind Jokic and Nurkic, but Lauvergne has experience there, Faried has been a small ball five at times, and Juancho played center in the Spanish league. Center shouldn't be the main focus.

The main free agent to be brought in should be a forward who can play either spot. This player should be seen as injury insurance to Gallinari and Chandler, but also as a backup power forward to Faried at the beginning of the year. There are very few players as versatile as that on the market. Here are three players that fit the bill:

Marvin Williams - I've been ringing this bell for awhile, but Williams is quite possibly the best stretch four in the NBA not named Draymond Green or Paul Millsap. Think about it. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to be an effective player, he shoots 40.2 percent from beyond the arc, and his 104 Defensive Rating via Basketball Reference is pretty good. He would potentially play 20-25 minutes per game as Faried's main backup, and he might even challenge for the starting role.

Jared Dudley - Another solid veteran, Dudley received a bad rap after failing to perform well for the Los Angeles Clippers, but in his last two stops at Milwaukee and Washington, he has been very good. He's not an excellent rebounder, but he's a high IQ player who can play small ball four and switch the pick and roll on defense. His three point shot at 42.0 percent is already incredible, and if the Nuggets want shooters, he should be near the top of the list.

Maurice Harkless - Harkless is a restricted free agent for the Portland Trailblazers, so that should already make this acquisition pretty appealing for Nuggets fans. On top of weakening a division rival, Denver would acquire a forward who truly excels on the defensive end. His offense is absolutely a work in progress, but people forget he just turned 23 years old. He's an interesting candidate to continue growing his game, and Portland may not be able to retain him if they want to go after marquee free agents.

Blackburn's Plan

I might be stealing this from Russ based on the contract terms, but I would offer Marvin Williams a 2 year $40 million contract with the second year being a team option partially guaranteed. On one hand, Williams gets a massive amount of money this year. On the other hand, he needs a reason to come to Denver, and on top of the money they can offer, they have potential playing time with some very solid NBA players on a budding playoff team.

In addition to that, the Nuggets offer Mike Miller another year on the veteran minimum. Based on my calculations of the new veteran minimum, Miller would receive $2,103,337.

These two salaries would bring the roster total to 15 and the payroll to $89,037,006, which equates to about $4.96 million underneath the salary cap. The new salary floor is reportedly $84.6 million, so the Nuggets would not fall under any penalty in that regard.

The new depth chart would look like this:

Blackburn's hopeful Nuggets depth chart

Position Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Starter Emmanuel Mudiay Gary Harris Danilo Gallinari Kenneth Faried Nikola Jokic
First Reserve Jamal Murray Will Barton Wilson Chandler Marvin Williams Jusuf Nurkic
Second Reserve Jameer Nelson Malik Beasley Mike Miller Juancho Hernangomez Joffrey Lauvergne

That's a winning roster in my opinion, and a team that can make a true push for a low seed in the playoffs without sacrificing development of younger players. The Nuggets won't skip any rebuilding steps by adding Williams, but they do upgrade the talent and provide our younger players with another veteran voice.

The Nuggets have to ask themselves what they are going to do with that money if they don't spend it. They could maintain their flexibility by not signing anyone major, but there are potential pieces to a playoff puzzle on the free agent market, Williams being at the top of my list.

Denver shouldn't feel obligated to go all in on free agency and trades this offseason, but they shouldn't pass up an opportunity to make the team incrementally better. This is just another step on the rebuilding path, and the Nuggets need to take it.