It's been a busy 12 hours. The salary cap took an unprecedented jump and, as expected, salaries for non-star player skyrocketed along with it. With so many teams having money to throw around there was no leverage for NBA front offices to use in getting a deal done, and many players have already taken advantage. The numbers look a little crazy, but just keep in mind that a contract averaging 16 million dollars a year this year is comparable to one signed for 12 million last year. As the King of Thornton, Jeff Morton himself said:
We are all aware that the cap went up. Why are we making fun of contracts signed? This is pretty much what we expected.— Jeff Morton (@KingOfThornton) July 1, 2016
But that doesn't mean that bargains were unavailable. Teams simply had to plan ahead. The Denver Nuggets are not expected to be amongst the big players in free agency, partly because GM Tim Connelly already took care of any pending free agents. He extended Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in the last couple of years in large part to stay out of these shark-infested waters. So what are the takeaways for Denver as they sit on the sidelines for this feeding frenzy?
Tim Connelly is better at deal-making than he's given credit for. Look at the comparisons between current market value and what Connelly has his veterans making:
Faried - 4 years, 50 million dollars (3 years and almost 39 remaining). Jordan Clarkson just got that same 4/50 and our own Ryan Blackburn exclaimed his surprise at Clarkson's agent not getting him a better deal. Clarkson's WS/48: .054 over his 2-year career (and worse last year). Faried? .156 career, and exactly that last year. If Faried had signed a 3-year / $39 million deal this offseason it would be the steal of the summer. The Pacers had a similar understanding when they traded for Thaddeus Young who is on almost an identical contract to Faried's. It saved them millions but they had to give up the 20th pick and Young's last year is a player option while Faried's is guaranteed. I don't wanna hear any more rips about Faried being overpaid.
Chandler - 4 years, $46.5 million (3 years and 36 million remaining). Wilson's agent might have gotten him 3/36 in this market even after Chandler missed the whole season with another hip surgery. Jeremy Lin got 3/36 from the Nets, and Zach Lowe felt like even that was a discount. Chandler and Kent Bazemore have very similar career numbers for WS/48 (though Wilson is three years older with a more significant injury history) but Bazemore is looking for 19-20 million a year. That's only a bargain if Chandler he comes back from that injury at full strength and he can stay healthy, but it's definitely not a millstone around Denver's neck.
Gallo - 2 year extension, $31.5 million (last year a player option). Let's be honest, Gallo is on a 1-year deal at $15.5 million; unless his legs fall off there's no way he's picking up his player option next year. Chandler Parsons has been offered 4 / 94.8 from the Trail Blazers, and Nicolas Batum got 5 /120 to stay with Charlotte. That's Gallo's market next year (when the cap will again jump significantly). I said it would take $100 million to keep Gallinari after this season and that number looks pretty accurate, if not a little low.
So what did Connelly buy with essentially a one-year deal? Time. Forget the $5 million in savings this year. Connelly bought the Nuggets another year to assess Gallo's health and roster fit. They would have had to pay huge sums to keep the Rooster away from other teams this summer, and instead can make sure they really want to do that deal. DeMar DeRozan is getting $28 million a year - Gallo is making 45% less this season. Buying decision time at a discount is a very savvy move, and if Denver decides to trade him it's still a movable sum for teams that signed players under the previous cap.
And let's not forget what this market says about big men. Timofey Mozgov got 4/64 from the Los Angeles Lakers, and Hassan Whiteside got the four-year max from Miami. The busted-up remains of Joakim Noah looks to be getting 4/72. In this sort of market we have Faried at 13 per to go along with two rookie scale contracts in Jokic and Nurkic, and Lauvergne with a small-salary year remaining on his 2nd round deal. Connelly also drafted two more Euro big men and will stash at least one and possibly both of them to help keep that front court salary in check for a few more years.
Free agency hasn't necessarily gotten more expensive on a percentage basis, but rookie contracts are not yet scaled to match (and may not ever be). That makes high-performing players on rookie deals the golden treasure that every GM needs to fill out a contender. Connelly is locking those guys up by the handful.
It's been an interesting 12 hours since the free agent market opened for business, but as Jeff said: nothing that's happening should be unexpected. What's great for the Nuggets is that in a year where most of the free agents aren't needle-movers the Nuggets front office prepared ahead of time. Connelly should have his boots up on his desk right now, watching the stock of the players he has under contract climb higher with every passing deal. That's a good place to be in. He might need to cough up some money to re-sign Darrell Arthur, but he'll need to do that just to approach the salary floor at this point.
Nuggets fans should be thankful - Denver is in a good position for trades or to mature the roster they've got, but with that roster chock-full of useful players at all positions no free agent can hold the Nuggets hostage this offseason. Connelly disarmed that situation already. Cheers!