The talk of free agency is the bombshell news that Kevin Durant is taking his talents to Oakland...soon to be San Francisco. However, while the Golden State Warriors are quickly unloading starters and renouncing the rights to every big man they had in order to get under the hard cap, teams like the Denver Nuggets are doing the opposite. Denver is staring a $14 million shortfall to the salary floor if Juancho Hernangomez stays in Spain and unless Dwyane Wade suddenly decides he prefers the Rocky Mountains to South Beach then the Nuggets are going to start running fairly short on options to meet their financial obligations.
The penalty for this? It's actually rather inconsequential. Should a team fail to meet the salary floor then they will pay out the difference between the floor and the total of their players salaries to the current players on the roster in equal shares. So essentially what it amounts to is either way you're going to pay what the league has mandated is the minimum you must pay, whether you choose to take on enough player salaries to meet the floor or not. On it's face that would make it seem as though there is really little incentive to reach the floor just by gobbling up players at exorbitant prices and in the Nuggets case you might be right, but there are two sides to each of the issues surrounding the floor, and the direction a team chooses typically isn't one that ends up with a year end bonus for the guys on the roster.
The business side
For hitting the floor - Imagine you own a business and you've agreed to a monthly flat rate for goods from a supplier. Whether you need a little or a lot of the goods it costs the same monthly rate. Naturally, you would attempt to maximize production of your business to enjoy the economies of scale in your deal by getting as much of the goods as possible. The rules binding the salary floor are very similar to this. The Nuggets are obligated to spend just under $85 million next season one way or another so they might as well spend the money adding talent or improving talent. One way to accomplish this is by adding salary through a trade, sending out less money in contracts then you take back. However, its difficult to find a deal that would be realistic and cover the type of salary the Nuggets need to. The popular Kenneth Faried and Will Barton for Paul Millsap trade that was floating around still would leave Denver several million short of the floor. However, without a trade the Nuggets would be left with only the free agency route to shore up the shortfall.
Against hitting the floor - The very problem with the free agency route is once Wade announces his decision to return to Miami, there are going to be few players around whose value is in the $14-$16 million mark that the Nuggets will need to add. When one considers the market for what Denver needs the most, perimeter defense and rim protection, the players remaining are sparse indeed. Guys like Festus Ezeli, Quincy Acy and Kevin Seraphin make decent enough defenders but hardly are the type that command an eight figure salary. Therein lies the rub, the Nuggets are so far beneath the floor that at this point Wade really stands as the last option of close to fair value to make the floor. Anyone else would undoubtedly be an overpay and potentially also could be a poor fit who ends up hurting the team instead of helping. No need to spend for the sake of spending.
The competitive side
For hitting the floor - Absolutely if the Nuggets could swing a trade for a difference maker while giving up little salary in return to cover the gap then that would be the ideal solution. Not only would the team not waste any cash, but they'd also improve the roster. Again though, there isn't a lot of realistic scenarios out there to make that kind of deal happen. The Nuggets could however, wait until the deadline and then find a deal to hit the floor. Teams aren't required to meet the salary obligation until the final game of the season so Denver has time to be patient and wait for an advantageous situation to present itself. You might remember the Nuggets paid the Philadelphia 76ers a first round draft pick to take Javale McGee's $12 million contract off their hands in 2015, this time it could be the Nuggets looking to take on a bad deal for future picks or young talent in return and thus making the team more competitive in the future.
Against hitting the floor - With the cap ballooning the way it is, there isn't exactly a lot of outstanding unreasonable contracts. Faried's deal is a prime example, what once was considered an onerous commitment is now a relative bargain. So the Nuggets are either going to have to take back someone who has major locker room issues to go with major salary commitments, or they're going to have to take back a combination of contracts on their already crowded roster. Additionally, there's not too many deals out there in the $14 million plus range that are expiring next season, so while a guy like Brook Lopez might fit the profile of overpaid player who can be had for pennies on the dollar at deadline time, the Nuggets would also be signing up for salary commitments beyond next season which could hamper their flexibility when they are more ready to make a major move towards becoming contenders.
The human side
For hitting the floor - There's an obligation for the franchise to do everything possible to win games. Fans drive revenues and fans want to spend their hard earned cash on winners. For the team to simple give away money instead of doing everything possible financially to improve the roster is not only bad business, but it's also a disrespect to the fans who are giving out their money hoping to see a winning product. While there may be financial arguments to do the contrary, fans are hardly sympathetic to billioniares trying to save millions so selling the fanbase on the team investing in the development of their young core and not bringing in any sure fire veteran talent likely won't go over well. If you question that, just check the comments on the Denver Nuggets Facebook page.
Against hitting the floor - Playing on a team that isn't a winner sucks. Committing to play on said team right before the cap explodes and everyone else cashes in is doubling down on the suckage. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Faried have to be looking around right now and kicking themselves a bit for not waiting to cash in big. Chandler, Gallinari, Gary Harris and newly re-signed on a team friendly deal Darrell Arthur have all expressed their desire to play for the Nuggets and their love for the city of Denver. When the biggest names in the Association are leaving small markets for the marketing opportunities and easy rings of sunny California, these guys have stuck by the Nuggets. A little year end bonus would be a nice way of paying their loyalty back. Though some players may prefer the team invest the money in improving the roster...
Regardless of Denver's approach to the floor, there are arguments to both sides. For the owners, the argument is almost universally for hitting the floor and the Nuggets themselves have shown they will make moves to get there. Just two years ago after the aforementioned McGee deal, the Nuggets found themselves just shy of the floor so they added Ian Clark and Jamaal Franklin late in the season to get over the threshold. However, they have a much larger challenge this year with a far larger sum of salary to make up. Personally, I think they will wait until the trade deadline to try and add a disgruntled contract that can also bring back assets for their trouble, but don't be surprised if the typically tight purse strings of the Denver front office loosen a little in the coming weeks.