Though it has not yet been made official, the Denver Nuggets have reportedly offered D.J. Kennedy a partially guaranteed three year contract according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.
Sources: D.J. Kennedy, star on $2M champion in The Basketball Tournament, has agreed to a partially guaranteed three-year deal with Denver.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 16, 2016
The 26 year old, former D-Leaguer Kennedy has been having a pretty good week. This offer comes on the heels of his team winning The Basketball Tournament, which is essentially a semi-pro free-for-all tournament that pays out big cash prizes for the winners, for the second year in a row. Kennedy's team, Overseas Elite, beat out Team Colorado in the finals to take home $2 million to split amongst themselves. Now Kennedy heads to Nuggets training camp to try and earn an NBA roster spot.
There he will compete against two similar wings for what is likely (at most) one spot on the team. Denver already has 15 guaranteed contracts on the squad, as Joffrey Lauvergne reportedly had his final contract year picked up for $1.7 million at the beginning of August. The partial guarantee for Kennedy is interesting, but Denver cut a player with a fully guaranteed deal to keep a player with fewer guarantees last offseason when they retained Erick Green (briefly) instead of Nick Johnson. The Nuggets don't mind a pay-to-play mentality when it comes to seeing the goods in training camp, and as far under the salary floor as they still are that's not a huge concern.
What is interesting is the the type of player they keep adding. The Nuggets made a couple of adroit moves in the middle of last year, picking up JaKarr Sampson when the Philadephia 76ers foolishly waived him to make room for a trade piece they never actually acquired and grabbing Axel Toupane from the D-League. Sampson then signed a two-year, non-guaranteed deal - much like D-League Frenchman Axel Toupane would do a month later.
Combined with the Kennedy signing, that gives Denver three wings in camp on very team-friendly deals (if picked up) who are all credited with being good on-ball defenders. Sampson has the most size but also the rawest offensive game. Toupane fits better as a swingman than Sampson while being just as athletic, and Kennedy has the best all-around game but is also the smallest and least athletic of the trio.
Size and athleticism is very relative, however. The Nuggets have a bunch of small-to-average shooting guards, with Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley all suffering from a lack of extreme wingspan and body mass. Kennedy may lay the ball up on breakaways but he's bigger than all three of those guards, while Toupane and Sampson have wingspans that dwarf those of Denver's shooting guard trio. Will Barton is a swingman, but his 180 pound frame isn't much better against bigger threes. If the weakness in Garris's game is that he simply can't stop taller shooting guards and most small forwards due to size limitations, then Denver is trying to backfill that weakness with a cadre of player options who can do just that.
Containing guard/wing penetration to the hoop was one of coach Michael Malone's biggest laments at the end of the season. GM Tim Connelly has now given Malone three variation on a theme. Sampson has the raw athleticism to defend anywhere on the court, but may be hamstrung by his offensive deficiencies. Axel Toupane showed growth in Summer League as a two-way player but still has a lot to prove in a Nuggets uniform. And now DJ Kennedy comes in with an all-around game of perimeter defense, rebounding, play-making and shooting that can't be matched by anyone else at his size on the roster.
Malone's job is to find one of those guys that he wants to keep to shore up Denver's perimeter and team defense - and then Connelly has to make room for them. It might take a setback for Beasley to get one of those wings on the team, or a trade prior to the season, but Denver has been willing to eat salary before to make the 15-man squad the best mix of players they could field at the time. It may happen again, even if players like Kennedy look more like camp fodder now.
In the right situation, former fringe players can become downright valuable. Just ask Malone about one Darrell Arthur. The Nuggets are perfectly content to let this competition play out in September and October while they wait for the necessary trade (or another unfortunate injury) to clear a path for the right long-shot player to make the squad.