The Denver Nuggets are no doubt cash strapped coming into the free agency period. They got no help from Darrell Arthur or Wilson Chandler when they both opted in to the final year of their deals and as of yet have been unable to find a trade for Kenneth Faried’s $13 million deal that they’ve been willing to pull the trigger on. They also did the right thing and set money worries aside to decline Nikola Jokic’s team option and are expected to offer him a max deal. However, that doesn’t mean the Nuggets won’t be active or that they still can’t hit a home run. Indeed, the Nuggets will have some intriguing options, though it might take some cap gymnastics to get there.
Obviously, the best case scenario for the Nuggets would be to somehow land LeBron James. Unfortunately, those chances become much more remote if they aren’t able to work out an opt-in and trade in the next 24 hours (James has until June 29th to make a decision on his player option). AsSign and trade, rather than an opt-in and trade, would subject the Nuggets to the luxury tax apron, meaning they will be hard capped. Without breaking down the entire numbers, suffice to say that the Nuggets would have to likely unload Chandler, Arthur, Faried and Mason Plumlee in order to be able to afford James and stay under the apron and even then, its tough. Still, it can be done and even national writers such as ESPN’s Zach Lowe have suggested that Denver is an excellent option for LeBron.
On the flip side, the Nuggets also could have a complete strike out in free agency. They are going to be over the cap so they’re limited to exceptions to add talent outside the organization. They also have Will Barton’s free agency to deal with. Barton reportedly turned down a 4 year, $42 million extension at the beginning of last season so one has to imagine he’s looking for something above that. Whether he gets it or not remains to be seen but Barton is primed to be plucked from Denver’s roster by anyone who’s willing to slightly overpay. A lesser free agent to be concerned with is Devin Harris. Harris is Denver’s easiest way to add a backup PG in free agency because they can exceed the cap to sign him with bird rights rather than exceptions. However, the Nuggets may look to Monte Morris who played under a 2-way contract last year but he’s unproven. Without a doubt the biggest disaster the Nuggets can have in free agency is to not retain Barton, not sign a backup pg and not shed salary, essentially choosing to roll out with a lesser version of the team that narrowly missed the playoffs last season and somehow is still capped out.
So what’s the ruling? Well, unfortunately, scenario 2 seems a heckuva lot likelier than scenario 1, no matter what Earl Boykins says. Realistic fans should be hoping for a compromise. James will likely end up elsewhere, but the Nuggets finding a suitor for one of their expiring contracts and creating enough room to re-sign Barton seem like a likely outcome, which wouldn’t be terrible. Still, anyone expecting big flashy things happening this offseason for Denver (looking at you Earl) is probably going to be disappointed.