The NBA offseason began for the Nuggets a few days ago, when the news broke that the team had declined the team option on the contract for Nikola Jokic with the plan to sign the third-year player to a five year max contract.
The team didn’t screw up the contract details this time, like they did with Kenneth Faried, and will be able to keep Jokic around for the next half decade. While it may seem like a lot of money (Jokic is on pace to be one of the top 20 wealthiest Serbians alive), he’s worth it — especially to the Nuggets.
While it was interesting to me to see if the Nuggets would risk letting Jokic hit free agency, sparing them from luxury tax hell for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season, there are several other free agents on the market that are extremely interesting to me as a Nuggets fan and also a fan of the NBA.
This isn’t intended to be a definitive list — it’s just a couple players that I think have really interesting summers ahead of them.
Someone to keep an eye on in free agency this summer: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.— Jake Whitacre (@jakewhitacre) June 28, 2018
Really can’t say it any better than that. Moving on!
The first player on the list is Will Barton, one of the most important players on the Nuggets roster last season. Barton was basically the only reliable scorer on the team, able to penetrate to the rim with ease while also continuing to improve his perimeter jumper. Barton has the work ethic, drive, and confidence to be a good player for the length of his next contract, and seeing him thrive in Denver, with the team that gave him a chance to break out, would be sweet.
But the Nuggets are in trouble with the luxury tax. If Barton had signed the four year, $40 million extension that he reportedly turned down during the season, the Nuggets would be tens of millions of dollars in the luxury tax — they’d have one of the most expensive rosters in the league, and again, they didn’t make the playoffs, and they don’t have any current All-Stars on their roster. Paying that much money for that caliber of a team is the kind of thing that gets general managers fired, plain and simple.
However, if the Nuggets choose to not pursue Barton, they’re going to be worse next season. Barton could find himself in a starting role at small forward, and even if he didn’t, there’s a real chance he is one of the five players that gets the most minutes per game for the team anyways. If Denver wants to make the playoffs, they’re either going to need Barton around or hope to God that Malik Beasley is ready to take an enormous leap forward.
Barton could help a lot of teams in the league. Teams like the Pacers, Grizzlies, Knicks, Bucks, and Mavericks would all be much better than they were last season if they added Barton to their roster. Not all of those teams have a lot of money to spend on a player that fills the role Barton projects to fill however, so it’s going to be really interesting to me if he regrets turning down that extension and then doesn’t return to the Nuggets.
You know a really good way to make good on a one-year contract? Plead guilty to a probation violation that stems from a charge of you operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Caldwell-Pope is one of those guys that was a top 10 pick back in the day, and was thought to be a prototypical 3&D prospect. He’s never really developed into that though, through a combination of bad teams (3&D guys don’t help bad teams become good, they help good teams become great).
But we do know that he can do a couple of things. One, he can be an athletic perimeter defender. Two, he can have long arms — can’t take those away from him. Three, he can be a 35 percent 3-point shooter.
I just think it’s crazy that there aren’t more rumors about a 25-year-old former lottery pick who has been as good as he has been in the past. It’s not like he can’t play basketball, like Ben McLemore or players like that. He can definitely be part of a rotation for a team, and it feels like no one is interested in him. He’s going to wind up signing with the Pelicans or Warriors or a team like that where he’ll thrive and look like a total steal because everyone forgot about him.
While Jabari Parker was the higher pick, he’s not the only guy from that draft that’s seen the ligaments in his leg go poof (twice). The former No. 5 overall pick has struggled to stay healthy during his first four years, turning an exciting international prospect into a player that has more unknowns than knowns.
Exum has the tools to be a crazy exciting player in the league. He can hound players on the perimeter, helping be a key defensive stopper in a scheme that emphasizes switching. He’s got an aggressive nature to his game, and while he has a lot to be fearful about, with all the injuries he’s sustained, he still goes out there and sticks his nose in and hustles. He’s just a restricted free agent, but the Jazz have a tough question to answer if they decide to match any offer he receives. Not that the Jazz need another good guard, but if he hits, and they re-sign him on a team-friendly contract, that just won’t be fair to Nuggets fans.
Monroe was selected the same year that Derrick Favors was, but while Favors seems to be getting some attention on the market, Monroe seems to be getting none. He played for three teams last season, and even saw minutes in the playoffs for the Celtics this year. The league seems to have moved on past players that need the ball in their hands in the low post to be effective, but he’s still a guy that can get you a bucket, rebound, and be tall near the rim.
Reinventing himself into a sturdier version of Nene doesn’t seem like a bad career move for him at this point. It just seems strange that a player that has his skill set isn’t rumored to be going to any teams. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a good year for free agency, but I feel like he’s another candidate for a really cheap deal that turns out to be a bargain. I certainly wouldn’t have minded replacing Plumlee after one year with the Nuggets with someone like Monroe to back up Jokic — he can play 15 minutes a night without totally burning things down defensively. The even worse version of Monroe is Alex Len, who could be playing in Europe really soon. Now there’s a tall player that doesn’t contribute to winning basketball.
Whatever happens with Monroe, it feels like it has the probability to be something that indicates the future of big men like him. If he hasn’t found a team that’ll add him by September, players like Jahlil Okafor have to be sweating a little bit, right? Hopefully young bigs, like really young bigs, are looking at this and wondering, “Gee, maybe I should work on some defensive drills,” or actually learn how to pass out of the post.
Free agents not on the market
Me — I took a bit of a hiatus from writing to move across the country, start a new job, and get engaged to a beautiful woman whom I love dearly. I wanted to take a moment to thank all of the writers at Denver Stiffs, and all the fans of the site. I have had an interesting journey to get to this point in my life, and I couldn’t have done it without your support. Thanks for all the kind words, and for putting up with me as I rediscovered myself. It’s important to be kind and supportive to those around you who are going through difficult times. While it’s nice to extend a sympathetic hand shortly after something traumatic occurs, it’s even more noble to continue to extend that love week after week. We have a strong family here as Nuggets fans, and I’m glad that Nugglife means more than just suffering, it means suffering together with people that care about each other.
I’m happy to be back writing, and you’ll all be able to see more from me in the coming weeks. I’ll be the one hoping that Michael Porter Jr. plays in Summer League and doesn’t “red-shirt” his rookie season, even though I am a little upset that he’s probably going to steal minutes from Tyler Lydon.
Make every day a little better than the one before, look for opportunities to laugh and love, and be a good person. Let’s go Nuggets.