The big news of the day is the Nuggets bringing back Paul Millsap on a one-year player option. Is a pricy, short term option the right decision for the Nuggets?
Brendan Vogt: From the moment the Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to his three-year deal with a team option, I expected and hoped the Nuggets would decline that option and renegotiate a longer, cheaper deal. But as the market began to shape up this offseason, it became clear that the top-tier free agents weren’t coming to Denver, and the Nuggets chances of adding a needle-mover through free agency were highly unlikely. With that in mind, this decision makes sense. The Nuggets are overpaying Millsap for one year of service, but they have that room, and it doesn’t appear to be coming at the cost of a player who can contribute more than he. More importantly, Millsap comes off the books entirely next summer, creating maximum flexibility for a pivotal free agency period—one in which Jamal Murray must be extended.
Jeremy Poley: The decision-making here is better judged in degrees than in absolutes. There was a large degree of value in this decision as opposed to many other available directions. The Nuggets now have $57,138,586 coming off the books next offseason. For a team coming off of a playoff run that ended 1 shot short of the WCF to be heading towards that cap-friendly of a situation almost feels like they’re cheating. Keep in mind that as TC and AK walk into next off-season as the high-rollers, they’ll be doing so with the data accrued from 6 years of Harris, 5 of Jokic, 4 of Murray, 3 of Millsap, 3 of Beasley, and finally 1 of MPJ & Vandy (not to mention a probable 2 playoff appearances for the majority of the roster). This makes Nuggets management a rare combination of INFORMED (lots of data) & ABLE (lots of money).
Ryan Blackburn: My position on this has changed over the last several months. The Nuggets clearly need Millsap around unless they can find a sound replacement, and the only way to guarantee Millsap stays is picking up the team option. That said, the Nuggets need to find a long term solution at power forward very soon. It could be Michael Porter Jr. or Jarred Vanderbilt. It might not be. Keeping Millsap around for one more year gives the Nuggets insurance just in case Porter and Vanderbilt aren’t quite ready to step up, and kicks the can down the road another season if the Nuggets aren’t sure of the same thing in 2020. However, if the Nuggets are POSITIVE that one of those two guys (or someone else, you never know) should be the starter going forward, then Denver isn’t locked into a long term number on Millsap’s salary. It’s a good move, but every move has positives and negatives, especially a $30 million team option.
Adam Mares: Probably. None of this exists in a vacuum so how the Nuggets play their hand over the next 12 months will go a long way toward determining if picking up his option was right or wrong but I think the Nuggets would’ve risked missing the playoffs had Millsap left in free agency. With him back in the fold, the Nuggets can expect a similar season (50+ wins, probably not in tier 1 of title contention). But the real question will be if they can grow a replacement organically in Jarred Vanderbilt, Juancho Hernangomes, and Michael Porter Jr., or if they are back to square one next year hoping to get Millsap on a discount.
Were you surprised by Denver extending a qualifying offer to Trey Lyles this offseason?
Vogt: Ryan did a solid job in his newser explaining how the Millsap report provides some context for the Lyles decision. The Nuggets will be looking to fill out the final slots on their roster, and they plan to operate as an under the tax team, despite being over the cap after picking up Millsap’s option. So retaining Lyles with a QO makes sense, but it should be noted that Nikola Mirotic’s decision to play overseas thins out the stretch-four market, which could mean Lyles receives an offer sheet Denver won’t match.
Poley: Completely surprised. This means they offered Lyles at least $4,629,207 for at least 2 years. And in my mind, I’ve already handed the backup PF job to Jarred Vanderbilt. So, that seems like a waste to pay for a third-string PF/C. My best guess is that with Millsap eating up the cap this offseason that they know they’re unlikely to sign another player. And if they’re able to beat out any offers for Lyles and hold onto his services for the time-being, then he’s a trade asset for later in the season or next off-season.
Blackburn: I was blown away in the moment, but thinking about the move for longer, it makes sense. Another team may go after Lyles for a price higher than Denver is willing to pay, but if not, Denver’s already bringing the band back together for one more year. They might as well bring back Lyles for one more year and see if he has more to offer. They can always renounce the qualifying offer if they find someone else in free agency as well.
Mares: Not surprised but I sure hope that he does not wind up on the Nuggets roster. There’s a shortage of stretch 4’s available this summer so there’s a good chance a team takes a chance on him. I’m convinced that Lyles is not a long-term option for Denver and he isn’t good enough to be the short term option over Vanderbilt, MPJ, and Juancho.
Keeping the above moves in mind, what percentage chance do the Nuggets have of signing a notable free agent?
Vogt: This summer? Virtually none. And that’s ok. They’re content to run it back, and they’re bringing fresh blood into the fold in Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt. Making a big splash this summer would have been fun, but it was never to be expected. The Nuggets might be content to lose some ground in the short run for the sake of preserving their foundation. They’re not there yet. They aren’t a destination for notable free agents.
Poley: Yeah... not about to change my tune here. Nuggets are running it back. 2% chance we see a notable player signed, or as we put it on The Dig, “a player not currently on the roster averages over 15 minutes a game next season”.
Blackburn: I consider mid-level exception players to be notable, so I will say 40%. They won’t be signing a star, but a player on the MLE can be highly impactful in the right role. Whether it be somebody like Trevor Ariza or DeMarre Carroll or an unexpected name, it sounds like the Nuggets are interested in bringing somebody in at that price. Color me skeptical, but we will see.
Mares: I don’t think Denver is going to be a player in free agency, nor do I think they should be. The Nuggets as currently constructed have guys good enough to be in the 10-man regular season rotation with solid players behind them to fill in in case of emergency. So if they are to add a piece of the 8-man playoff rotation, then they need to send someone else out the door. No need in having Juancho, Vanderbilt, Beasley, and others ride the bench behind an MLE caliber player.
Where do the Nuggets fall in the Western Conference hierarchy with no major offseason moves?
Vogt: Hard to know until the dust settles. We don’t know what the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, or even the Rockets will look like yet. But the Lakers are title contenders already in my opinion, whether we want to believe that or not, and the Clippers still stand a chance of adding Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and/or Al Horford. What the Utah Jazz did this summer is also significant. I wouldn’t underestimate the impact of adding a player like Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz. The Nuggets are far from a lock for home court. But they’re still in this conversation. Internal development is thought of as incremental, but leaps can be made. Denver’s counting on it.
Poley: The Nuggets are 4th in my book behind Houston, GS & Utah. I don’t believe Portland beat us because they’re better. I don’t believe LA is/will-be better by clearing out their roster for AD (although this could change in the coming days).
Blackburn: A lot of people think Denver will compete for a ring this next season, but I think they are in line for some regression. The Jazz got better. The Rockets are trying to get better. The Lakers and Clippers will probably take big leaps. The Blazers and Thunder were in the same tier as Denver for most of last season. I don’t see how Denver can be seen at the top of that list anymore given the moves around them and would put Denver closer to the middle of the pack.
Mares: Utah and Houston are probably better. The Lakers are also probably better, as painful as it is to admit that. And the Clippers are still rumored to be connected to KD and Kawhi, additions that would put them ahead of Denver even if KD misses the whole season. Denver is probably next after that group but the Warriors and Trail Blazers are right in that next tier with them and there are a group of teams like the Pelicans, Mavericks, Timberwolves, and Thunder who are nipping at their heels.