clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stiffs Mailbag: Offseason mania, salary cap clarifications, under the radar free agents

New, comments

Answering offseason Twitter questions from Stiffs readers

2020 NBA All-Star - AT&T Slam Dunk Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Thanks again for the questions this week! The Stiffs mailbag will likely be an every other week deal for the bulk of the offseason due to a slower flow of news than the regular season and playoffs. We’re starting off with a bunch of offseason questions this time, ranging from salary cap discussion, to the draft, to free agency targets.

Enjoy!


Personally, I don’t think so. Hindsight is 20/20, and it looks fairly favorably on the Denver Nuggets given what they accomplished in back to back seasons. In 2019, they were four points away from advancing past the Portland Trail Blazers to face the Golden State Warriors. Denver would have put up more of a fight than Portland, but that doesn’t change the fact the Golden State minus Kevin Durant (injury) was basically a super charged version of the 2019 Blazers. Even if Denver did advance to face the Toronto Raptors, they wouldn’t have had an answer for Kawhi Leonard like they did this season with Jerami Grant.

This year, it feels like the Los Angeles Lakers were being magnetically pulled to an NBA championship. LeBron James is still the best player on earth at 35 years old, Anthony Davis plays his best basketball in the playoffs and made the Game 2 buzzer beater that sunk Denver’s hopes of an upset, and the Lakers role players continue to have random outbursts that save them. The Nuggets weren’t going to beat them in a seven game series, even if the Davis buzzer beater rims out instead.

Still, the Nuggets have been close in back to back seasons, closer than many will give them credit.


The simplest answer I have for you is that—outside of the NBA Draft slated for November 18th—we don’t have a firm timeline on anything else. Given the state of affairs and how everything has adjusted due to COVID-19, only one significant date has leaked to the public. This is mostly because the NBA is deciding how to operate the next regular season and playoff structure, because the NBA needs a start date for that before they work backwards on offseason dates.

Like I mentioned, the 2020 NBA Draft is currently penciled in for November 18th. Generally speaking, free agency immediate follows within the week, with team and player options exercised or declined. Summer League then occurs about a week after the start of free agency.

Unfortunately, these generally timeframes are in a pre-COVID world, and quarantines, bubbles, and a gigantic set of regulations should be expected to delay almost every process. For now, I would start with that November 18th Draft date and be as flexible as possible beyond that.


I shared this next bit in the latest Nuggets Numbers episode—here are the teams with significant (projected) salary cap room in the 2020 offseason:

All salary cap numbers are projected realistic room for the below teams based on standard decision making for each team.

  1. Atlanta Hawks - $43 million
  2. New York Knicks - $42 million
  3. Detroit Pistons - $28 million
  4. Charlotte Hornets - $22.5 million
  5. Miami Heat - $21 million
  6. Phoenix Suns - $19 million

It’s unlikely that any of those teams would be interested in Tristan Thompson and will instead attempt to woo bigger free agents (Jerami Grant among them) that will command top dollar. Thompson is among a class of big men that includes Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, Hassan Whiteside, Aron Baynes, and even Dwight Howard as premier backup center options that could start for several teams. Because of the supply, the demand for bigs will likely drop as will the price tag.

The Nuggets have the full mid-level exception (MLE) available to them, an opportunity to sign a free agent to a contract despite the Nuggets being over the salary cap. Thompson would be a great candidate for the Nuggets to bolster their rotation as a veteran big man with championship experience and a useful skill set. I think he’d fit into that MLE nicely, though the Nuggets may decide to spend that money on a different position.

Could Thompson defend Anthony Davis in a playoff series? Probably not, but he’s one of the league’s best options as a fluid, switchable big that will force Davis to shoot over him and box the Lakers star out on rebounds with physicality. It’s a logical move that might make sense to Denver going forward.


The more I hear people talk about Precious Achiuwa and the more film I watch of him, I’m encouraged by what I see and think he’d make a great Nuggets rotation player down the line. He has been compared to Montrezl Harrell, James Johnson, and Amar’e Stoudemire by some of the outlets I trust, and I definitely see that when watching him move on the court. If he can get to being a switchable big man with great defensive instincts, then he would fit in nicely on a team that may be losing their best defensive big in Paul Millsap this offseason.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has Achiuwa mocked at 12th overall. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Achiuwa all the way up at 9th. With the way the NBA is continuing to go, with the return of the big man in full effect in these playoffs with Nikola Jokić, Anthony Davis, and Bam Adebayo going deep into the playoffs, it would make sense for lottery teams to take a chance on an athletic big like him.

I don’t expect him to drop to 22nd overall, but the Nuggets should hope that he does.


A quick note on a salary cap discussion: the new salary cap and luxury tax thresholds have not been announced yet because they are directly tied to Basketball Related Income (BRI) that the owners and players must agree to in order to play next season. At this moment, many NBA analysts are projecting that the NBA will use an artificial salary cap that keeps the salary cap at about $109 million and the luxury tax at about $132 million, just like during the 2019-20 season.

The $132 million is the key number for Nuggets fans, as the Nuggets are unlikely to cross that threshold (or at least I will believe it when I see it).

Here’s what the Nuggets are currently looking at financially for the 2020-21 season:

  • $100.4 million committed to nine players: Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., P.J. Dozier, Monte Morris, Keita Bates-Diop, and Vlatko Čančar
  • Bol Bol is under contract as a two-way player, but he will need to have his contract restructured if the Nuggets want him to be a mainstay of the roster
  • Jerami Grant’s $9.3 million player option isn’t counted in the among total. He will almost certainly decline that number and seek out a longer deal
  • Expiring contracts of Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig, Noah Vonleh, Troy Daniels, and Tyler Cook (two-way)

Assuming the Nuggets bring back Grant for the number you assume (let’s say $17 million annually) that puts Denver’s cap sheet at $117.4 million. That’s before Denver converts Bol Bol’s contract to a full-time deal (about $1.7 million) and they use their first round draft pick ($2.1 million projected for the 22nd overall draft slot). Add those two numbers, and Denver is quickly at $121.2 million for the upcoming year.

That means they will have less than $11 million in salary to work with to either re-sign Millsap, Plumlee, and/or Craig, or they can use that money and bring in other free agents. $11 million isn’t a lot to work with below the tax, though the Nuggets have access to the MLE like I mentioned above which will be valued at roughly $9.3 million.

This salary cap crunch is why moving Gary Harris or Will Barton is one of Denver’s possibilities in the offseason. In order to generate extra wiggle room against the luxury tax, the Nuggets may want to break up Harris’ $19.6 million owed in 2021 into money for multiple players. They could do the same with Barton’s $13.7 million owed. Either move likely make the Nuggets a worse team, which is why a team with ownership willing to dip into the luxury tax has a competitive advantage over the rest of the NBA.

I didn’t really answer your question about Bogdan Bogdanović, who is good and fun and would be a great fit. He just costs too much money, and unless he accepted a deal well below market value to play in Denver, I just don’t see a path for him to be a Nugget this offseason.


Offensively, I have no doubt Buddy Hield would be a great fit in what the Nuggets are trying to do. This past season, Hield averaged 5.0 catch and shoot threes attempted per game and made 41.3% of those shots. Among the 15 players to attempt at least as many per game, Hield’s shooting efficiency sits behind only Duncan Robinson, Davis Bertans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Danilo Gallinari. Given that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson sat out the year, that’s about as elite of shooting company as one could possibly keep.

Unfortunately, the defense is problematic, because while Hield tries, he just isn’t a good defender and probably never will be. He doesn’t have the physical traits to bother players in front of him, and he often loses focus which gives his matchups opportunities to frequently generate open shots. That isn’t something the Nuggets can stomach at shooting guard with Murray and Porter out there at point guard and small forward.


The “cheaper” designation should have Nuggets fans perking up. Young players with high upside generally have a high market value, but some slip through the cracks. The Nuggets should be looking for bargains on the open market if they can get one.

The names you mention are all solid. Harry Giles, a capable passing big man on the Sacramento Kings, could be a replacement for Mason Plumlee for a similar price tag at a young age. I would expect him to get $4-6 million per year on his next deal. Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat makes a lot of sense for Denver in theory. He is a human highlight reel and a springboard of athleticism. I expect the Heat to keep him, but if they don’t, Jones would make a lot of sense for the Nuggets on the wing.

I’m not a fan of Bruno Caboclo or Josh Jackson. Caboclo because he makes it more difficult to get Bol Bol on the court and Jackson because of how he’d affect the Nuggets culture if he’s sitting on the bench. He’d be a good candidate to replace Torrey Craig if I thought he’d be half the teammate that Craig already is.

One player to watch: Nerlens Noel has seven years of experience on an NBA roster but is still just 26. He has gone from incredibly valuable to mediocre backup to turning himself into one of the better backup centers in the NBA. He fits what Denver needs in a backup center going forward—rim protection, rebounding, lob threat—and might come cheaper than a player like Derrick Favors or Serge Ibaka.

Two relatively young wings to look at on the fringes: Mario Hezonja and Sindarius Thornwell have each bounced around the league a bit and have yet to latch on anywhere for a long time. Hezonja is a long time favorite of mine who probably just isn’t very good but might make more sense on a roster like Denver’s. Thornwell is a University of South Carolina guard who plays defense like a bulldog and has some versatility defensively. He’s purely an off-ball player on offense, but if the Nuggets are looking for the next Torrey Craig, getting another player from the state of South Carolina isn’t a bad option.