What should the Nuggets number one priority be this offseason?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Re-sign Jerami Grant has to be priority number one and I don’t think it’s even close. Grant proved his value during the Nuggets run to the Western Conference Finals. Not only did Grant continue to produce on the offensive end of the floor, but his defensive play was equally as impressive. Denver has talked at length about how they believe Grant is a part of this teams future, which is why locking him down to a long-term contract should be the first thing they take care of this offseason.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Grant is number one, but I’m not going to copy Brandon. If Bol Bol is not ready to be a rotation-level player, they need to get a defensive-minded center. It doesn’t have to be someone that’s a threat on both ends. It needs to be a player that can hover around the paint and deter opponents from going there. Mason Plumlee is out, and Nikola Jokic just isn’t enough of a rim protector when he’s on the floor. Getting someone that can block or alter shots at a discount would give this team a defensive boost.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Locking in Grant to as team friendly of a deal as possible is the place to start. There will be competitors for his services, and for a prized free agent in a weak free agent class, his price is likely to skyrocket. I posited on Nuggets Numbers that a four year, $70 million contract with 8% decreases each year would be the best way to satisfy all parties. Grant gets solid starter money, Michael Malone keeps a key piece of his rotation, and Tim Connelly/Calvin Booth/Ben Tenzer manage the salary cap going forward with Michael Porter Jr.’s contract extension also looming.
Do you think Paul Millsap will be on the Nuggets roster next season?
Ewing: I think Millsap will be on the Nuggets roster next season and honestly, I don't think it’s a bad idea to keep him around. Millsap certainly showed his age in the playoffs and was a liability at times, but on a few occasions he played spectacular. Let’s not forget that Millsap’s big third quarter in Game 5 against the Clippers helped Denver win that series.
What I would like to see the Nuggets do with Millsap is offer him a veteran minimum deal and then play him when you need him during the regular season. Who knows, maybe Millsap will return to his former self and grow into a regular contributor again. The worst thing that might happen is Millsap just does not play, but in that case he can still mentor the young players and add that veteran presence in the locker room.
Bridgford: Unless Millsap is willing to take a big discount, I find it difficult to see him coming back. The majority of the money that they have available is going to be devoted to bringing Grant back, and, if they fail to do that, they need to pivot by bringing a similar player back. Millsap’s age showed in a big way during the playoffs, and, while he was good defensively, he just isn’t athletic enough to keep up with the big wings running around the league right now.
Millsap’s veteran presence cannot go unstated, and he’s a talented player in limited minutes, but, if he’s not back on the roster, I’m not going to be heartbroken. He doesn’t fit in a heavy minutes role on this roster, and the life cycle of it doesn’t line up with where Millsap is in his NBA career.
Blackburn: Not to avoid the question, but I genuinely believe it’s a 50-50 chance that Millsap is retained. On one hand, Millsap has been with the Nuggets for three years and been an extremely influential presence as the Nuggets have taken steps toward championship contention. On the other hand, outside of Millsap, the Nuggets are still an incredibly young team with players that aren’t finished developing. Porter’s development is integral to Denver’s present and future, while Bol Bol showcased a high talent level that may need to be cultivated with consistent playing time. If the Nuggets plan to play those two along with re-signing Grant to fill the starting power forward role, there’s less time for Millsap to play.
If he’s willing to accept money associated with being a 15 to 20 minute per game role player who may not play on some nights, then the Nuggets would be wise to bring him back. If he’s looking for more money or more playing time, it may not be in Denver’s best interest to retain the 35-year-old.
If the Nuggets attempt to make a “splash” move, who are you hoping it’s for?
Ewing: This a tough question, but I am going to go with Victor Oladipo. There is a lot of ways you can go with this question and most people would probably say Jrue Holiday. I just like the idea of Oladipo a little more because not only is he younger, but I like his upside as a scorer on this Nuggets team. Oladipo is also a really good defender, so you aren't just acquiring him for his offensive talent.
In any deal to acquire Oladipo, the Nuggets would probably have to move on from Gary Harris. I would have a hard time coming to terms with the Nuggets trading away Harris. I know he struggled at times offensively last season, but his offense really seemed to come alive as the playoffs wore on. Couple that with his tremendous skills defensively, Harris is going to be a tough sell for me in any potential “blockbuster” deals this offseason.
Bridgford: I’m not sure this team needs to make a splash move, but, if they were going to make one, I would want them to go after Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics. Smart brings them a few different things that would benefit their roster in a lot of ways. For one, his defense is a near one-for-one replacement of Gary Harris, who would likely have to be a part of the trade, but he also brings ball handling that you don’t get with Harris. He can give them a third ball-handler on the floor with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, but he’s also a good fit alongside Monte Morris if they have him run with the second unit.
Blackburn: I’m going to cheat here and say the Nuggets should be on the phone with a specific team: the New Orleans Pelicans. Denver identified in the postseason several players that were key to their present and future: Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Porter, Grant, Monte Morris, and P.J. Dozier each had several key moments/sequences that helped Denver advance to the Western Conference Finals. Among Denver’s biggest question marks was the shooting guard position, in which Gary Harris looked capable on some nights and questionable on others. Backup center was also a question mark with Mason Plumlee.
The Pelicans have a bounty of options at both positions. From star guard Jrue Holiday to quality young pieces in Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball to veteran contributors in JJ Redick, E’Twaun Moore, Derrick Favors, and Nicolo Melli. Moore and Favors are free agents, but the rest are potential trade targets at varying prices that would bolster Denver’s rotation in different ways. Keep an eye on Tim Connelly’s former organization.
What position should the Nuggets be targeting with their first-round pick?
Ewing: An athletic backup center is something I would love to see the Nuggets target. I also wouldn't mind another ball handling guard like a Cole Anthony or someone. Let’s be honest though, some player is going to just fall into the Nuggets lap in the first round and no matter the position he plays, they should daft him. It happened with Michael Porter Jr., Bol Bol, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen again this year.
Bridgford: I like the idea of an athletic backup center, but I want them to target a two-way wing. Their guard rotation gets a little thin behind Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Monte Morris, but I also realize what matters most in the NBA. The Miami Heat have a super deep group of wings, and the Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA for four years because of their bevy of wings. Behind Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant and Will Barton, you need more wing depth. Torrey Craig just isn’t going to cut it.
Blackburn: It probably depends most on which of their free agents Denver plans to retain, but at this point, I’d try to identify the most versatile defensive forward/big man the Nuggets can find in the draft. This upcoming class is weak on the wings but has plenty of forward/big options. Identifying bigs with a high level of athleticism, defensive intelligence, and some traits to cultivate offensively is probably the best place to start in this draft.