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Five free agency questions for the Denver Nuggets

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With the 2020 offseason officially started, the front office can turn their attention to a long list of things to take care of to prepare for the next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

While the basketball games have come to a bitter conclusion with the Nuggets loss in the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, the basketball offseason is just beginning.

The end of the season means that the minutiae of the NBA - the draft, free agency, and trades - is in full season. The Nuggets front office did nearly just as good of a job as the franchise did on the court in 2019-20. They made a trade in the draft to acquire Bol Bol, adding another prodigious talent to their roster despite not having a first round pick. The Nuggets didn’t go hard for a free agent, choosing instead to sign Jamal Murray to a five year max extension.

They sent their 2020 first round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jerami Grant, who was an integral part of their playoff run. They moved Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Juancho Hernangomez before the trade deadline, packaging them in a four-team trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and the Atlanta Hawks. They were able to get a 2020 first round pick from the Rockets in that trade, helping them recoup the pick they used to acquire Grant. Not to be lost in those moves, they signed PJ Dozier and Vlatko Cancar to a guaranteed contract, locking in two role players for the next couple seasons.

Now they have a few questions they need to get answered in order to put some finishing touches on the roster as they look to return back to the Western Conference Finals to give themselves a chance at reaching the franchise’s first NBA Finals.

What will Jerami Grant do?

The Nuggets made a great move by trading for Grant. The Thunder had just moved Paul George to the Clippers, and were about to move Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul. According to reports, Grant is planning on exercising his player option and opting out of his contract to enter free agency. The Nuggets will have his Bird Rights, but if you think he’s going to give Denver a discount because he likes playing here, think again. This is his opportunity to get a large contract, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get around $20 million per season. There are only a few teams with the cap space to bring him in, and I don’t see him wanting to leave Denver to go play for the Pistons or Hawks. While that may hurt his ability to negotiate for a higher salary, please, Denver, don’t mess around here. Pay the man his money, and keep him on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Four Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Is there a spot for Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap to return?

The Nuggets gave both these players massive contracts to sign with them in free agency, paying them a combined $131 million over the last three seasons. They have been valuable members of the team, filling a role as veterans who helped a young team figure out how to develop a winning culture. Every NBA championship team needs veterans on the roster to help establish that winning mentality, and Denver wouldn’t be what they are today without these two players.

But bringing them both back seems unlikely. Both are on the other side of 30, and saw their minutes decrease throughout the season, especially into the postseason. Millsap helped provide the spark that fueled their comeback against the Clippers, and Plumlee left Anthony Davis open for a game-winning 3-pointer in Game Two of their series against the Lakers.

I think Plumlee has played his final game as a Denver Nugget. and I think Millsap will be back. The front office has to give Malone one of the two, and I think Millsap will be an easier target for them. I think Plumlee can still get one more nice contract and a rotation role, while Millsap may be on his way into a bench role for Denver. If the Nuggets overpay (again) for either of them, I swear I’ll blow my stack.

What are the major holes?

The Nuggets will have some large holes to address and not a lot of money to spend. If Plumlee is gone, will Bol Bol be able to play backup center? I’m extremely skeptical of that. The series against the Lakers provided a case that they need another shooter they can give rotation minutes to. That’s a guard that they’ll need to trust on defense as well, because in order for the coaches to give them play, they have to defend their position. If Millsap returns but continues to fade with age, the Nuggets will need a backup power forward, provided they re-sign Jerami Grant and play Michael Porter Jr. more minutes.

These “major holes” are all for bench pieces — the Nuggets just need to add a few players to replace free agents, and continue to craft their roster around Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Michael Porter Jr.

Who are some targets?

Here are a few players that I think could fill some of the holes listed earlier.

Aron Baynes - The physical center from Australia came over to Phoenix from Boston and made a huge impact for the team after they lost DeAndre Ayton to a suspension. He’s started shooting 3-pointers, is a terrific rebounder, and would be a welcome physical addition to the roster. At 33 years of age but only 469 games under his belt, he may still have some years under his belt.

Justin Holiday - While some Nuggets fans may pine for his brother, there is an opportunity for Justin to make a difference for a NBA team as well. He was a key piece of the Indiana Pacers rotation this season, and would fill a role as a 3&D piece on a team that has their two superstars on the roster already.

Kris Dunn - The former Minnesota Timberwolves guard suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the final months of the season, and with Coby White and Tomas Satoransky under contract, it seems unlikely that the restricted free agent will be returning to Chicago. He is an elite defensive point guard, averaging over 2 steals per game despite playing just 24 minutes per contest. He is not a shooter, and to ignore his shooting woes would be foolish. But as an off-ball defender, someone that could play alongside shooters off the bench, there are few better defensive options for a coach like Michael Malone to deploy.

Derrick Jones Jr. - One of my favorite options in free agency, the human pogo stick is a dunk threat from anywhere within eight feet of the rim. He had a few dunks this season against the Nuggets that honestly were some of the highest dunks I’ve ever seen in my life. We’ve seen what happens when the Nuggets play other athletes around Jokic — why not give him one of the premier athletic talents currently in the league? Let’s see what happens when he can catch lobs from Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, and Will Barton for 100 games in a season.

What happens to the players they acquired at the deadline?

The Nuggets picked up a few players that had expiring contracts or just one year remaining on their contract. Noah Vonleh, Keita Bates-Diop, Troy Daniels, and eventually Tyler Cook all joined the Nuggets for their second half run. This question doesn’t require a long answer - most these guys won’t be back. The Nuggets got cap space by moving Beasley and Hernangomez, and they aren’t going to use it on these players. Bates-Diop will be back, and he can fill a third-string role on the team, but I’m not expecting much.