Free agency is officially upon us! For the Nuggets, Will Barton III and JaMychal Green declined their player options and will become unrestricted free agents once 4PM MST rolls around today. Both players could return to Denver but will most certainly get interest from other teams around the league.
The real question going into this offseason for Denver though has to be how does Jamal Murray’s rehab impact what they do in free agency? Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly provided an update on Murray just the other night:
“He’s doing great. He’s been attacking rehab like we thought he would. He’s such a tough minded guy, he’s chomping at the bit. We’ve got to slow him down so he knows no rushing this injury, but he’s doing fantastic. Really proud of how aggressively he’s attacked rehab thus far.”
Connelly then elaborated on what the Nuggets could be looking to add to their roster once free agency begins:
“I do think there is a collective belief amongst our locker room, amongst our basketball operations from coaches to front office that we have a pretty complete team. We can always get better, always looking for ways to improve, but I think at the heart we like what we have. How we can improve on that we’ll see in the coming days, but we have a lot of good players and a lot of really, really good guys.”
The sense is that if the Nuggets were healthy last season they would have pushed for their first title in franchise history. It’s true with how everything shaped up around them and with a healthy Murray it might have been all the Nuggets needed to make a finals run.
Murray suffered his torn ACL on April 12 and the recovery time for that type of knee injury is usually around 7-9 months. From a Nuggets perspective there is no need to rush Murray back considering they still have league MVP Nikola Jokic leading the charge to get them through most of the regular season.
Even without Murray, the current construct of the Nuggets roster feels like a top-5 team in the Western Conference. Murray is almost four months out from when he suffered the injury so best case scenario he could maybe return in January? That still could be rushing it though and Denver might not even need him then if they are playing well, so a March return post all-star break could be what is best for Murray and the Nuggets as a whole.
For that reason, I don’t think the Nuggets have to sign a long-term option in free agency to fill Murray’s spot. Denver should be fine filling his role in the starting lineup with Monte Morris and Facu Campazzo can control the backup point guard duties.
If the Nuggets are looking for more guard depth they could look in bringing back Austin Rivers or signing a veteran free agent like Alec Burks to a two or three year deal. Both of those players give the Nuggets players they could use in the rotation even when Murray returns and could be nice depth pieces around guys like PJ Dozier, Markus Howard, and Bones Hyland.
As long as the Nuggets stay healthy it feels like they will be just fine in the regular season. That is where they got into trouble this past season in regards to guard depth, so making sure they have solid pieces is key especially with Murray potentially missing most of the regular season:
“I want to be healthy, that’s number one. If we get that done it would be awesome. We constantly sit down as a staff, with Mo (coach Malone) and his staff, where do we have weaknesses, can we address those weaknesses,” Connelly said on free agency. “I think we have a bunch of guys that are free that we’d like to bring back. Keep our fingers crossed we’ll bring back as many as those guys as we can. We thought prior to the injuries we had a pretty complete team. We like our core, we like the pulse of our locker room, competitive spirit. So, we’ll be pretty picky looking into the type of guys we add to that mix.”
March is a sold target date for Murray because it would give him a month to get acclimated before the playoffs begin. It would allow Murray and the Nuggets to get into a rhythm before making a title run.
Re-signing Barton should be priority number one when free agency opens, especially with the Nuggets’ hole at starting shooting guard. Dozier feels like the Nuggets two-guard off the bench and Hyland most likely won't be ready to contribute early in the season, so bringing back Barton feels like a must at this point.
As long as the Nuggets do that, I don't think Murray’s rehab impacts a ton of what they do. Murray will hopefully be ready to contribute late in the regular season on into the playoffs. As long as Denver can be sitting pretty in the standings once Murray returns they will be perfectly fine.