Today is the start of the NBA’s moratorium period. The period in which teams in the league can legally tamper — arrange contracts before contracts can officially be signed on 12:01 PM EST on July 6th. The Nuggets do have some needs to address, and their best chance to do so will be in free agency. The front office has a few tools available to them for this moratorium, and while Denver hasn’t had the best free agencies over the past few seasons, it does seem the front office is looking to add defense and shooting.
The Tools Available to the Nuggets
Before we get into the good stuff, it’s important to know the tools that the front office can utilize. The Nuggets do not have cap space in the typical sense. There are many exceptions and tools built into the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA for short), and those will be what Denver is able to use. They will not be going for the likes of Zach Lavine or Bradley Beal. The Nuggets simply don’t have the means to sign them without serious roster changes.
Instead the biggest salary cap exception they have is the tax payer mid-level exception. The Nuggets could theoretically get the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but it would hard cap them. I’ll include a tweet down below that explains it in further detail.
Here is a quick rundown on the Nuggets and their hard cap / mid-level exception (MLE) situation as free agency approaches.— Jake Coyne (Stat Squatch) (@BroncoSquatch) June 29, 2022
Should help explain some basic reasoning as to why Denver *could* find a route to the big MLE but will likely stick with the taxpayer one. pic.twitter.com/pjTC9Q1QlD
With the taxpayer mid-level exception, the Nuggets can offer up to $6.5 million in salary. That is enough to get a rotation contributor, but not a starter quality player most likely. The entire contract would come out to roughly 3 years and pay about $20 million for the entire contract.
While the prevailing theory of the KCP trade was that Denver did it to get under the luxury tax line, that isn’t the case. The Nuggets could sign 4 minimum contracts and still be in the tax. Calvin Booth has also said he has the green light to use the mid-level exception. It appears the Kroenkes are prepared to pay the tax, and fans should expect that of them. It’s the price of a contender. The KCP trade was made for basketball reasons, not cap reasons.
The Nuggets also can sign players to the league’s minimum salary or acquire a player through Monte Morris’ $9.1 million trade exception that was created in the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope trade.
Who could the Nuggets re-sign?
The Nuggets do have a few players that are entering free agency. These include Austin Rivers, Demarcus Cousins, Facundo Campazzo, Vlatko Cancar, Davon Reed, Markus Howard, and Bryn Forbes. Vlatko Cancar and Davon Reed have what’s called a qualifying offer on them. This makes it so that those two are considered restricted free agents, allowing the Nuggets to match offers from other teams and retain that player’s services. Say a team were to offer Vlatko Cancar a 2 year deal worth $5 million — the Nuggets would be able to match that deal and still keep him on the roster at that price tag. Markus Howard could be offered a qualifying offer as well, but as of now there have not been any reports indicating the Nuggets have made Markus Howard a restricted free agent.
The rest of the free agents are unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with any team they would like to. Of the group Denver has expiring, I’d only expect them to really be interested in Demarcus Cousins and Austin Rivers. Both of them had good playoff runs, and were good locker room guys for Denver.
Austin Rivers fits the mold of player that the new regime has been getting, and has stated he wants to be in Denver. There likely isn’t a big market for him, and — given what he’s done over the past couple seasons for Denver — it would make a lot of sense for both sides to bring him back. Because he has played for Denver for two seasons, Denver can offer him a little more than the league minimum. They can use what’s called early bird rights and give him up to $2,921,062.
Demarcus Cousins is less likely to be brought back. He was less committed to Denver at the exit press conferences. It sounded like less of a sure thing than Austin Rivers. Cousins probably wants a good payday, and Denver can’t provide that for him. The only avenues they could go down to sign Demarcus Cousins back would be either — a.) re-sign him on league veteran minimum of $1,719,247, or b.) give him the taxpayer mid-level exception. Cousins probably wants more than the minimum, and Denver likely doesn’t want to spend it’s mid-level exception on Demarcus. Given the injury concerns, and the fact that a backup center is one of the lesser needs for the Nuggets — I’d expect Boogie to find a new team this offseason.
With the restricted free agents, it would come as a surprise if Davon Reed was not brought back. A 3 and D wing is what Denver needs, and Davon fits that at a cheap cost. He showed this past season that he’s a good shooter and defender. A good glue guy for a bench unit. Expect him to be back on a league minimum deal. Vlatko is a little less likely, but given his relationship with Nikola Jokic — there is an appeal to keeping him. A serviceable third string big that keeps your superstar happy isn’t a bad thing to have.
Free Agency Targets
Cody Martin played last season with the Charlotte Hornets. A good shooter and defender with some playmaking chops too. At 6’6” with a 6’10” wingspan, he has good size to guard wings and guards. He shot 38.4% from 3 this past season on 2.2 attempts per game. In 26.3 minutes per game he also racked up 1.2 steals per game and 0.7 blocks per game. With numbers like that it puts him at a steal percentage (what percent of possessions he stole the ball on when on the floor) of 2%, per cleaningtheglass.com. That puts him at the 94th percentile among wings.
Denver could likely get him for the taxpayer mid-level exception, and would be a great get for the Nuggets. A smart player with good defense, shooting, and some passing to his game would fit right into Denver’s need for a backup shooting guard. He would help make up for Bones Hyland’s defense and be able to take on some ball handling responsibilities with the bench.
Caleb Martin is the second of the Martin twins, and both are viable options for the Nuggets to use their mid-level exception on. Caleb, while still a good defender, is worse than his Cody Martin on that end of the floor. Registering 1 steal per game and 0.5 blocks per game this past season with the Miami Heat. Where he is better than Cody is his ability to shoot. While Cody was above league average at 38.4%, Caleb was a sharpshooter. With the Heat this past season he shot 41.3% from beyond the arc on 2.6 attempts per game.
He is likely to be within Denver’s spending range, and can provide similar things to his brother. A little less on the defensive end — still solid though and a better shooter. He should be a target for Denver for the backup wing spot on the bench.
Jae’Sean Tate’s team option with the Rockets was recently declined, making him a restricted free agent. It’s been reported that the two sides would like a longer term deal for Tate. The 6’4” forward went undrafted in the 2020 draft and played for the Nuggets in Summer League. He impressed enough to earn a deal with the Rockets and from there went on to make All-Rookie First Team in the 2020-21 season.
He’s a stout defender, and helps sure up the Rockets on that end. The defense for Houston was 4.6 points better per 100 possessions with Jae’Sean Tate on the court, per cleaningtheglass.com. That’s good for 84th percentile among forwards. He’s good on and off ball, can switch 1 through 4, and has good enough athleticism to keep up with quick guards or hold his own against big forwards. It’s unlikely that Denver would be able to get him from Houston, but if Houston was open to either a sign and trade, or didn’t want to match an offer sheet on him; Denver should be doing everything they could to acquire his services.
Delon Wright is 6’5” and played the last season for the Atlanta Hawks. His main calling card is his defense, though his playmaking and 3 point shooting are positives as well. He has shot 37.3% from beyond the arc on 1.9 attempts per game since 2020. In a low usage role with the Hawks this past season he provided defensive insurance for a lackluster defensive back court. He’d be asked to fill a similar role next to Bones Hyland, but with some more ball handling duties in all likelihood.
He would provide the Nuggets with a solid point of attack defender with solid size for his position. As well as a secondary ball handler to allow Bones Hyland to play off the ball a bit more, and relieve pressure from other ball handlers. A bench back court with him and Bones would make sense on both ends of the floor.
Unrealistic Names, But Good Fits
- Lu Dort
- Bruce Brown
- Gary Payton II
- Victor Oladipo
- Nicolas Batum
Good Players, But Unsure Roles
- Kyle Anderson
- T.J. Warren
Other Players To Consider
- Donte DiVincenzo
- Gary Harris
- Otto Porter Jr.
- Andre Drummond
- Jalen Smith