With free agency kicking off this week, the Nuggets have almost half of their roster from the previous season in a situation where they are not currently under contract to return to the Nuggets.

The Nuggets roster has holes in several key areas — most notably at their starting shooting guard — and can plug some of those holes by bringing back some of these players. Here’s a rundown of the Nuggets free agents, and my evaluation of whether or not these players should return.

Will Barton

One of the veteran leaders of the team declined his player option and became an unrestricted free agent for the 2021 offseason. Barton has been part of the Nuggets since the beginning of this core’s run, and was one of the earliest believers in Nikola Jokic. He’s become a solid player in the league as part of the Nuggets, and is one of the Nuggets more valuable players.

His role with the team makes him more valuable to the Nuggets than to other teams in the league. Despite his struggles with injuries the past few seasons, when he’s healthy, the Nuggets are a better team with him on the court. With Jamal Murray injured, the Nuggets will need Barton’s playmaking and scoring as much as ever.

Barton could be looking to see if the Nuggets can show him respect and appreciation for the work he’s put in and will continue to do with a multi-year contract. I think a win-win for both parties would come in the form of a three year contract. I don’t know the dollar value he’s looking for, but if the Kroenke’s are comfortable paying the luxury tax, I think they can make things work. If ownership isn’t comfortable footing that bill, I think it’s likely that Barton leaves.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — STAY

Paul Millsap

Millsap was the big free agent signing for the Nuggets four years ago, showing the rest of the league that they were ready to start competing with the contenders by bringing in talented veterans. Millsap has helped strengthen the Nuggets defense, has been a key leader in the starting lineup, and the Nuggets don’t beat the Clippers two years ago without him.

The only person that is undefeated in the NBA is Father Time, and he has begun chipping away at Millsap. The 36-year-old has begun missing more and more games, and was moved to a bench role last season. His minutes will likely only continue to decline, and as he ages, his ability to contribute in a positive way on the court will too. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s time for him to hang up his sneakers and call it quits.

Millsap has a chance to retire as a Denver Nugget, playing out the rest of his career here as the team tries to win their first championship. I’d hope that he has that drive, and that the team wants to keep him around for that potential moment. There will be interest with other teams in the league to bring in Millsap, and the Nuggets will have to compete with that. It shouldn’t stop them from doing what it takes to bring him back if he’s interested in continuing to play.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — STAY

JaMychal Green

Green signed a contract with the Nuggets that had a player option for the second year the offseason right after his former team was eliminated in the second round by Denver. After arriving in Denver, he quickly found a role on the team as a backup power forward. He saw a lot of minutes on the court with Millsap, as a quasi-small-ball frontcourt where neither big was over 6’8”.

Green played well enough for the Nuggets, shooting nearly 40-percent on 3.4 3-point attempts per game and chipping in on the defensive side of the court. I can’t think of any standout games or plays that he made, which underlies the difficulty in deciding if he should return. Is he replaceable or not?

The Nuggets have shown that they like to draft with the future in mind, having selected Zeke Nnaji in a draft where it didn’t seem like they needed another power forward, and drafting Nah’Shon Hyland in a draft where it didn’t seem like they needed another scoring guard. The payoff for drafting Nnaji is that he had one full season to develop to take over Green’s role. It makes more sense to increase Nnaji’s minutes and let Green walk, freeing up a roster spot for a wing or a player that is more of a true center.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — LEAVE

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Austin Rivers

Rivers signed with the Nuggets as a free agent during the 2020-21 season, helping provide reinforcements to a team that had been ravaged by injuries. Those 10-day contracts quickly became a guaranteed contract, and it wasn’t long before he was hitting key shots for the Nuggets in the playoffs.

Rivers just celebrated his 29th birthday on August 1 — this next year would be his 10th year in the league. This is a player that has seen his fair share of ups and downs in the NBA. At some point along the road, it seems like Rivers realized the gift that it is to be part of a NBA roster. Former stops may have seen Rivers not mesh well with the locker room, but he seemed to be welcomed with open arms in Denver. This is an organization that valued his contributions, and he seemed to really feel at home.

I have a soft spot for Rivers — his game-winning shot against North Carolina is one of the greatest shots I’ve seen. He played with an endearing level of confidence and effort, doing whatever he can to help the team win. I like to think that players are capable of change, and I think Rivers could be a valuable role player for the Nuggets. I want him back.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — STAY

JaVale McGee

The Nuggets traded for McGee at the trade deadline last year after the Isaiah Hartenstein experiment didn’t work out for them. He would play limited minutes for the team the remainder of the season, doing JaVale things when he was on the court. He blocks shots, he dunks lobs, and occasionally makes a play that leaves you dumbfounded by either the success or failure of it.

McGee checks off a couple boxes for the Nuggets. They obviously don’t have someone like him on the roster for next season, unless Bol Bol suddenly figures out how to play NBA basketball. He’s a guy that has his role figured out, and can be a “break in case of emergency” kind of player. I’d rather see the Nuggets try to get someone like Gorgui Dieng, Willy Hernangomez, or Cody Zeller. They shouldn’t try to get cheap at this position again like they did last season, but they can’t afford to splurge.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — LEAVE

Markus Howard

The Nuggets drafted the diminutive gunner from Marquette in the second round to take a chance on a talented college scorer. In the 2021 draft, they signed a bigger scoring guard. I don’t think there is anything that Markus Howard can do that Bones Hyland can’t also do, and Bones doesn’t need to ask anyone to help him get something off the top of the fridge.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — LEAVE

Shaq Harrison

When the Nuggets traded Gary Harris to the Orlando Magic, they lost their best on-ball perimeter defender. Harris was the guy that the coaching staff could put on the court to cause mayhem, disrupt scorers, and ramp up the defensive intensity. As their roster currently stands, they haven’t replaced that skill set.

Harrison is not a scoring guard. When he’s on the court, he’s not out there to shoot 3-pointers or set up the offense. He’s there to play defense and score in transition. He’s limited in what he can do, but his strengths are valuable to the Nuggets. They have to have one guard that can play overpowering defense, right? Please bring back Shaq.

Stay or leave? Stiffs say — STAY

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