Justin Holiday may have felt like an afterthought when he was acquired last Summer. The Denver Nuggets moved up to select Julian Strawther in the first round, they picked up Hunter Tyson in the second round, Christian Braun was coming off a very successful rookie season, Peyton Watson was in their back pocket as another second year player. With locked in starters in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets rotation on the wings felt set with ample depth to boot. Holiday, who signed for the veteran’s minimum in August, felt simply like a player to fill out the back end of the roster and provide veteran leadership in the locker room. Sort of the wing version of the previous year’s Ish Smith. While he certainly filled the role of reliable veteran in the locker room, Justin showed he still had plenty to offer on the court as well.

2023/2024 Season Stats

14.9 4 1.2 1.2 0.6 45.40% 40.40% 0.1 -1.6

Season Story

To start the year it seemed as though the assumptions that Holiday was a veteran depth piece and not a rotation piece were correct. The Nuggets top eight was set with the last two spots in their initial ten man rotation going to a backup big and Strawther on the wings. However injuries would present opportunities for Holiday quickly. A heel strain for Aaron Gordon got Holiday minutes in the starting lineup in late November which he made the most of. He seemed to get better with each passing game and scored in double figures three games in row right before Gordon returned. It would take another month before Justin would get his second opportunity when Strawther went down with a knee injury that required a lengthy recovery. At first coach Michael Malone simply tightened his rotation up to nine players but as one of those players got a minor injury and missed a game or two Holiday stepped in. After KCP got dinged up in the beginning of February, Malone starting turning to Holiday on a regular basis and he became a regular in the rotation even as other players started to get healthy again.

Holiday’s strong finish to the season earned him a spot in the playoff rotation. At first it was a bit rocky as the bench in it’s entirety struggled during the series with the Los Angeles Lakers and Holiday was certainly not exempt from that. However, as the postseason progressed he started to feel like Denver’s most reliable shooter off the bench. With his length he still gave them strong defense as well. By the time the second round rolled around Malone was once again tightening his rotation, this time down to just eight players, but it was Watson, not Holiday, who ended up riding the bench. Justin stayed a fixture in the Nuggets rotation all the way through their game seven loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he was the only player not to attempt a shot…but also the only one with a positive plus/minus (+10).

’24/’25 outlook with the Nuggets

Holiday came to Denver on a one year deal at the veteran minimum salary. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer meaning he is free to sign with any team he wants. Like last season with Bruce Brown, the Nuggets are extremely limited as to what they can offer Holiday due to the fact he was acquired via free agency and spent only one year with the team. Even though no one expects Holiday to get an offer anywhere close to what Brown got last season, the Nuggets are still going to find themselves having to make some hard decisions if Holiday receives any offers about the vet minimum. Firstly, anything above $4 million annually will require the Nuggets to use their taxpayer mid-level exception to retain him. Anything above the taxpayer MLE puts Holiday out of Denver’s allowable range and even if they can use their MLE, it’s only worth about $5 million which means Denver would be limited to only veteran minimum contracts after that.

Now, it’s by no means a guarantee that Holiday gets an offer above $5 million. While he did ultimately end his season as a rotation player on a playoff roster he didn’t highlight himself as a major piece of a championship run like Brown or even Jeff Green did last season. He is also 35 years old so the clock is starting to run out on his ability to be a contributor. It feels unlikely he will get an offer above $5 million. Not impossible, but unlikely. That still brings up the question though of whether or not even at $5 million will Holiday be too expensive for Denver?

It’s certainly not unreasonable to expect him to get a taxpayer MLE offer. That’s the offer Reggie Jackson got last Summer from Denver after being almost a total non-factor in the championship run. While Reggie ultimately ended up re-signing, the fact that the Nuggets gave him the MLE to do so is a strong indication he would not have had to settle for a veteran minimum if he ended up playing elsewhere. Jackson was 33 when he got that deal so like Holiday he was in the back end of his career. A cap strapped playoff team looking to make improvements in the margins may very well look at Holiday and see a 3 & D wing who can contribute off their bench and decide that’s worth their MLE money. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are deeper on the wings than anywhere else on their roster and while Holiday ultimately overtook both Strawther and Watson in the rotation by season’s end, both of those players figure into Denver’s long term plans far more than Justin does. Denver has bigger needs to fill and with their limited options to fill said needs, using their MLE (if they even have it) on a 35 year old reserve wing is probably not the most prudent move.

My prediction: Holiday is not likely to return next season.  I think he did enough to get a two year deal with a second year option on the MLE just like Jackson did with Denver last season. If he can’t get that, at age 35, he also may very well decide to simply hang the sneakers up and call it a career. Even at the vet minimum he may end up getting squeezed out by Denver’s numbers game with their available roster spots. The fact of the matter is Holiday gave Denver more than they could have expected last year and that’s likely going to translate in one of two ways or both: first, Holiday’s performance may earn him a raise making Denver unable to retain him and second, Denver in all likelihood continues with their plan of what they do expect regardless which is larger roles for their young wings that they’ve invested significant draft capital in the past two years which likely leaves Holiday as an odd man out no matter what kind of offers he can get on the open market.