Steven Hunter – A Story of Surgery and Salary

No offense to Steven Hunter, but we are going to start off our offseason analysis with him. Hunter is first up partly because his future as a contributor to the Denver Nuggets is tenuous at best and partly because I need to crank out a quick post.

Hunter was acquired in September of 2007 in the trade that ended the Ricky Sanchez era in Denver. Since that day he has played a total of 120 minutes in a Nugget uniform. In 2008-09 Cheikh Samb played 24 more minutes for the Nuggets than Hunter did and Samb only played 24 minutes as a Nugget.

Hunter had surgery on his right knee during the season and has struggled to return. In fact his playing days may be over. I always thought Hunter was a very serviceable big man, but even when he was healthy George Karl clearly had little faith in him.

The reality of the NBA is Hunter is now more valuable for his contract than his talents as a cager. Hunter has a player option for the last year of his contract at a salary of $3,696,000. It is not a large amount, but any expiring contract has value in the current economic state of the NBA. It is currently the only expiring contract the Nuggets have on the payroll for next season, but players like Anthony Carter, Dahntay Jones and Jason Hart are all candidates for one year deals and Linas Kleiza and to a lesser extent Johan Petro could provide sign and trade options that could be combined with Hunters’ expiring deal to bring back an important piece.

There is also a possibility that Hunter’s injury could lead to the Nuggets receiving an injured player exception up to half of his salary. I do not think that route would be very likely due to the fact that the Nuggets would not only be responsible for Hunter’s salary, but also the salary of the player they sign to replace him. However, if Hunter is unable to return it is possible that his salary could be removed from the Nuggets’ books as long as a league doctor verifies that he is physically unable to play.

Hopefully, Hunter can regain his health and return to action, but regardless of whether or not he can return to the court, he provides ever important salary cap flexibility. Healthy or not, do not expect to see Hunter on the court for Denver in 2009-10.

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  • runningdonut

    Clearly we need Hunter’s contract to go away. Medical retirement would be cool but very unlikely and probably quite a hassle. He could be packaged in a deal with the trade exception to bring in a larger contract for a player of use. Even when we are rid of him we are still hurting pretty bad in terms of salary cap and lux tax.

    The Nuggets #34 pick will be interesting. I hope there will be a decent PG available with the prospect of Chauncey mentoring him. Hypothetically, do you think the Nugs even have the means to move up to the first round? I was trying to envision a scenario where we could get a good pick, it doesn’t seem likely. We just don’t have anything to offer for a better selection. I think this draft will be another non-event for Nuggets fans

  • b.archy6

    Hunter pissed me off pretty bad when he told the Denver Post in March I think, that he better get playing time next year cuz its his contract year. Like he hasnt stolen enough money already.

  • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com jeremy

    runningdonut, keep in mind that trade exceptions cannot be combined with a player in a trade.

  • runningdonut

    I guess what I meant to say was, the exception would allow him to be shipped out in a trade for a player with a larger salary, such that the Nuggets wouldn’t have to match salaries in the trade. Isn’t that how it works.

    I would prefer Hunter just be gone by any means necessary, with a draft pick or something to convince another team to absorb the salary.

  • Frontrange

    Trade exception has to be traded separately for a player. Typically, you match up a two for one . . i.e. trade Hunter for someone you like and then trade the exception for a salary dump on another player. Can’t combine into a one big ticket.

    Balkman and Weens are also effective expiring contracts . . team options for the following year.