Leading up to Dec. 9 when free agency officially begins there will be constant speculation regarding who the Nuggets might be eying in this year’s class. Names like Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler and Jamal Crawford have been floated around for months, but chances are none of these guys actually end up on the Nuggets roster before the upcoming season kicks of on Christmas Day. Naturally, it’s always beneficial to have a backup plan. So without further ado, here are five free agents nobody is talking about that could end up playing a major roll on the Nuggets this year if signed.
I know this probably comes as a surprise to many — and that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. Over the summer we’ve talked ad nauseam about Nene, Afflalo, Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, but how often have we ever mentioned Gary Forbes, the guy who played the best basketball of any Nugget not named Faried? Do you remember that 78-point outburst at the Hartford Pro-Am? What about his tournament-high 39 points at the FIBA Americas Championship? And how could we forget his brave FIBA diary in which he chronicled the corrupt nature of Panama’s government and how it affected his basketball team during the tournament? No matter how you slice it, Gary Forbes has won over our hearts with both his play on the court and commitment to humanity off it, yet somehow these outstanding efforts have gone largely unnoticed. Well, I’m hear to announce that this undercurrent of impressive performances will no longer simmer in silence. From here on out, whenever we talk about which free agents the Nuggets need sign, Gary Forbes will be atop the list. Because not only does he want to be here, but he might very well be one of the most underrated free agent in all of basketball considering the progress he displayed in recent months in a addition to his age and versatility. Right now, I can’t think of a better backup to Afflalo, and more importantly, a better teammate for the entire Denver Nuggets squad.
For quite some time during the Mark Warkentien era, Murphy, along with every other player on the Pacer’s roster, was steadily on the Nuggets’ radar. Rumors of a possible Nuggets-Pacers trade centered around Murphy, and sometimes Jeff Foster, always seemed to be lurking about in one form or another. Eventually Warkentien was fired and Murphy was dealt to several different teams before finally ending up in Boston last year where his role was virtually non-existent. Now an unrestricted free agent, the Nuggets finally have its chance to claim what it had previously desired. Though his numbers last season were underwhelming it’s important to keep in mind that only one year prior to last Murphy was still smack dab in the middle of his prime, averaging 14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Whatever happened to Murphy in 2010 is anyone’s guess, but at only 31 years of age it would be incredibly premature to write him off as ready to retire; in fact, it would appear that he has quite a lot left in the tank when going off age alone. There will likely be other suitors vying for Murphy’s services, but not many need a veteran center as bad as the Nuggets. In the end, an offer somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million over two years is a price I’d be willing to pay for a guy who just two seasons ago was one of the top centers in the NBA.
One of the more unique players in the league, Chuck Hayes is another perfect fit for the Nuggets. After having an inconsistent last four years with the Rockets, Hayes finally found his stride towards the end of the 2010-11 campaign where in the last month of the season he averaged 10 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and nearly two steals per game. Hayes is the epitome of a blue collar, hard-working, undersized big man who thrives in the towering world of the NBA based solely off his determination and hustle, which is exactly the path Kenneth Faried will likely have to walk in order to be successful too. Why not then, bring in Hayes as a mentor and leader for Faried and the rest of this young Nuggets squad for the next several years? After all, Hayes already has experience as a leader, being that he was the captain of the Rockets in 2009-10 alongside Shane Battier. At only 28 and coming off career highs in every major statistical category except field goal percentage, now is the perfect time to capitalize on an undervalued asset in the free agent market. Because Hayes had such a strong finish to the season last year the Nuggets will likely have to pony-up and pay a bit more in order to secure his services, although I’m confident it would be well worth the investment given his position, age and intangibles. Something in the range of $15 million over three seasons would likely do the job.
A long-time member of the division rival, Portland Trailblazers, Joel Przybilla (aka, the Vanilla Gorilla), pestered Nuggets fans for years. His rough, relentless style of play often rubbed opponents the wrong way and earned him the distinction of being seen as one of the best backup centers in all of basketball. Fortunately for the Nuggets, Przybilla was traded out of the division last season to the Charlotte Bobcats where he spiraled into an anonymous abyss largely due to injuries suffered to his right knee. Fortunately for Joel however, the lockout was a blessing in disguise as the extra time away from basketball allowed him to rehabilitate his knee and get healthy for the upcoming season. Recently Przybill was quoted as saying, “I can play. I feel great. This is the best my body has felt in a long, long time.” If this is truly the case, then the Nuggets should thoroughly examine the possibility of extending an offer his way to the tune of $3 million over one year with an option for an addition year should he play well and remain healthy throughout the season. If anyone has a gripe about Przybilla due to age, health or the fact that he was a former division foe, I invite you to revisit the reality that our center position depth currently consists of Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos alone.
If, for some reason or another, the Nuggets aren’t able to re-sign Gary Forbes as the backup shooting guard, Marco Belinelli would be another top candidate for the position. Like both Hayes and Forbes, Belinelli is coming off a career year in which he averaged over 10 points per game for the first time during his tenure in the NBA. Although almost entirely one dimensional, Belinelli would still make for an excellent backup as his only dimension is still a coveted asset every team desperately desires: shooting. Last season with the New Orleans Hornets, Belinelli saw by far the most minutes he’d seen in his young career, and as a result, finished top 20 in the NBA for 3-point field goals made as well as 3-point shooting percentage. Adding this type of deadly outside game on top of what we already have in Afflalo would provide the Nuggets with quite possibly the best long-range attack in the entire league, not to mention, it would quickly ease the pain of losing the Nuggets’ all-time best 3-point shooter, J.R. Smith.