On Saturday the Denver Nuggets chose to waive DeMarre Carroll, according to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post. With next Tuesday’s deadline that demands all NBA contracts become guaranteed and Wilson Chandler still not re-signed, waiving Carroll was the simplest way to ensure a roster spot remains open for Chandler upon his return to the NBA sometime in the near future.
The next month is going to be extremely telling for the identity of the 2011-2012 Denver Nuggets, and in turn, whether Denver chooses to keep Wilson Chandler or explore sign-and-trade options. Of all the future opponents the Nuggets will face throughout the month of February, only two teams are currently more than one game below .500 (with the Timberwolves sitting at 11-12 and on the rise as we speak). Should Denver struggle — which at this point appears likely — there’s a good chance management will be influenced to try and re-sign Chandler in order boost the Nuggets depth and talent level even more. However, there are a few key factors outside of “win total” that Denver will heavily weigh in the decision-making process before reaching a conclusion regarding where to go with Chandler.
First and foremost, the Nuggets need to figure out how open Wilson Chandler is to the idea of playing a backup role behind Danilo Gallinari and more than likely, Arron Afflalo. Even if the Nuggets are able to give Chandler the type of money he desires, and deserves, there’s still a large possibility that starting on an NBA team is just as important to him as receiving the type of contract that truly reflects his talent level.
The second biggest factor in determining where Chandler ends up playing ball for the next handful of years in the NBA is, in all likelihood, Stan Kroenke. Though son and current president of the Nuggets, Josh Kroenke, is undoubtedly calling his fair share of shots these days, in reality it’s Papa Kroenke that has the final say on all financial dealings that occur within the Nuggets organization, including the team payroll. As of right now the Nuggets are sitting roughly $1 million under the salary cap. Should Chandler re-sign with the Nuggets his contract would put the team well over the cap which would force Kroenke to pony up quite a bit of his own cash in order to comply with league regulations of paying one dollar for every dollar your team is over the cap threshold. Even with the Nuggets sitting near the apex of the Western Conference’s elite, you have to wonder how willing Kroenke will be to paying a hefty sum of his own hard-earned cash for a team that struggles to win games resembling those they will surely see come playoff time.
Finally, depth, financial flexibility and playing time moving forward will need to be strongly considered by the Nuggets before committing to Chandler long term. As was written by Charlie several days back, the Nuggets are already facing issues with the copious amount of depth on the roster. Adding yet another wing player who deserves 30 minutes per night will only exacerbate whatever current problems the Nuggets are facing. Though Chandler would without question pose as a significant upgrade to the Nuggets second unit, it’s worth noting that Denver (if it chooses) already has three talented small forwards locked up through at least the 2015-16 season with Corey Brewer also on the books until the end of next year. Between Nene, Gallinari, Afflalo and Harrington alone the Nuggets have roughly $37 million on the books for next year and this isn’t even taking into account Koufos, Andersen, Stone, Faried, Hamilton, Mozgov Brewer and the money the Nuggets will need to pay Ty Lawson in order to retain his services for the foreseeable future. Including Gallinari’s contract, the Nuggets are set to distribute close to $55 million to 12 different players next year, with the cap likely coming down or remaining about the same.
Considering all the factors mentioned above, as much as the Nuggets may want to re-sign Chandler, it’s difficult to see this idea coming to fruition. The Nuggets simply do not have the cap room, roster flexibility nor minutes in the current rotation to add yet another wing scorer to the equation. Though it is possible to re-sign Chandler — by using the amnesty provision on Andersen which would free up much-needed cap room — it must remain absolutely imperative that the Nuggets move beyond loyalty and think ahead for the future, especially in regards to roster construction and possible missing links that will still need to be conjured up in the coming years. In the present scenario, it just doesn’t make sense to hand out yet another bulky contract to a wing man when the Nuggets are already committed to three small forwards for the next four seasons.
Keep in mind that, if for some reason, Chandler truly wants to return to Denver, the Nuggets will not hesitate to make it happen. Masai Ujiri’s track record (including his scheduled meeting with Chandler in China) has proven he’s a “players” general manager who likes to establish friendly relationships with his clientele and, evident by the more recent free agency period, believes in re-signing his own players above all else. Ujiri and Josh Kroenke know Chandler is young, talented and improving and certainly will not see re-signing him as a move in the wrong direction (after all, some assets are better than no assets); however, the best basketball decision — which at this point in the game should reign supreme in the decision-making process — is to move Chandler for draft picks or possibly a big man that could come in to Denver and start immediately.
The Toronto Raptors are reportedly set on making “life hard” for the Nuggets when it comes to re-signing Chandler, according to HoopsWorld.com. In the scenario which Chandler is to re-sign in Denver, the last thing the Nuggets need is another team willing to drive up the asking price for his services. Denver simply cannot afford to overpay Chandler, no way no how. That said, it’s crucial Denver refrains from showing any inkling of reluctance to shell out the pretty penny it might very well take to get Chandler back in a powder blue uniform. This will ensure Toronto doesn’t get the vibe that Denver is desperate to make a deal which should keep most of their top flight assets on the table.
Above all else, Denver must look to “steal” Toronto’s first-round pick in this year’s draft if at all possible. This should be, without question, the centerpiece of the deal from Denver’s perspective. The upcoming 2012 draft is littered with the types of franchise-changing players Denver is in desperate need of and when playing ESPN’s Lottery Mock Draft, the Raptors (as projected by their current record) come out in the top 10 nearly every time, often landing inside the top five. Though the Raptors would likely be reluctant to part with such a potentially impressive asset, the Nuggets could sweeten the deal by offering up their first-rounder along with a second-round pick (Denver has two this year) and additional players from their roster if necessary.
In order to make salaries match the Nuggets will likely have to consider taking on the contracts of either Amir Johnson or Leandro Barbosa (whom the Raptors are reportedly willing to shop), depending on how many other players get included. It would of course help if Toronto would somehow commit to taking on Chris Andersen in the process, as it would rid the Nuggets of perhaps its worst current contract on the books. Unfortunately, to make this happen Johnson’s lengthy contract would also have to be absorbed by Denver which would essentially negate that move all together, however its important to keep in mind how much younger (24 as apposed to 33) offensively talented and capable of playing heavy minutes Johnson is compared to the Birdman at this point. Ideally, if Toronto would accept Chandler and a first and second-round pick from Denver in exchange for Barbosa and their unprotected first-round pick in this year’s draft, the Nuggets will have had it made. If Toronto demands more Denver can always consider throwing in Jordan Hamilton or another future first-round pick being that the Nuggets aren’t in debt in this aspect of the franchise.
Though it does indeed seem illogical for Toronto to give up their lottery pick in what’s perceived as the best draft since 2003, keep in mind just how desperate the Raptors are for a small forward and how willing general managers are to obtain the assets they covet most. Last year for example, the Clippers traded away what turned out to be the No. 1 pick in the draft just so they could banish Baron Davis’ undesirable contract, which in the end could have simply been amnestied at no charge (other than paying his salary) had they waiting nine more months for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to kick in. Bottom line: Never underestimate the cost a team is willing to pay in order to obtain whatever it desires most.
In case you haven’t heard, Kenyon Martin agreed to terms with the Clippers for a few million dollars recently.
ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh breaks down a lot of the things we discuss on a daily basis here at Roundball Mining Company (INsider).
John Schuhmann of NBA.com has a great piece with all sorts of video analysis on the potency of Denver’s offensive attack.