For the second year in a row Roundball Mining Company has organized a list of the Nuggets top offseason priorities. Ranked from most to least urgent, these are the adjustments the Nuggets should strongly consider in order to further improve its record in 2012-13 and beyond.
Though many pundits and columnists may argue this is the most important offseason the Nuggets have faced in quite some time, that’s hardly the case. Compared to the summer of 2011, this offseason is a cakewalk.
As of now, including Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets have two-thirds of its young core locked up for at least four years. Securing the remaining two pieces is undoubtedly going to be huge, but given Masai Ujiri’s track record of cajoling free agents into re-signing with the team, fans really have nothing to worry about. Outside of these contract negotiations, the Nuggets have no pressing issues in which the team’s fate hinges upon. As is the case with each offseason, upgrades and roster tweaks will certainly need to be addressed but unlike in 2011, franchise stability has already been achieved in many ways thanks to management’s dealings over the last year and a half.
So without further ado, Roundball Mining Company gives you the Denver Nuggets offseason to-do list:
1. Re-sign JaVale McGee
No matter how you slice it, this is the single most important move to be made for the Nuggets this summer. McGee is slated to become a restricted free agent with the possibility of leaving after only several months of service with the team, however the chances of this happening are slim for several reasons.
First, because McGee is restricted, the Nuggets have the option to match any offer he receives on the open market — which they will. Let’s get one thing straight here: Masai Ujiri is a savvy son of a gun and the last thing he’s going to do is watch a 7-foot freak of nature — who showed tremendous improvement since coming to the Nuggets — walk freely, essentially completing what would then be nothing more than a salary dump.
If the Nuggets wanted to dump Nene for nothing (which is bogus in the first place), they wouldn’t have traded for a young center on the last year of his rookie contract. Period.
Second, as has already been mentioned above, McGee has grown more than anybody ever would have imagined in a very limited amount of time. He’s shown maturity, professionalism and above all else, he completes the puzzle for the Nuggets starting five. He’s the missing piece the team has been in search of for years.
Financially is where it gets a bit more complicated…
The Nuggets would obviously appreciate if McGee solely dealt with them and signed for a reasonable price. If this scenario comes to fruition then Governor Hickenlooper should just go ahead and resign in light of the fact that everyone knows it’s Masai Ujiri who runs Denver. Unfortunately, this likely won’t be the case.
In the NBA there are only a few different times when you can cash in as a player — coming off your rookie deal is one of them. McGee knows this, as does his agent. While he may genuinely want to re-sign in Denver, McGee isn’t going to settle for a discounted rate, because let’s be honest: There’s no way he likes Denver that much. That’s just the nature of the NBA. But if Ujiri can meet McGee and his team half way (OK, maybe more like 95 percent of the way), there’s a good chance he’ll agree to a deal that will keep him in a Nuggets uniform for years to come.
It’s not going to be cheap. Nuggets fans should expect to pay no less than $9 million per year. But in the end, being able to call one of the league’s best young centers yours, is something few teams can boast about. Barring some desperate franchise signing McGee to the max, it’s extremely difficult to see the Nuggets failing to retain his services.
2. Trade or amnesty Chis Andersen
In order to sign McGee, or any other free agent this summer, the Nuggets are going to need to be as frugal with their money as possible. Potentially bad contracts must be avoided at all costs and any existing ones must be jettisoned. At the moment the Nuggets have only one bad contract, and that belongs to Chris “Birdman” Andersen.
In reality Birdman has been on the decline for a while. Between age, injuries and a disregard for the fundamentals of the game, Birdman’s role has been in jeopardy since at least last year, but because the Nuggets were always thin on big bodies, he managed to retain his duties. Now that the Nuggets have four younger, more athletic bigs on the roster, Birdman has become expendable.
Nobody really knows what created the chasm between Karl and Birdman at season’s midpoint; all we know is that he didn’t see a minute of action past March 23. Even in blowouts when everyone who suited up saw some playing time, Birdman remained glued to the end of the bench. Add this to his recent involvement in an Internet Crimes Against Children investigation and it’s plain to see: The Birdman’s flight-time in Denver is officially coming to an end.
With two more years left on his contract at roughly $4.5 million a piece and the fact that his track record continues to compile glaring blemishes, Andersen is going to be a tough sell.
At 33, he still has something left in the tank. The real question is whether anybody is going to be willing to take a chance on him. If the Nuggets could manage to pry a second-round draft pick from a team in exchange for “The Bird,” that’s much better than exercising its amnesty clause as they’ll at least get something in return and at the same time avoid having to pay him the remaining $9 million left on his deal. However, unless the Nuggets package a few picks of their own or another player in the deal, there’s a good chance you’ll see the team use its one and only amnesty provision on the Birdman sometime this summer.
3. Move up in the 2012 NBA Draft
At No. 3 on our list, this may surprise some and rightfully so. But remember, with no pressing needs outside of re-signing McGee and expelling Andersen the Nuggets have the luxury of playing a round or two this summer with house money, which in this case happens to be a historic NBA Draft class.
Here’s the thing about this draft: There are no LeBrons or Wades in the top three picks like in 2003. That draft class was historic for the amount of “superstars” and franchise changers at the top of the lottery. Instead, this draft has an abundance of depth. Guys who will be going anywhere from nine to 25 this year could have gone in the top five, or even three, last year. While picking at 20 is nice — and the Nuggets will likely get a steal no matter what — there’s also no reason why the team should be dead set on staying there. Again, thanks to Ujiri’s brilliance the Nuggets are in a position where going out and spending a little extra for an upgrade won’t break the bank. Even if it’s just moving up three to five spots by packaging No. 20, Mozgov and the 50th pick, that’s perfectly within the Nuggets limits of maneuvering without giving up any valuable assets.
Which sort of brings me to my next point…
4. Consider moving Wilson Chandler
This move has been tossed around for a while and is one I’ve been particularly ardent about since last summer when I first proposed trading Chandler for a first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Even after a year has passed, not only does my position remain the same, but it’s been corroborated by transactions the Nuggets have made over that period of time.
In addition to Harrington and Gallinari — who already take up all of the small forward minutes on the roster anyways — the Nuggets also have Brewer, who’s proven to be a valuable contributor, and Jordan Hamilton, who will almost certainly play his way into a scoring role off the bench next season.
That’s four quality small forwards fully deserving of playing time!
So of all these players, why trade Chandler? Simple; because he’s by far the most valuable and at the same time, most tradeable asset of them all. The Nuggets can get the most from him while simultaneously remaining just as competitive as they have been with him on the roster this entire time! While Chandler would be a nice option off the bench, there’s already no room for his would-be minutes and Jordan Hamilton will likely be able to fill his shoes at only a fraction of the cost anyways.
Again, if the Nuggets wish to re-sign McGee, or anybody else, something has to give. Roster duplicates cannot be allowed. Paying Chandler north of $7 million to come off the bench and do what Corey Brewer or Jordan Hamilton could for only a few million, just doesn’t make sense financially.
As for what the Nuggets could get in exchange for Chandler, there’s always the Draft, which we’ll explore more in-depth in the coming weeks.
5. Don’t re-sign Andre Miller
I feel somewhat bad placing not re-signing someone on a the team’s list of priorities, as it seems to imply that player is somewhat of a cancer, which is hardly the case with Miller; however, lets not forget that for a decent part of the season Miller wasn’t the same player he was in the Playoffs. On countless occasions we were forced to downgrade him drastically for his nonexistent effort on defense and selfish mentality on offense. While we all praised him for his playoff performance, seven games out of a 66-game season shouldn’t earn you a new contract.
More than anything, re-signing Miller is — once again — a financial burden the Nuggets must avoid. As he showed against the Lakers, he still has a lot of basketball left to be played. He’s a non-injury risk and someone who could greatly assist (pun intended) a title contender in its quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. For these reasons, it would just simply be better for Miller and the Nuggets to part ways. He deserves more than the $3-4 million the Nuggets will likely try to re-sign him at; and after all he’s been through in his NBA career, he deserves a chance to prove he has what it takes to win a title.
Furthermore, Ty Lawson is young and fully capable of playing 35 minutes per game. Right now, backup point guard simply isn’t a position the Nuggets are in desperate need of. With a player option to keep Julyan Stone around for one more year, why not see what the kid’s made of? He’s looked very promising in limited minutes and was clearly head-and-shoulders above the competition he faced in the D-League. Add this to his incredible size, length, court vision, defense and contrast to the diminutive Ty Lawson and he seems like a perfect fit for the backup point guard role, especially given Karl’s penchant for small ball.
6. Re-sign Ty Lawson
This could really be anywhere from No. 2, to not even on this list at all. The reason it’s at No. 6? While important, re-signing Lawson this summer isn’t mandatory.
With an entire year to negotiate, the Nuggets have time, which they’ll use to clear up more cap space to in turn re-sign Lawson. By next year the Nuggets could potentially have cleared more than $20 million between Anderson, Chandler and Harrington’s contacts on top of what deals are already set to expire. Because luxury tax penalties are increasingly more costly, the Nuggets will need as much cap room as possible before seriously considering dishing out yet another hefty contract to a franchise cornerstone. Additionally, because Lawson is a restricted free agent, the Nuggets have the added security and assurance that no matter what offer is thrown his way, they’ll be able to retain him.
7. Find a defensive-minded assistant
What happened to the Nuggets defense this past year is anyone’s guess. Though the team has never been a defensive juggernaut, they way they surrendered points in 2011-12 was flat-out embarrassing.
This falls solely on the shoulders of George Karl. It’s his job to organize an effective defensive scheme and get his players to buy in. If for some reason he’s unable to cure the team’s defensive woes from last season, it would be incredibly wise of someone in the organization to step up and organize a search for a defensive-minded assistant who’s sole responsibility is defense, and nothing but defense. This person doesn’t even have to be a premier assistant — one that’s considered on the verge of finding a head coaching position — he (or she for all I care!) just needs to be someone who loves and consistently pounds the concept of defense into the heads of their players on a daily basis since clearly this is a concept Karl seems to have forgotten.
8. Sign-and-trade Rudy Fernandez
Much like Wilson Chandler, Rudy Fernandez is a solid young player entering the prime of his career. Though he never quite made the impact many thought he would prior to joining the Nuggets before the start of the 2011-12 season (largely due to injury), Fernandez still carries a decent amount of value on the open market. Given his restricted status the Nuggets could, and should, parlay his first big payday into another asset in return. Even it it’s nothing more than a late draft pick or exchange for a risky, yet promising young player, it’s always wise to capitalize on the restricted clause of a player’s contract when presented with the opportunity.
If, however, the Nuggets could persuade Fernandez into signing at a discounted price — which they might be able to do considering his recent injury history and lack of production — then holding onto him for at least another year might be a good call as he is, after all, a fairly talented shooting guard.