The Denver Nuggets have an opportunity to add a quality player, or three, in the upcoming NBA Draft, soon after that free agency will kick off so it is important to know how the Nuggets stand heading into both events. Kalen has been doing a fantastic job of covering the draft so I will lay out a picture of the Nuggets financial standing and provide a few insights into the upcoming free agency period.
Denver already has 11 players under contract for the 2012-12 season. From highest salary to lowest they are, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Wilson Chandler, Chris Andersen, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton. They have a bottom dollar team option on Julyan Stone, who would be number 12. They also have two restricted free agents, Rudy Fernandez and of course JaVale McGee. If they keep and use the 20th pick in the draft, that player would be number 15 and Denver will have hit their 15 man roster maximum. Do not forget their unrestricted free agent Andre Miller.
There is no doubt that at least one or two of the names listed above will not be with the Nuggets come the start of next season.
Financially, the Nuggets are in a good position considering they have so many quality players under contract. Every single one of those 15 players listed above is good enough to deserve consistent minutes in the NBA. The 11 players under contract have a combined salary for 2012-13 of $48,693,532. That puts them $9-$10 million under the salary cap. However, the salary cap does not simply consist of the salary of players under contract. There are cap holds for restricted and unrestricted free agents, as well as the 20th pick. Add in the cap holds for Miller, McGee, Fernandez and their first round draft pick and the Nuggets cap number is over $74 million.
Denver does have the ability to create some cap flexibility. First of all, if they renounce their rights to Andre Miller they will shave almost $12 million off the cap number. Karl loves Miller, but it makes little sense for Denver to keep a 36 year-old point guard on the roster. Denver offers Miller neither a starting job, nor a chance to win a title. Despite Karl’s crush on him, the two sides are not a good match and even if Denver pursues him, I doubt Andre chooses to return.
While renouncing Miller outright would seem like a good idea, in and of itself, it does not provide Denver with any usable cap space. It also removes the potential for a sign and trade. With the caliber of teams Miller would be interested in signing with, a sign and trade may be the only way for him to get a market value contract meaning Miller could possibly bring in another asset.
The Nuggets can also cut ties with Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez is popular with many Nuggets fans, however, I believe parting company with Rudy is the correct decision. First of all, he is not very good at what is supposed to be his primary skill, shooting. He has converted less than 33% of his three point attempts over the past two seasons mostly due to his poor base (his feet are too close together) and love of shooting off balance. Fernandez is at his best when he is creating for his teammates. Rudy won a lot of fans over early in his tenure with the Nuggets as he compiled three eight assist games in his first 11 contests. Sadly, he only tallied more than three assists twice the rest of the season though to be fair the rest of his season only consisted of 20 additional games. I would much prefer Rudy’s shots go to a player who is already a better shooter, Jordan Hamilton.
It may seem like a no brainer for Denver to make Fernandez his qualifying offer of $3.2 million to retain his restricted rights, but seeing as how he would have little sign and trade potential and his presence is not beneficial to the Nuggets, they should allow Fernandez to walk. Rumor has it the Hornets have shown interest in Rudy and of course, he may one day follow through on his threat to return to Spain.
Aside from bidding adieu to Miller and Fernandez, Denver has one other option to clear money off their cap, amnesty. There are three amnesty options for the Nuggets, Harrington, Birdman or none of the above.
Harrington was a prime option for amnesty last season; however, Big Al came into camp in shape and ready to play. He proved to be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor and proved to be a warrior gutting out the final few weeks of the season with a torn meniscus. Harrington’s play earned him another season, plus Harrington only has half of his salary guaranteed for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
Birdman is the other amnesty candidate. It was clear that he had fallen out of favor with George Karl, although it was interesting that the time when Birdman ceased seeing the court was roughly the time the investigation into his off the court behavior commenced. Plus the guaranteed portion of his contract is within one million dollars of Harrington’s guaranteed money over the next two seasons. If Bridman is no longer in the team’s plans, amnestying him is a possibility.
The third option is not to amnesty anyone. The amnesty provision was designed primarily to let teams out from under the weight of paying tax on their horrible contracts. A potential side benefit would allow teams to create more cap space in order to go after free agents. The Nuggets are not in danger of paying the tax and the most money they could create under the cap is roughly $9 million. To do so, Denver would have to renounce Miller and Fernandez, amnesty Harrington and waive Julyan Stone.
It may sound appealing for Denver to take those steps to be a player in the free agent market, but consider Denver would still have to pay the guaranteed money due to Harrington, sign McGee to a new contract which will undoubtedly be north of eight figures annually and they would be adding a big money free agent prior to extending Lawson. Under that scenario, Denver would be a tax paying team in 2013-14. That is not going to happen. Basically the chances of the Nuggets jumping through all of those hoops just to sign a subpar free agent resulting in paying the tax two seasons from now is lower than the ratings for the European soccer championships in Compton.
As currently constructed, Denver has fantastic depth, they have enough financial flexibility to retain their key young players for the next few seasons and they have a crafty front office who has shown they are willing to make difficult decisions. Even if the Nuggets decide they need to retain Fernandez, or bring back Miller, they can afford to do so.
The bottom line is, if the Nuggets are going to make any franchise altering moves, it will be via trade, possibly on draft night. Paying through the nose for a free agent this summer does not fit the long term plan, nor does it make sense. Not to mention, Denver already has more players than they can play.
So enjoy draft night Nuggets fans. It will probably provide the most exciting moments of the offseason to come out of Denver, even if all they do is make their three picks.
Player Salaries from Sham Sports