It was more or less a foregone conclusion that JaVale McGee would become a restricted free agent, but Masai Ujiri’s penchant for secrecy couldn’t help but get a few fans worried when free agency opened without any official confirmation on McGee’s qualifying offer one way or the other. In a series of tweets on Sunday morning, Ken Berger of CBS Sports broke the silence and confirmed that the Nuggets have in fact gone through the obvious formality of extending the qualifying offer to McGee, making him a restricted free agent and allowing the Nuggets to match any offer he could receive from another team.
Berger went on to reveal that Rudy Fernandez did not receive a qualifying offer, essentially ending whatever slim hope there was of Rudy returning to the Nuggets or eventually being signed and traded to another team. Rudy will now be unrestricted and free to sign with any NBA team, but he’s currently rehabbing in Spain with an eye on playing in the London Olympics. From what I’ve been told about Rudy’s contract with Real Madrid during last year’s lockout, a deal is already in place for him to return to the Spanish team for multiple seasons after he has fulfilled his NBA contract. Considering Madrid just lost up-and-comer Kyle Singler to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, I think it’s a safe bet they go hard after Rudy and even if they don’t, holding onto Rudy’s rights isn’t likely to pay off for the Nuggets anyway. I’m pretty certain this is farewell for Rudy and the Nuggets, and quite possibly the NBA as well.
Woj followed up with the latest bit of interesting free agency news today, revealing that Masai Ujiri will meet with JaVale McGee on Monday to talk extension. I expect there to be a pretty competitive market for JaVale’s services, but the Nuggets do have the leverage of restricted free agency and Berger mentioned that JaVale has yet to receive an offer from another team.
As of now, that’s all to report on where the Nuggets currently stand in free agency. JaVale is obviously the top priority with unrestricted free agent Andre Miller not far behind. Jeremy already did a great job previewing free agency last week, and while I do not mean to rehash his entire post, I’ll bring up a lot of the same points to preview how I think free agency is likely to play out for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets are in good shape financially, sitting around $10 million under the cap although all of the usable cap space is tied up in holds for Andre Miller, JaVale McGee and Rudy Fernandez (Denver still holds his bird rights despite the fact they’ve let Rudy become unrestricted). Even if they decide they have no plans Rudy and renounce his rights, the Nuggets can’t offer a free agent substantial money without doing the same for McGee and Miller, which has no chance of happening.
The Nuggets do have their midlevel exception available for up to $5 million, which could be used to offer middle and lower tier free agents. As I predicted in our Draft Roundtable a couple of days ago, I think the Nuggets may decide to use a small portion of this to give Quincy Miller a longer term contract that the minimum one mandated for second round picks. If the Nuggets are not able to retain Andre Miller, I think the Nuggets “plan B” will be using part of the midlevel on a backup guard for somewhere between $2 and $4 million a year.
I agree with Jeremy in that it’s much more likely the Nuggets address their needs via a trade than through free agency. Even though Denver has managed the cap wisely and could have money to spend, the Nuggets have only two roster spots and extremely limited playing time available. In my opinion, Masai Ujiri has been making cap-saving moves with an eye towards maintaining the flexibility necessary to keep JaVale and Ty Lawson, who is entering the last year of his rookie deal. A great example of this was wiping out the cap hold for a first round pick by selecting Evan Fournier and stashing him overseas for a year or two. If the Nuggets need to stretch their pocketbook a bit to lock up JaVale and Ty this year, they’ve maximized their flexibility to do so.
Targets – JaVale and Andre
I literally can’t think of any free agents who make sense beyond these two. JaVale is obviously the number one priority, a player who showed star potential in the playoffs against one of the best front lines in the NBA. He came off the bench and lacked consistency throughout his short stint in Denver, but his production was solid across the board and there’s little reason to believe he won’t continue to improve and produce in the Nuggets system, where JaVale showed he could be a very good fit.
The market for JaVale is extremely difficult to predict. For instance, defensive specialist Omer Asik is reprotedly set to make somewhere around $8 million a year, while well-rounded All-Star Roy Hibbert will likely get the max, which starts around $14 million. An extremely rudimentary guess would put a fair contract for JaVale around $12 million, who isn’t the proven All-Star Hibbert is but has the same game changing potential — a quality you just won’t find even in a solid big man like Asik.
As far as Andre Miller goes, Jeremy doesn’t believe he’s a good fit and is very skeptical the Nuggets keep him around. While I agree on the part about fit, I find it hard to believe the Nuggets don’t find a way to bring him back. I seriously doubt George Karl will allow it, and Andre is in a good position to get market value from the Nuggets. Backup point guard is a huge area of need and once again, I’m struggling to come up with sensible options that fit into the Karl culture. Andre doesn’t fit with the long-term goal of building a young championship core and doesn’t provide a big enough short-term boost to make the Nuggets contenders now. Still, the Nuggets will rationalize signing him with the Karl factor and the fact he could help the development of Faried and McGee.
I would hate to be Masai Ujiri faced with the prospect of matching a max offer for JaVale McGee. Most fans and pundits would skewer him for maxing out such a controversial player, but I fail to see how he has any choice. The Nuggets can’t realistically compete without signing him and do not have a clear path to rebuild without him. Ideally, Masai avoids the nightmare scenario of maxing out a player who clearly hasn’t proven he’s worth it, but I think the Nuggets match anything while hoping he develops and remains tradeable thanks to his age, potential, and injury-free history. Still, I can’t deny this scenario scares me to no end. At the very least, the maximum deal JaVale can get from another team is for four years. The lockout was a terrible mess, but the one thing it did accomplish was making it impossible for another seven year max contract to cripple a franchise a la Kenyon Martin.