For the third year in a row Roundball Mining Company has arranged an off-season priority list for the Denver Nuggets. The following items are arranged from least to most important. They are moves which the Nuggets would greatly benefit from, yet none are mandatory. After winning 2012-13 NBA Executive of the Year, it’s safe to assume Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri will do everything in his power to improve the Nuggets once again — that is, as long as he’s still around.
9. Re-sign Julyan Stone
Stone has been a member of the Nuggets for two years now, yet he’s more known for his injuries than his play on the floor. Since joining the Nuggets back in 2011 Stone has played in 27 games, only four of which came this season. Still, he’s renowned for his hustle, defensive intensity and court vision, all of which leave Nuggets fans salivating for more. Stone hasn’t had a fair shot at playing in a Nuggets uniform so there’s no way of telling just how good he can be. The Nuggets need defenders, especially at the point guard position, so it would seem quite futile to let him walk for nothing after already investing two years of money into him. At the very least the Nuggets should try and re-sign him to a one-year contract and free up some playing time to see what he’s made of.
8. Let Corey Brewer walk
This one is tough. And I hate saying this. HATE. Hatehatehatehate. Brewer should be a Nugget for a while. He fits the system perfectly, plays phenomenal defense, gives 110 percent almost every night and improved more in two years in Denver than he did his entire career elsewhere. If the Nuggets are able to make a trade and free up a few rosters spots then re-signing Brewer should be a top priority. But if not, it’s likely in the Nuggets best interest to let him walk. Unfortunately the Nuggets are just too stacked at the wing position right now. Guys like Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller — who could be studs for all we know — need the opportunity to grow and they’re not gonna find it with Brewer on the roster. Ideally, the Nuggets find a way to move several pieces, re-sign Brewer at a cheap rate and let all the wings duke it out at training camp in hopes that the best man wins.
7. Let Timofey Mozgov walk
Ujiri has gone on record as saying he wants to try and retain Mozgov or at least match whatever he fetches on the open market, but that seems more of a polite gesture than a beneficial basketball move. Mozgov isn’t a high commodity in the NBA and Ujiri has already placed him on the trading block once, making it all the more illogical for him to go out of his way to try and match an incredibly modest offer he’ll likely receive elsewhere. Even if Ujiri does intend to match it’s hard to imagine him getting anything of substance from his potential suitor other than a few bucks cash or a late pick in a very, very distant draft.
6. Find a defensive specialist taller than 6-10
The Nuggets have quite a few players who specialize in defense: Iguodala, Brewer, Chandler, Stone — even Gallinari is underrated in this sense. But once you get past Gallinari, the Nuggets have nobody who can lock people down at the power forward and center positions. Koufos did a fine job all year doing what he was told to do and playing fundamental defense; but if you think Koufos is the answer to the Nuggets’ defensive woes up front, then you either didn’t watch the playoffs or you’re the biggest Kosta Koufos fan ever. If we learned anything in the playoffs it’s that the Nuggets frontcourt — either due to a lack of athleticism, brainpower or a combination of the two — simply cannot defend against intricate offensive onslaughts from their opponent. Finding a big man who can be relied upon in big games to set rock-hard picks, hedge like a mad man and not fall for every pump fake sent his way is one of the more underrated moves being talked about in Nuggets Nation right now. Of course, a really good defensive-minded coach could always fix this issue as well…
5. Trade depth for star power
Ever since the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks for every last significant asset on their roster, Denver has been overwrought with fringe All-Stars and really talented role players. At some point the Nuggets have to find a way to parlay that talent into a single star player — sort of repeating the circle set forth by Carmelo Anthony. Players like Pau Gasol and Kevin Love pique Nuggets fans’ interest most, but even a minor upgrade at a certain position would do. Because the Nuggets absolutely have to open up some roster space this summer so guys like Fournier, Hamilton and Miller can get a shot at competing for playing time. That’s three incredibly talented youngsters who have yet to get a real crack at playing significant minutes and that’s not even including the Nuggets rookie this year who could be better than all three! If the Nuggets can’t make a move for a star they’re likely going to see a trend where several of the team’s younger and more promising assets walk for nothing without having had a chance to compete in city where they were drafted.
4. Sign a shooter
It’s been clear for quite some time that the Nuggets need a legitimate outside threat, someone who specializes in 3-pointers and does nothing else at a more high rate. Last year the Nuggets had two of the better outside shooters in the league in Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, but when Ujiri sent them to Orlando last summer for Iguodala the Nuggets took a hit to their outside shooting that they have yet to recover from. Jordan Hamilton is likely the Nuggets best shooter from downtown yet there’s no telling just how deep he is in Karl’s doghouse. With guys like Chase Budinger, Mike Dunleavy Jr., James Jones, J.J. Redick, Gary Neal, Jodie Meeks, Marco Belinelli, O.J. Mayo, Kyle Korver, Ben Gordon and Mo Williams on the open market, it’s hard to imagine the Nuggets not finding a deadly outside shooter this summer. If Ujiri is really savvy (which, by all indications, he clearly is) he’ll find a way to free up enough cap space and roster room to not only sign one of the better 3-point shooters in this class, but essentially assure him a spot in the rotation next year as well.
3. Get rid of Andre Miller
You see how I say “get rid of” instead of “trade”? That’s because finding a way to jettison Andre Miller is so critical, simply trading him won’t cut it. The Nuggets need to do whatever they can to sever ties with him — end of story. What’s really sad is that this is the second year in a row Miller has made this list (top five both years!) for the exact same reason. It’s also sad to consider that if not for two of the Nuggets most valuable assets being free agents this summer (Ujiri and Iguodala), finding a way to dump Andre Miller would be the No. 1 priority on this list. That’s how bad it’s gotten. And you can say what you want about Karl’s ability to grind out wins in the regular season but his eye for talent and blind loyalty to players he considers his friends is just flat-out ghastly. If Miller isn’t let go, Karl will likely over rely on him yet again next year when he’s one year older, one year slower and one more year closer to being completely incapable of playing anything that even remotely resembles defense in the NBA. The only thing Andre Miller is good for at this point in time is offense, and that’s the last thing the Nuggets need. In addition to Stone, there are also several point guards in the upcoming draft worth considering, as well as free agents who actually fit the Nuggets run-and-gun system rather than walk the ball up the court while the rest of the team runs their asses off.
2. Re-sign Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has a player option on his current contract for one year at a little over $16 million. In an ideal, Nuggets-centric world, Iguodala would re-sign longterm for about half that per season. The problem? Iguodala can probably get more on the open market. He could also probably take his $16 million player option for next year and still find a contract at more than what the Nuggets would feel comfortable paying him. Like it or not, Iguodala is a unique player in today’s NBA. He’s unselfish to a fault, is perhaps the most intelligent and willing defender in the league and has no real glaring weakness in his game (though his jump shot could use some improvement). Guys like him don’t just fall of trees. The Nuggets know this and so does everyone else in the league. If Iguodala likes Denver and wants to be there then the Nuggets are in good shape, but Ujiri still needs to find a way for Iguodala to take a massive pay cut either way. However, if Iguodala is truly set on testing the waters like he says he is, the Nuggets could very well find themselves in a tough spot as the team already has over $50 million locked up for next season. Ujiri has done an outstanding job retaining free agents in the past, but this is without question his biggest challenge to date. If Iguodala walks, the Nuggets essentially traded a first-round draft pick and Arron Afflalo for nothing.
1. Re-sign Masai Ujiri
All the above moves would be great and all, but without Ujiri their chances of being complete diminishes greatly. There is no other way to put it: Masai Ujiri is the single most important asset the Denver Nuggets have at the moment. In fact, he’s one of the single most important assets the Nuggets have ever possessed in team history! Two other times has a Nuggets general manager won Executive of the Year yet neither possessed the type of innate, visionary talent that Ujiri has. He’s been on the job for only three years yet he’s already overcome the biggest hurdle a franchise can face (Melo) and been deemed the best general manager in the league shortly thereafter. I’ve always thought the true sign of a good general manager was how well they draft and in this case Ujiri is better than anybody in the league — bar none. Even other great general managers like Sam Presti in Oklahoma City or R.C. Buford in San Antonio have made pretty unforgivable mistakes in the draft recently, whereas Ujiri’s hit on every pick he’s been presented (Turkyilmaz: TBD). For once the Nuggets appear to be in position to be really good for a really long time, but unless they sign Ujiri, their hopes of winning a championship just aren’t very realistic.
Follow me on Twitter