I’ve been doing the Denver Nuggets offseason to-do list for four years now. It’s become a tradition, and it’s a great way to analyze the roster and cap flexibility heading into summer. Every year presents its own unique set of circumstances surrounding the roster, but I do have to say, I can’t remember an offseason being this difficult to forecast. As Joel recently pointed out in his Dearth of financial flexibility post, the Nuggets desperately need to make moves yet have hardly any room to maneuver – like Austin Powers attempting a three-point turn in Dr. Evil’s underground lair. It’s really anyone’s guess as to how Tim Connelly will go about doing his job this summer, and though it seems likely the Nuggets do less as apposed to more, here are some suggestions regarding how the team can position itself to win more games down the road while decreasing its long-term cap strain.
7. Chose between Aaron Brooks and Nate Robinson
In all likelihood Aaron Brooks will walk. The Nuggets already have Ty Lawson, Randy Foye and Nate Robinson (assuming he exercises his player option, which seems like a guarantee at this point) under contract, all of who are either full or part-time point guards. But if you ask me, Brooks is the guy the Nuggets should be targeting as their backup point guard for next year and perhaps subsequent years following. Of all the players mentioned above, Brooks is the only one who brings it consistently on defense and plays like he actually wants to stop the man in front of him. He’s not the most efficient shooter in the world, but he knows how to fill it up, can hit at an efficient clip from downtown and doesn’t hoist up ill-advised jump shots like they’re going out of style — which Nate Robinson seems to love to do. If the Nuggets could somehow move Robinson and re-sign Brooks to a two-year deal worth less than $5 million per year, I’d consider this summer a mild success on that move alone.
6. Let Jan Vesely walk
If the Nuggets had an open roster spot to fill I wouldn’t be opposed to Jan Vesely coming back. He’s still young, plays hard and could improve drastically under Brian Shaw. But the Nuggets don’t have extra roster spots lying around. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. As of now the Nuggets need to clear room on the roster if they plan on doing anything significant this summer. Unfortunately, Vesely is a casualty of the Nuggets recent profligacy under Tim Connelly. He’d be a nice third-string practice forward on a diminutive contract, but given the Nuggets’ current self-inflicted cap stranglehold it’s best he fills that role on another team.
5. Let Quincy Miller walk
What we have to remember about Quincy was that he was a second-round gamble. He’s a guy you take a chance on for a few years and if he doesn’t pan out it’s no big deal because of how little he affects the cap. And though many fans will gripe at his inclusion on this list, the fact is, the Nuggets simply don’t have room on their roster for guys like Miller who’ve been given an opportunity and haven’t impressed. The Nuggets still have three picks in the upcoming draft and team needs heading into free agency and unless they clear up space to sign those players they’ll be up a torrential Rocky Mountain creek without a paddle. Therefore, Quincy finds himself in the same position as Vesely. He showed promise at times, but nowhere near the type of promise that should secure him a roster spot on a team as deep as the Nuggets. It would be somewhat sad seeing him depart, but again, it’s necessary given the Nuggets abundance of bills and roster spots that need to be addressed this offseason.
4. Re-sign Darrell Arthur
Like Robinson, it seems more than likely Darrell Arthur will accept the one-year player option for 2014-15 remaining on his contract. That’s good news for the Nuggets if it comes to fruition. But Denver’s in dire need of defensive stalwarts and being he’s already expressed a desire to remain a Nugget, perhaps Arthur and his agent would be willing to accept a backloaded contract if the Nuggets offer him financial security for a prolonged period of time. This would then shore up one of the Nuggets’ critical needs this offseason (defensive frontcourt help) and ensure the team a solid one-two, inside-out punch of Faried and Arthur for years to come.
3. Trade J.J. Hickson and Anthony Randolph
Anthony Randolph and J.J. Hickson are the Nuggets’ two most unnecessary bodies and contracts on the roster. They combine to eat up $7 million worth of valuable cap space and yet neither is a necessity to the Nuggets’ success. Jettisoning these two this offseason would do wonders for the Nuggets both in terms of financial flexibility and opening up roster spots for draft picks and free agents. Assuming the Nuggets don’t re-sign Vesely or Brooks, and assuming Robinson, Arthur and Miller all return on their contact options, the Nuggets will still only have two open roster spots yet they posses three picks in the upcoming draft as well as the rights to Erick Green (who only signed a one-year deal with Siena in Italy before the start of last season) and Joffrey Lauvergne (who led the Euroleague in rebounds per game last year and looks poised to make the jump across the pond). At some point this summer, something has to give. The Nuggets will have to make moves; roster space must be freed. Moving Hickson and Randolph, even if it’s for pennies on the dollar, is the most logical first step in the process.
2. Obtain defensive-minded rotation players
Truthfully, the Nuggets need this more than anything. Matt made a great point last year during Tim Connolley’s rash of prodigal free-agent signings about needing defensive-minded players in order to run an effective, NBA-caliber defensive scheme, and we saw that prophecy turn to reality this past season. Outside of Danilo Galinari, Timofey Mozgov, Darrell Arthur and perhaps Wilson Chandler, it’s hard to pinpoint a player on Denver’s roster who’s even above average on the defensive side of the ball. And even of the players mentioned above, would we consider any of them “lockdown” defenders? In today’s NBA you need athletic wing defenders who can at least pester superstars on a nightly basis. Without that, you really stand no chance of moving up the echelon out West. If the Nuggets want to make the jump next year from lottery participant to playoff contender they’ll need to stop somebody along the way and the only way to do that is to employ players who can actually stop people.
(Some options to consider: Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, Trevor Ariza, Thabo Sefolosha, Jason Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Francisco Garcia, Shannon Brown, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Metta World Peace, P.J. Tucker, Brandon Rush.)
1. Move up in the draft
I say this every year because it’s a philosophy I truly believe in. If you’re a small to mid-market franchise with state income taxes and a boundless proximity to the beach, building through the draft is the only way to stay competitive. You’re never going to attract venerable free agents come July so the only way to find them on your roster is to draft them in June. In the past, Denver hasn’t quite had the sexy first-round pick required to move up — and perhaps that’s been a good thing considering the lack of studs that have emerged near the top half of the lottery the last few years. But now, for the first time in a decade, Denver has everything they need to acquire a true, future All-Star and potential franchise player. Instead of having a pick in the mid-20s Denver is roughly 10 spots higher, sitting just outside the top 10. Combine that pick with a future first-rounder and a key rotational player (Chandler, McGee or even Faried, if necessary) and Denver should have ample ammunition to move up four to six spots in the lottery.
As I’ve stated before, by my estimation, there are seven to nine players in this draft that have the potential to make multiple All-Star game appearances. These include, but are not limited to: Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh. Obviously some appear much more suited to excel at the NBA level than others, but in general these eight players represent a level of hope the Nuggets haven’t had since Carmelo Anthony was drafted with the No. 3 pick 11 years ago.
If the Nuggets wish to continue their decade-long reign of playoff appearances, and to dispel this past season as an aberration, then trading up in the draft and swinging for the fences to acquire a potential All-Star is a move that absolutely must be made at some point in the near future. Given the Nuggets’ proximity to the eight players mentioned above, in addition to the bevy of player assets they already posses, the near future is looking more and more like Thursday, June 26 — the day of the 2014 NBA Draft.