Denver Nuggets Summer League Observations After Two Games

The Denver Nuggets summer league team has played in two games and by the time most of you read this that number will be up to three. Even so I want to post some summer league thoughts before I get too far behind. I have been impressed with a few of the players on the team. You can see the up to date stats here.

Ty Lawson – Lawson has not posted overly impressive numbers, but I think he has played very well. He is has been the quickest player on the floor both games and has shown his ability to get into the lane at will. When he penetrates and looks to pass he always makes the right decision and has a unique ability to fit the ball wherever he needs to. So far he has taken very few jumpers so it is difficult to tell how he has adjusted to the NBA three point line, we cannot base anything off his 0-2 performance from behind the arc at this point. He does have a sense for when his team needs a basket, such as early in game one against the Spurs when they only had two points a few minutes into the game. In those situations he has attacked the lane and earned free throws. He has struggled to score and is shooting a microscopic 6.7% from the floor. His primary issue in that area is learning to get his shot off in the lane. It would not surprise me if at least half of his 14 misses have been blocked at the rim. Most importantly his on the ball defense has been very good. Against the Spurs he was matched up against second year point guard George Hill who had a nice rookie season for San Antonio and Hill could not get around him without the help of a screen.

Sonny Weems – Based on the stats it looks like Weems is playing horribly, but he has shown flashes of very goodness. He is doing a great job of rebounding, averaging eight defensive rebounds a game, and pushing the ball back up the floor. In fact, he is doing a little too good of a job as he has pushed the bounds of being out of control. The result has been 4.5 turnovers a game. His athleticism and speed is off the charts and he is absolutely capable of getting his own shot. He has the ability to create space whether it is through contact or his footwork. So far his shot has not been falling, however, it is clear that the Nuggets want to see if he can carry the scoring load. If he proves he can it will make it easier for George Karl to start J.R. Smith knowing he has Weems ability to score available off the bench. Weems really reminds me a lot of a young(er) J.R. He is the best athlete on the floor and it is clear he can make exceptional plays. He does not have the passing ability of J.R., especially on the pick and roll, but he can use his talents to get his teammates easy shots. He also reminds me of J.R. on the defensive end. When he focuses on defense he shows an ability to be disruptive he just lacks consistency.

Coby Karl – If there is a player other than Lawson or Weems who is on an NBA roster in November my money is on Karl. It is easy to look at how hard Karl plays and how intense he is and not notice how skilled he is. He is great with the ball in his hands. He takes care of it, is a very good passer and he can really shoot. It may look bad if Karl gets a shot with the Nuggets, I even made a joke about his presence on the Nuggets summer league team, but he is definitely an NBA caliber player and deserves a spot in the league. It may look bad if he earns that spot in Denver, but you cannot let a good player get away just because of appearances.

Ronald Dupree – I mentioned that Dupree was the most likely player on the roster to be the Dahntay Jones of 2009. He is certainly doing his best. He is playing hard on defense and has been determined to shoot from as close to the rim as possible on offense. He is clearly a limited offensive player, but he has the athleticism and build to be a very good defensive player. I do not think he is going to pull off the same trick Jones did last season, but he is certainly giving it his all.

C.J. Giles – The Nuggets are seemingly always in the market for a big to round out the roster. I was surprised in the past that they did not hang on to a guy like Jelani McCoy. This year it looks like Giles is the big man who will catch my eye only to drift off into the night. He plays with a lot of energy and has done a great job defending the rim. As with Dupree he is not an offensive player, however, his defense is enough to get him noticed. Plus he looks like he has good hands and I like bigs who can block shots, bring energy and catch the ball when it is coming at them.

Richard Hendrix – I really like Hendrix’s ability to score in the paint. He is crafty around the rim and despite being a little undersized he almost always gets a good shot off. I do not think he is going to be in the NBA next season, but he is a very nice player.

Bret Bearup was interviewed during the Nuggets contest with the Wizards and he did not provide much insight to any moves the Nuggets might be working on, but he did say that they want to avoid paying the luxury tax. He also acknowledged that such a feat is probably impossible this season.

Staying with financial I mentioned that it would be interesting to see which trade exception the Nuggets would use to acquire Arron Afflalo. Reader Frontrange pointed out that according to the ESPN Trade Machine the Nuggets used a portion of the Chucky Atkins trade exception on Afflalo and Walter Sharpe, which means they are preserving the exception that was originally created in the Camby trade. I find that intriguing even though it is probably unlikely that they use a big chunk of it before it expires in early November.

There has also been some coaching news over the past couple of days. Chris Tomasson, who is writing for the Rocky Mountain Independent (make sure you check out his Nuggets coverage there) reported first that Jeff Bzdelik was interviewed for the opening in Minnesota. Bzdelik is a perfect coach for a young squad like Minnesota as he will make sure they play hard, play defense and fight from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Mac Stein is reporting the Los Angeles Clippers are trying to pry Tim Grgurich from Denver. I have a difficult time seeing him leave an organization like the Nuggets for one like the Clippers. Hopefully he will remain in Denver to continue to develop the many young players on the roster.

The Denver Nuggets Trade for Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe

The Denver Nuggets front office has pulled off another spectacular trade as they have acquired Arron Afflalo and Walter Sharpe for a second round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That pick is slated to be the lower of the two second rounders the Nuggets currently own in 2011, their own and Portland’s. Unless both of those teams fall apart over the next two seasons that pick should be in the fifties.

When news broke that this trade was a possibility I figured Denver would have to give up the Clippers second round pick they own an option on in the 2010 draft. The fact they took on not only Afflalo’s salary, but Walter Sharpe’s salary too it lowered the price to what will likely be one of the final picks in the 2011 draft plus Detroit threw in $350,000 in cash. Denver was able to land a replacement for Dahntay Jones and a cheap end of the bench prospect in Sharpe for virtually nothing.

Over the previous three summers the Nuggets have acquired J.R. Smith, Renaldo Balkman and now Afflalo and Sharpe for nothing but second round picks, nonguaranteed contracts and/or trade exceptions. Obviously the Smith trade with Chicago was one of the best trades in recent NBA history. Balkman is a very intriguing player who will possibly fill a greater role in 2009-10 and now Afflalo is another rotation player that Denver has brought in at little to no cost. As much attention as the Chauncey Billups trade received it is smaller deals like these that can round out the roster of a contending team.

Afflalo is not a supremely talented player, but he is very solid. He is a very good defender and in his two seasons with the Pistons has adapted to the NBA three point line very well. His rookie season Afflalo only made 20.8% of his 48 attempts. Last season he more than doubled his three point attempts to 107 and despite taking more shots he nearly doubled his percentage as well to an impressive 40.2%.

The difference between the two seasons was Afflalo’s ability to hit the three from the left corner. In his rookie season of 2007-08 Afflalo was 0-9. In 2008-09 he shot 24-44 which equates to 54.5% (you will have to pick the criteria yourself to see his percentages as the URL does not update when you make your selection). Strangely, he only shot 9-31, 29.0%, from the right corner. The two shots are not exact duplicates of each other, but they are close and over time I suspect his percentage from the left corner will drop a bit while his percentage from the right corner will rise. Nevertheless, it is significant that he was able to show such strong improvement between his first and second seasons. If he can continue to improve, he will be a very good offensive weapon.

As we all know there is much more to offense than just shooting open jumpers. So far Afflalo has not shown much more than an ability to catch and shoot. He has not posted very good assist numbers, but I believe that is more due to his role as a catch and shoot player than an inability to pass. He does not have blazing speed, but is a decent drive a kick player. He can dribble with either hand and I believe can answer the call if asked to fill a more significant role on offense. The good news is with players like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Billups and Nene, Denver does not need Afflalo to come in and light up the scoreboard.

Defensively Afflalo is not great, but can certainly fill the role of the defensive oriented shooting guard. In Detroit he guarded point guards, shooting guards and even small forwards from time to time. He works hard and is very focused. He fights over screens well and has shown the ability to chase players around screens. The one thing he needs to work on is his strength at the point of contact as he tends to give up too much space when the offensive player bumps him to get a shot off.

Afflalo will never be a star, but he is the kind of highly competent player that championship teams need. He may never drive Chris Paul as nuts as Dahntay Jones did, but he has the ability to be just as good a defender game after game while providing much more punch on the offensive end.

There has been some great discussion the past couple days as to whether or not J.R. Smith or Afflalo should start. The good news is we do not need to have an answer for that question yet. While there is no doubt the Nuggets were much worse with Jones on the floor than J.R., I do not think that is a fair argument for keeping Afflalo out of the starting lineup. Afflalo is a much better all around player than Jones and I do not think he would be as much of a drop off from J.R. as Jones was. Personally I would start J.R., but it would not surprise me, especially if Denver loses Linas Kleiza, if Karl decides he needs Smith’s offense off the bench and Afflalo takes the court to start each half.

One interesting tidbit that was pointed out by reader Ky Davis is according to John Hollinger the player Afflalo is most like is none other than former Nugget stalwart Bryant Stith.  I think most Nugget fans would gladly take a player of that caliber.

The one man who may be in trouble with the addition of Afflalo is Anthony Carter. Afflalo can provide that end of game defense that Karl craves, but until the Nuggets know they can count on Ty Lawson, Carter will probably still be in their plans.

In the next day or two look for some video of Afflalo to give you all a better idea of what he is capable of. Plus Afflalo is not the only player involved in the trade. Look for a post on Walter Sharpe, with rarely seen footage from the 2008 summer league, in the near future as well.

By the way thanks to those of you who emailed me news of the trade while I was fighting off rain and near hurricane force winds at Water World with my family.

More Buzz on Arron Afflalo

The Denver Post is reporting that the Denver Nuggets are indeed discussing the possibility of acquiring Arron Afflalo from the Detroit Pistons.  Chris Dempsey writes that Afflalo is “limited a bit defensively,” but I disagree.  I do not watch a lot of Pistons games, but my eyes tell me Afflalo can D it up pretty well at shooting guard and I am not the only one who thinks so.  Here is the first line from his DraftExpress profile:

Arron Afflalo is first and foremost a tough competitor. He prides himself in many different areas of his game, most notably his defense, and always wills himself to improve.

The more I think about it the more I suspect the Nuggets can get him for a second round pick.  They will have a high to mid second round pick available next season thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers second rounder that Denver has the option on in 2010 from the Marcus Camby deal.  Afflalo was a (late) first round pick in 2008 and it might seem Detroit deserves a first rounder in return based on his play, but what Detroit wants is cap space and the benefit they receive by trading Afflalo is the extra cash the deal would open up for them.  Because the Nuggets are giving them salary relief there is no need to give up a first round pick as part of the deal.

One other thing to keep in mind is the Nuggets have two trade exceptions they can choose from to use to trade for Afflalo.  They own a  $9,790,625 trade exception that was originally created in the Camby trade, but was recharged in the Billups deal.  It expires on November 3, 2009.  They also have a smaller, but still sizable $3,240,000 from the Chucky Atkins trade that expires on January 7, 2010.

If Denver does complete this trade, I think it will be interesting to see which exception they use.  The $9.8 million exception will expire first and they can extract Afflalo’s nearly $1.1 million salary from it and still have a big chunk of it still available (David Lee sign and trade anyone?).  On the other hand if they want to preserve the $9.8 million in its entirety they can pull the money out of the smaller $3.24 million exception.

I suspect they will use a portion of the $9.8 million exception because it expires first and removing $1.1 million from the lesser exception would greatly reduce its value.  However, if we find out they pull the money for our as of yet fictional trade from the $3.24 million exception we will know they are still hoping to pull off something big before the season starts with the larger exception.

It was not necessarily what I had in mind two weeks ago, but I am starting to think an Afflalo, Matt Barnes Joe Smith/Drew Gooden/Shelden Williams offseason might not be all that bad for the Nuggets.  All three players would come cheap and allow Denver to take on a little more salary at the trade deadline.

Of course, I read today that the Orlando Magic are reportedly turning their gaze on Barnes now that they have landed Brandon Bass and Barnes is supposedly choosing between Orlando and Cleveland (Dallas is mentioned as well, but that was before the Shawn Marion trade.

Phoenix Suns to Sign Channing Frye and Grant Hill

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Phoenix Suns will sign both Grant Hill and Channing Frye (thanks to Stumbleweed for passing on the news).

Frye’s contract is for less money than I suspect the Denver Nuggets were offering at two years and $3.8 million.  That is lower than the biannual exception which starts at $1.99 million for 2009-10.  However, with Shaq out of the picture Phoenix had the most playing time to offer, which is always important.

With Frye off the table if the Nuggets are going to improve their front court depth via free agency, they are down to players such as Drew Gooden and Joe Smith.  Brandon Bass is intriguing, but there are quite a few teams interested in him and it is highly unlikely the Mavericks would be interested in a sign and trade with Denver (Update: Bass has reportedly agreed to sign with Orlando).  Ditto with Paul Millsap and Utah.  Glen Davis is also still in play, but as with Bass and Millsap the Nuggets do not have the money to pry him away from Boston.  If Denver is interested in Davis, and there are no indications that they are, with the addition of Rasheed Wallace the Celtics may be interested in a sign and trade as well.

If the Nuggets are going to make a big splash it appears the only chance of that happening would be with a sign and trade with New York for David Lee.  Now that Hill is returning to Phoenix New York may have renewed interest in acquiring Linas Kleiza.

As I tell my daughter, patience is a virtue, but I do not think the author of that phrase was familiar with the NBA free agency meat market.

Arron Afflalo Available and Other Free Agency News

We mentioned Arron Afflalo as a potential replacement for Dahntay Jones.  Afflalo is not a free agent, but we wondered if Detroit may be interested in trading him now that Ben Gordon is in town.  Apparently, Detroit is hoping to move Afflalo:

There’s a good chance the Pistons are looking to clear another $2 million off their payroll. That would give them close to $4 million to pursue another frontcourt player in the wake of Antonio McDyess going to the San Antonio Spurs. Brandon Bass (Dallas Mavericks) and Glen Davis (Boston Celtics) are two possibilities.

To clear the space, the Pistons most likely will try to move Arron Afflalo and Sharpe.

I do not know what Detroit is looking for, but Denver can easily fit Afflalo into one of their trade exceptions and if Detroit is really motivated to make a deal perhaps a second round pick could be enough.  If not, a massively protected first rounder (say 22 or lower) might be worth it.  Keep in mind since Denver traded their first round pick in 2009 to Oklahoma City they cannot trade away their 2010 pick.

In other free agent news Grant Hill is looking more and more like a pipe dream for the Nuggets.  They are never mentioned as one of the teams pursuing him by the media, and New York and Phoenix are both being very aggressive in their courtship of him.

The Knicks have supposedly offered Hill his choice of a one year, $5 million contract or a three year, $10 million deal.  Both are more than Denver can offer without agreeing to a sign and trade with Phoenix.  The Suns have not given up on bringing Hill back as owner Robert Sarver, GM Steve Kerr and coach Alvin Gentry were all in Orlando trying to talk him into returning to the desert.

If Denver is out of the running for Hill I agree with the opinion that Denver should move on to Hill’s Phoenix teammate Matt Barnes.  He is a versatile, athletic high energy player who is an adequate three point shooter, solid defender and can run the floor like a personal injury lawyer chases an ambulance.  Barnes will be cheaper than Hill and will fit better on defense and in the running game.  He is not the creator that Hill is, but he is a decent passer (far better than Linas Kleiza).

On the Channing Frye front there has not been much news since he visited Cleveland.  I think it is pretty good news that he left town without signing a deal.  With the Nuggets only having $2.1 million of their midlevel exception remaining to offer Frye, and a sign and trade is out of the question as pointed out by runningdonut in the comments of a previous post, he may be a long shot to come to Denver.  Still, the money should be close between Denver and Cleveland as the Cavs have reportedly signed Anthony Parker with a portion of their midlevel exception.  (Update: According to Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst the Cavs signed Parker to a two year, $6 million contract so they probably have $700,000 more of their midlevel exception than Denver does.  Windhorst has also tweeted that the Cavs are currently not close to singing any other free agents.  That also leads me to believe if the Cavs want to add Kleiza, it will have to be via sign and trade since they can only offer him a starting salary of $2.8 million, which is barely more than his qualifying offer.)  Phoenix is also in the picture for Frye and probably offers the most playing time of the three teams and the Suns are his “hometown” team (his family moved to Phoenix when he was seven) so Frye will have to decide if he wants to play for a contender or if he wants to play for Phoenix.

Update: As reported by Chris Tomasson Johan Petro is not out of the picture just yet:

The Nuggets didn’t pick up the qualifying offer on Petro, making him an unrestricted, rather than restricted free agent. However, his agent, Sam Goldfeder, said that’s not necessarily an indication Petro won’t return to Denver. Goldfeder said he’s talked to both Warkentien and Karl and “they’re big fans” of his client.

However, any deal in which Petro were to return to Denver likely would be for the minimum.

As I mentioned in my piece on Petro, you probably do not like him at nearly $3 million a year, which is what his qualifying offer would have been for, but at or near the minimum he is a nice roster filler.

How Much More Can the Denver Nuggets Spend?

It is frustrating to see the other teams in the Western Conference add player after player while the Denver Nuggets appear to be doing nothing, but I think we can expect Denver to jump into the fray at some point and reel in their own big fish.

Let’s start off with some more NBA accounting. Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has reported that each team will receive a payment from the league escrow account.

What is the escrow account you ask?

A percentage of each player’s salary (for 2008-09 it was nine percent according to Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ page) is deposited into an escrow account. At the end of the season that money is either returned to the players or disbursed to the teams. The determining factor of who gets the money is the ratio of player salaries and benefits to Basketball Related Income. Typically the escrow money is returned to the players, but this season the ratio dictated that the money will go to the owners.

As a result every team will receive a cash payment of $6,467,847 out of the escrow account. That is a significant chunk of change.

Keep in mind the luxury tax money that is collected from the big salary teams gets redistributed amongst the non tax paying teams. The result is another $2,911,756 payout. That means that a non tax paying team like Denver will receive a grand total of $9,379,603 in cash by the end of July. Now add in the Nuggets’ nine home playoff games as opposed to the regular two and the bottom line for 2008-09 gets much better for Stan Kroenke.

The question then becomes what is Kroenke willing to spend?

Let us allow history to be our guide.

In 2007-08 Denver paid out $81,437,079 million in team salary and at that time the luxury tax limit was $68,865,000. The result was that between their payroll and $13,572,079 in tax payments the Nuggets shelled out a grand total of $95,009,158 on players.

Can we assume that Kroenke is willing to spend $95 million again? What we as fans have going in our favor is the 2007-08 team was completely unproven where this team was able to knock on the door to the NBA Finals. I believe Kroenke will open up his pocketbook again to improve this team.

Using the $95 million expenditure in salary and tax payments from 2007-08 as an example we can surmise that the Nuggets payroll could be allowed to get as high as $82.46 million (at that salary level the tax payment would equal $12.54 million and thus a total outlay of $95 million). Right now the Nuggets are sitting at a team salary of $76.7 million (including Linas Kleiza’s $2.7 million qualifying offer. That leaves room for almost another $6 million in salary to be added in our $95 million scenario.

Now add in that extra $9.4 million the league is handing out as discussed above and perhaps it is possible Kroenke will green light a team payroll even higher than the $82.46 million from our example.

With only $2.1 million of the mid level exception left over after signing Chris Andersen and the biannual exception starting at $1.99 million remaining to be spent on free agents it would appear that if Denver wants to make a splash, they will probably have to use their trade exception(s).

It is certainly possible that the Nuggets sign a couple of minimum salary guys and call it good, but from what I know about Stan Kroenke, we should expect Denver to bring in at least one more solid player in order to hang with the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks.

Goodbye Dahntay Jones

The Denver Post is reporting the Indiana Pacers have come to a contract agreement with Dahntay Jones on a four year, $11 million deal.

All I can say to that is congratulations Dahntay.  There is no way I would have given him that much money or that many years.

With J.R. Smith and Sonny Weems Denver has plenty of offensive firepower at shooting guard, but neither one is a defensive specialist.  Smith has made tremendous improvement on defense over the previous two seasons, but he still has a way to go, primarily in the are of providing consistent focus from play to play.

What the Nuggets do from here depends on how confident they are that J.R. can continue to improve his defense and whether or not they trust Weems to contribute in his second season.

If Denver has doubts about one or both of those issues they will have to bring in a legit shooting guard who can defend.  Players like Keith Bogans, Ime Udoka and perhaps Marquis Daniels, who may be out of the picture in Indiana with Jones now on board, are decent possibilities.

One player I would love to see come to Denver is Aaron Afflalo from Detroit.  He is not a free agent, but with the addition of Ben Gordon there is not going to be many minutes available for him to get on the court.  Afflalo can defend very well and increased his three point shooting to 40.2% last season.

On the other hand, if Denver is happy with their shooting guard duo of Smith and Weems, look for them to stand pat and spend their limited amount of money elsewhere.

Chris Andersen’s Palatable Contract

How big of a deal is it that Chris Andersen agreed to a first year salary of $3.7 million? Not only does it help decrease the luxury tax payments Denver will have to shell out over the next two seasons, but it also makes the fourth and fifth seasons much more palatable as Birdman reaches his mid thirties.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement the maximum raises for Andersen’s contract are 8% and that percentage is based on the first year of the contract. Eight percent of $3.7 million is $296,000 so the base salary will increase by that amount every season. That would make his fifth year salary $4.884 million and the total guaranteed value of the deal $21.46 million over the five years.

Why would Andersen agree to a first year salary of $3.7 million when he had teams offering him three years at the starting midlevel salary of $5.854 million? A three year full midlevel deal would have netted Birdman almost $19 million over the next three seasons. It is clear that Andersen gave the Nuggets a bit of a hometown discount while Denver gave him the chance to play in the NBA for the next five seasons instead of only the next three.

The Nuggets have also included incentives in the contract and should Birdman reach all of the incentives the contract will then reach the $26 million, the reported value of the deal. Incentives can be anything from games or minutes played to statistical accomplishments to individual achievements or even team wins, which was reportedly an incentive in J.R. Smith’s contract. From what I have heard not all of the incentives are readily achievable for Andersen, but there have been no specifics released on that as of yet.

What do incentives do for his cap number? Any incentives that Andersen earns, and are in place for the upcoming year of his contract, will be considered incentives that he is likely to earn. These incentives are then added to his cap number for the next season. We can look at Marcus Camby’s contract as an example.

Camby had base salaries of around $8 million and incentives worth around another $2 million. He reached most or all of those incentives in 2007-08 and thus when the Nuggets traded him last summer his cap number was $10 million even though the 2008-09 season had not started and he obviously had not reached any incentives yet. Last season Camby did not hit any of his incentives and as a result his cap number for next season will be back down to $8 million.

Because of the incentives we cannot know for sure exactly what Birdman’s contract will be worth in the final couple of seasons although I doubt it will be for much more than the $4.884 million base salary.

There has been more financial information come out since the news that there was an agreement in place for Birdman to return to Denver. The NBA has reportedly warned teams that the salary cap and luxury tax could decline again next season and we are not talking about just a million dollar dip. It could be a significant decrease to as low as $50.4 million.

The NBA is basing that on a projected 2.5% decrease in Basketball Related Income (BRI) which is the basis for the formula to derive the cap and tax levels. Under that projection the cap would be set at an amount between $50.4 and $53.6 million. They also announced that if the cap comes in at the upper end of that projection, $53.6 million, the luxury tax limit will fall down to $65 million. Obviously, if the cap falls in the lower end of their initial projection, the luxury tax will be lower as well.

Of course, should the economy turn around and BRI hold steady or increase the cap and tax levels could rise, but who knows what will happen in that realm.

This is clearly bad news for teams like the Nuggets who are going to be well over the tax level, but it is even more devastating for teams who have been banking on having a huge amount of cash to spend on the big name free agents next summer.

It is also not what the restricted free agents such as Linas Kleiza wanted to hear. With a much smaller pool of cash ready to be spent next season they can no longer sign their one year qualifying offer and expect to rake in the dough that is left over after the big names have been signed in 2010.

Denver Nuggets Agree to Deal with Chris Andersen

The Denver Post is reporting the Denver Nuggets and Chris Andersen have agreed to a five year contract worth up to $26 million.  As we suspected Chris Andersen was able to get the five year commitment he was looking for while the Nuggets have locked up a vital player for a relatively low first year salary of $3.7 million. The contract is full of incentives that if earned can push Andersen’s total haul over five seasons to $26 million.

Now the Nuggets can plow full speed ahead with their pursuit of other free agents that are reported to be Channing Frye and Grant Hill.

Because Birdman only played for the Nuggets for one season it is my understanding that Denver had to use a portion of their mid level exception in order to sign him for a salary of over 120% of the minimum.  The league has announced that the mid level exception has been set at $5.854 million, which will leave Denver with $2.154 million to spend.  Denver also has the biannual exception they can use which is worth $1.99 million this season although it cannot be split up between multiple players the way the mid level exception can.

It will be very difficult to sing both Frye and Hill with their limited resources, but we will get to see if Denver does have any pull as a prime free agent destination after their 2008-09 success as Cleveland is interested in Frye and Boston and New York are hot for Hill.

However, Denver does have a couple of big trade exceptions to play around with that could help them bring Frye and Hill to the Mile High City via sign and trade for salaries greater than what the Nuggets have available under the mid level and biannual exceptions.

Salary Cap/Luxury Tax Levels Decrease for 2009-10

The NBA has announced the salary cap and luxury tax totals for the 2009-10 season. The salary cap has dropped from $58.68 million down to $57.7 million. More importantly for the Denver Nuggets the luxury tax level also decreased from $71.15 million to $69.92 million.

Baring some unforeseen roster overhaul that is another $1.23 million in luxury tax the Nuggets will owe the league after the season. After the Nuggets resign Chris Andersen and fill out the roster their payroll is likely going to be in the neighborhood of $80 million and after the luxury tax payment the payroll will be over $90 million. That is a pretty hefty commitment from Stan Kroenke.

Keep in mind, the luxury tax is based on their final payroll at the end of the 2009-10 season so Denver has plenty of time to make a deal to lower their payroll. Once the final roster shakes out I think we will see Denver working very hard to trade Stephen Hunter. Unfortunately, it will probably take (at least) a future first round pick in order to get someone to take on his salary.

Things get even more crazy in 2010-11. It is entirely possible the cap and tax levels drop yet again and the Nuggets are looking at a payroll of over $70 million with only eight players under contract (Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Nene, J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen assuming he is signed for around $4-5 million in salary next season, Sonny Weems and Ty Lawson). That is assuming the Nuggets do not sign Kleiza to a long term deal and they do not offer Renaldo Balkman a qualifying offer worth over $3 million.

When Kroekne agreed to the Billups trade it became clear the Nuggets would be spending big money for at least the next two seasons. The question is how much more can/will Kroenke spend to put a championship caliber team on the floor? I think we will know the answer to that question in the next few days.

Chris Andersen Contract Talks Progressing Slowly

The Denver Post reported on Saturday that the Denver Nuggets and Chris Andersen were having “amicable” discussions as they work towards a contract agreement. The Post claims that Denver is hoping to keep Birdman’s first year salary down around $3.0 million to reduce the luxury tax hit while Andersen and his representatives are looking for a five year, $25 million contract. Andersen knows this will be his last chance to sign a contract and the financial security of a five year deal is huge for him.

I am a little surprised that things have not been wrapped up as of yet, but it sounds like the two sides are nearing an agreement where both parties get what is most important to them.

If things drag on too long, you know other teams are just waiting and hoping that the Nuggets make a mistake which creates an opening for them to jump in and snatch Birdman up.  Plus the longer things with Andersen drag out the more difficult it is for Denver to fully pursue other free agents such as Channing Frye and Grant Hill who are both being wooed by other contenders.

Nevertheless, Denver must sign Birdman to have any chance to compete next season.  I thought it would be unlikely that Birdman would leave Denver a week ago and I think it is even more unlikely right now, but nothing is official until Andersen puts his Herbie Hancock on the dotted line. Players can start signing their contracts as soon as tomorrow once the NBA announces the official salary cap and luxury tax levels.

Denver Nuggets Announce their Summer League Roster

The two big names on the Denver Nuggets’ summer league roster are Sonny Weems and Ty Lawson.  It will be fun to see what Weems can do after lighting up the D-League and of course it will be a lot of fun to check out Lawson’s first taste of quasi NBA ball too.

Apart from those two there are a couple of intriguing names on the list.

Derrick Byars is a sweet shooting swingman from Vanderbilt who, if memory serves, was a second round draft pick by Dallas last season.  Richard Hendrix is a big boy who specializes in scoring in the lane.  He is a poor man’s Zach Randolph and I think he belongs in the league somehwere.

There are a couple of players who were on NBA rosters last season.  From that category we have Kareem Rush who is an unrestricted free agent after playing with Philadelphia last season.  Cedric Simmons was a mamber of the Chicago Bulls before getting shipped off to the Sacramento Kings in the trade that saw the Bulls acquire Brad Miller and John Salmons.

The big name we should have all seen coming from a mile away is none other than Coby Karl.  Karl did a very good job last summer in Las Vegas so I expect him to look good again.  He probably does belong in the NBA at the end of someone’s bench.

A couple of interesting things to take note of is Lawson is the only true point guard on the roster.  Look for him to play almost every second he possibly can as he gets a crash course on how to play NBA defense.  Karl would probably be considered the backup point guard  (showcasing his versatility to the rest of the NBA?).

They also have three shooters on the roster on a list of nine guys, because shooting is an important skill to have.

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Birthdate School/Country Exp.
8 Derrick Byars G/F 6-7 220 4/25/84 Vanderbilt R
7 Ronald Dupree F 6-7 209 1/26/81 LSU 5
12 C.J. Giles F/C 6-11 240 9/25/85 Oregon State R
6 Richard Hendrix F 6-9 255 11/15/86 Alabama R
22 Coby Karl G 6-5 215 3/6/83 Boise State 1
3 Ty Lawson G 5-11 195 11/3/87 North Carolina R
10 Kareem Rush G 6-6 215 10/30/80 Missouri 6
5 Cedric Simmons F 6-9 235 1/3/86 North Carolina State 3
13 Sonny Weems G/F 6-6 203 7/8/86 Arkansas 1

Keep in mind that these rosters are fluid and they may add a player or two.

I do not expect any of these guys to make the regular season roster for Denver unless they are not abel to sign anyone in free agency and lose Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza. Perhaps hte best opportunity would be if Ronald Dupree can prove to replace Jones as the defensive swingman.

Click here to see the schedule.  No news on TV or Internet coverage as of yet.

Update: Dupree and Hendrix are also playing for the Orlando Magic in the Orlando Summer League. If Orlando signs one or both to a contract they will not be playing for Denver.

Denver Nuggets Free Agency News – July 2, 2009

We are a day and a half into the free agency negotiating period and so far only two players have been locked up as Detroit has verbal agreements with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (didn’t Detroit win their title largely due to their stellar team defense?).

At this point the only news out of Denver is Mark Warkentien was in Los Angeles to talk contract with Chris Andersen. I do not think there is any doubt at this point that Birdman returns to Denver.

That leads up to a big question. Denver can sign Andersen for up to six seasons. Do you give Chris Andersen a five or six year deal? I say no. The primary reason is Andersen turns 31 in five days although he is certainly not your typical 31 year old big man.

Birdman set a career high for playing time this season having logged 1,460 minutes on the court. For his career he has accumulated 5,692 minutes. That may sound like a lot of minutes, but consider that over the previous two seasons LeBron James has played the fewest minutes of his career. However, LeBron has still totaled 6,081 minutes over those two seasons. LeBron has played almost 400 more minutes since November of 2007 than Andersen has played over his seven year career.

Even with Andersen’s low mileage you have to be wary of signing a player so dependent on his athleticism into his mid thirties. I think the perfect contract for Andersen would be a three year deal with a team option or non guaranteed fourth season.

As a sidebar, team options/non guaranteed seasons can be used as a de facto expiring contract and I think they give teams a great deal of flexibility. If I were a GM I would tack on an extra season to every contract that starts at $4 million a year or higher where only $250,000 is guaranteed. The player then gets an additional $250,000 and I get a potentially high value trading chip. Of course, you open yourself up to having some dead money on your cap so it would be important to make sure you only have two or three non-guaranteed seasons coming up at the same time, but that would be easily manageable. The benefit would far outweigh the cost in my mind.

Apart from meeting with Birdman the Nuggets have been very quiet. The only player I have seen them linked to consistently in published reports is Grant Hill. There is no mention of Denver being involved with Rasheed Wallace. San Antonio, Orlando and Cleveland are all hot for Sheed, but Boston has been the most aggressive suitor. It will be interesting to see what Wallace does. Boston is the only team for which he would not start, unless they decided to bench Kendrick Perkins, but they are probably the best fit as Wallace can do many of the same things Garnett does. Wallace would make Orlando much more traditional with Rashard Lewis moving back to small forward, but he would still give them the three point threat from the power forward spot. Should he go to San Antonio it would allow the Spurs to bring DeJuan Blair along more slowly and he and Duncan would be possibly the best interior defensive tandem in the league.

From a Nuggets perspective I think it would be most interesting if Wallace signed with Cleveland because it would put Anderson Varejao in play. Cleveland would probably want to bring him back, but I doubt he would want to back up Rasheed. Varejao is the kind of team defender Denver needs. He is always amongst the league leaders in charges drawn (2006-07 stats were the most recent I could find) and he is a great pick and roll defender. I am not sure if Denver would pursue Varejao, but the Nuggets have fellow Brazilian Nene on the roster and Varejao could probably be had at mid level exception money. Of course, Varejao would not be a full time starter in Denver either with Nene and Kenyon on the roster, but I think if Rasheed is in Cleveland he would want out.

I did stumble across a sentence in this article that says the Nuggets are interested in Channing Frye. Frye is not a great individual defender, but I do believe he can be effective as part of a solid team defensive scheme. The Nuggets are missing a big man who can consistently shoot from the outside and Frye would fill that role as the fourth big. He is also an underrated rebounder. Should the Nuggets swap Kleiza for Hill and Petro for Frye there will not be dancing in the streets, but I think those two players would be positive upgrades and both would come relatively cheap. Add in Ty Lawson and that is a pretty good boost in talent from last season.

Shifting to the Nuggets’ free agents, I think the silence surrounding Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Carter is deafening. At this point I would be very surprised if Kleiza or Jones are back in Denver next season. If the Nuggets miss out on Hill I think LK is their fallback option, but I think they would probably still rather sign and trade him than keep him around.

I have read that Cleveland is interested in Kleiza and this morning I saw Indiana has made a call to his agent as well. The report that links Kleiza to Indy was same report also claimed the Pacers are looking at Jones and Carter too. If you are Anthony Carter how much more would the Pacers have to offer in order for you to move from Denver to Indianapolis?

Other big news includes David Lee losing almost all of his leverage now that Memphis has acquired Zach Randolph, which brings a possible sign and trade back into play. The Knicks probably do not want to add his contract to their summer of 2010 payroll, but they have offered him a four year, $32 million contract. Now Toronto is tossing their name in the hat although they are also looking at using their limited resources on a small forward such as Hedo Turkoglu or Trevor Ariza.

Speaking of Turkoglu, it appears Portland is going to add him to their stacked roster, but I am not sure how much of an upgrade that will be for them. Turkoglu does a lot of the same things that Brandon Roy does, especially at the end of games. I think Hedo definitely makes them better, how much I do not know. Dave at Blazer’s Edge looks at what Hedo might do or not do for Portland What would scare me is if Portland adds Turkoglu and then pulls off a sign and trade for Andre Miller.

Ariza’s agent apparently is saying that the Lakers need to reward Ariza with a contract over the mid level exception. If they do not he claims Ariza will take someone else’s mid level offer out of spite. So far the Cavs have joined the Raptors as potential destinations.

Finally, we are getting some good comments from readers. One name that keeps popping up is Hakim Warrick. I believe the Nuggets are going to continue to bring in players who can play great team defense and Warrick does not fit that mold. Plus his qualifying offer is for just over $3 million and that is too much for what he would bring to the table.

Finally I will leave you with some big time breaking news from the Denver Post. Chauncey Billups is switching his uniform number from 7 to 1. J.R. Smith was number one last season, but will wear an as of yet undetermined number. Apparently J.R. just surrendered the number 1 to Billups without so much as a dinner at Sizzler.

The Denver Nuggets, NBA Free Agency and You

With the 2009 NBA meat market known as free agency kicking off tonight at midnight eastern time we need to once again interrupt our individual player evaluations to look at what kind of options are out there for the Nuggets.

Before we get started, familiarize yourself with who is available with this team by team list of free agents.

A quick look at the Nuggets’ finances shows that they are already over the projected luxury tax limit of $70-71 million with the contracts of Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman, Sonny Weems, Ty Lawson and the $3.0 million they owe Antonio McDyess based on the buyout they agreed to last season (all totaling roughly $73 million). That is ten players and you must carry a minimum of 13 players on your roster.

Now add to that at least $4-5 million to resign Chris Andersen and another million plus for Anthony Carter and/or Dahntay Jones. Suddenly they only have one or two spots with which to upgrade the roster and probably not too much financial wiggle room to play with.

Priority number one has to be to resign Chris Andersen. The question is how much will it cost? If Denver has to come up with $7 or $8 million a year to bring Andersen back it will be very difficult for them to afford to beef up their roster. However, in order for Andersen to get a big offer like that a team who wants him would have to be far enough below the salary cap to offer that kind of cash. So are there any teams who fit that mold?

Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento are the only teams capable of making a significant offer to any free agent above the midlevel exception. I think we can scratch teams like Atlanta, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento off the list because of either a lack of interest from the team in question or from Birdman in playing there.

That leaves Detroit and Oklahoma City. I think Detroit has quite a few players on their list before they get down to Andersen and most likely they will spend their money elsewhere. To me the only team to really worry about is Oklahoma City. They need a shot blocker and rebounder as evidenced by the fact they acquired Tyson Chandler from New Orleans at the trade deadline before their doctor nixed the deal. The one thing Sam Presti has to worry about is the money he is going to have to shell out for Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in two or three seasons.

Ultimately, I believe the Thunder will not offer Andersen a big contract and that will allow Denver to only have to deal with midlevel offers from other teams. In fact as we saw with J.R. Smith last season teams usually do not bother even offering the mid level exception when the know it will be matched. J.R. did not receive any offer sheets last season and I suspect Birdman should not expect any this summer either. Why waste your time signing a player to an offer sheet when you know the team will match it as soon as the offer sheet showed up on the fax machine.

I expect Denver will be able to resign Andersen with a three year $15 million deal with a starting salary in the $4.0 million range. Maybe Andersen leaves some money on the table, but he would still receive over a 400% raise and keeps him in Denver, where he wants to be. Not all athletes feel a sense of loyalty to a franchise, but Denver not only gave Birdman his first chance to play in the NBA, they also gave him his second chance at real playing time following his suspension.

Birdman deserves a lot of attention, but Andersen is only one of six free agents the Nuggets have to worry about. Do not expect Jason Hart to return. Johan Petro has been allowed to become an unrestricted free agent which does not bode well for his return, although there is a chance Denver could bring him back. As we discussed yesterday look for Anthony Carter to return for one more season in Denver.

The two great unknowns are Linas Kleiza and Dahntay Jones.

Denver is expected to extend the one year, $2,705,724 qualifying offer to Kleiza although as of yet there has been no official word that they have. Kleiza quickly became a favorite of George Karl as he improved quickly in his second and third seasons. I was of the opinion that he was overvalued by the Nuggets, as well as other teams around the league, because his rapid improvement convinced them that his ceiling was much higher than it actually is. In his fourth NBA season he appeared to have plateaued. His three point percentage dropped, his defense is still lacking, he passes only begrudgingly and still rarely goes to his left. The one thing Kleiza does well is rebound. His rebound rate was comparable to Kenyon Martin’s (10.4 to 10.9). Kleiza can run the floor very well, but he does not do it consistently game to game and Denver’s slightly slower pace impacted his ability to provide an impact on that area of the game.

When looking at Kleiza’s roster spot one of the players that the Nuggets have been rumored to be interested in is Grant Hill. Hill played for less than $2.0 million last season and I think he would be a very good fit in Denver. Hill is just as good of a shooter as Kleiza, if not better, but offers a creative playmaking ability that Kleiza will never be able to match.

Apart from Hill there are not many options who would be as cheap and as effective as Kleiza. Trevor Ariza is an intriguing option, but I doubt the Nuggets would be able to pry him away from the Lakers. Some people have mentioned Ron Artest as a potential option for the Nuggets. It would be a bold move, but a risky one too. He displayed his combustability again in the playoffs against the Lakers and he would not come cheap. If Denver wants to bring him in, they would most likely have to offer their full midlevel exception in August or September when all of Artest’s other options have been extinguished. With the health of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in question, Houston may cling to Artest as their best healthy player or they may let him walk in order to restructure the team after the season.

It is certainly possible that Kleiza will not get any good offers and have to sign the qualifying offer. If that is the case, I would not be overly upset. However, if the Nuggets manage to sign Hill, I imagine they will pull the qualifying offer and Kleiza might be forced to play overseas in order to make any money.

The final question mark for Denver is Dahntay Jones. Jones is the player who is likely to increase his salary the most from 2008-09. Everyone saw him give Chris Paul fits in the playoffs. With his atrocious offensive game his price will not get too high, but if he makes much more than he did last season his salary will quickly exceed his usefulness. Rumors are that Boston is interested and I do not think the Nuggets will go too deep in the pocketbook to bring Jones back.

With J.R. and possibly Sonny Weems playing much of the minutes at shooting guard I am not sure Denver needs to spend much money on a third shooting guard. Plus a player like Hill could spend some time filling in at shooting guard as well. There are some other price efficient players that I think might be good additions to the Nuggets. Flip Murray was very good for Atlanta last season and he played for only $1.5 million. Plus he helped Denver by missing a game winning shot at the Pepsi Center last season so he clearly is pro Nuggets. Fred Jones had his moments with the Clippers at a bargain basement price and I think he is worth a look. My favorite option would be Shannon Brown. He is a restricted free agent and I doubt the Lakers would let him get away, but if they sign all their big salary free agents, it may decrease their motivation to pay him what it takes to bring him back.

If the Nuggets are not able to bring in Hill and/or Brown and they bring back Jones and Kleiza for bottom dollar, it will not be the worst thing in the world. What would be the worst thing in the world is if they combine to play 40 minutes a game again.

Whether Denver boosts their talent level at the swing positions or not, the one thing they must accomplish before next season is to add a quality fourth big man.

There are a couple of nice options available to the Nuggets. First and foremost in my mind is Rasheed Wallace who is an unrestricted free agent. Sheed saw most of his numbers fall off this past season, but I think a good portion of that was due to the fact he did not buy into the Pistons and their chances to succeed. Maybe the most startling thing about Wallace’s game was 89% of his shots were jumpers. However, Denver needs a big man who can shoot and Wallace is still a good post defender. I think pairing him back up with Chauncey on what I think would be a championship caliber team could squeeze another good season or two out of him.

The good news is Sheed might not cost an arm and a leg and Denver may be in a position where they do not necessarily need to be the high bidder to earn a player’s services. When the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals I wrote that it would make Denver a legitimate destination for players who want to win a championship. With teams like San Antonio and Cleveland reportedly interested in Wallace, if the Nuggets want to go after him it will prove a good test of that theory.

Wallace is not the only free agent that would fit well in Denver. Wallace’s former teammate, Antonio McDyess (unrestricted) would be a good option, if he could be convinced not to hate the Nuggets so much. It would be interesting to have a player who Denver is paying twice. They owe him $3 million as part of the buyout they agreed to with him last season and then if they sign him he would have a current contract on the books as well. What is the old science fiction rule, two instances of the same matter cannot occupy the same space? Perhaps if Denver signs McDyess the universe would collapse upon itself.

I have heard some Nuggets fans hot for Paul Millsap (restricted) and with Carlos Boozer deciding not to opt out of his contract today Utah will be in a tough spot should someone give Millsap a big offer. However, he is not coming to Denver. The only way the Nuggets could bring him on board would be via sign and trade and Utah will put a hit on Millsap before they send him to the Nuggets.

David Lee (restricted) is another player who has been linked to the Nuggets and rumor has it they had worked out a deal for him with the Knicks at the trade deadline but Karl did not want to give up Kleiza. Again, Denver would have to pull off a sign and trade, but with the Knicks looking to create as much cap space as possible for next summer they are not going to want to give Lee a big contract. Would a trade exception and a couple of first round picks get Lee to Denver?

Should the Nuggets fail to nab one of the high profile guys there are a couple of cheap options who could provide some assistance. You may laugh when you read this, but if Denver needs an emergency fill in on the cheap I believe Shelden Williams (unrestricted) would be a good option. He cannot shoot, but he is a big boy who can rebound and block shots. Channing Frye (unrestricted) is a big man who seems to play well with consistent minutes. He is a great midrange shooter and can rebound when he is asked to. One final player who may be of interest is Drew Gooden (unrestricted). He has become a very good rebounder even if he is still a bit rough around the edges.

If Denver does not bring in an exciting free agent all is not lost. They still have two big trade exceptions, $9.8 million (expires November 3, 2009) and $3.24 million (expires January 5, 2010), that they can use to basically buy a player or players from another team. If they cannot sign a free agent they want, they would certainly be able to acquire a player to help via trade.

The big question is will Denver spend what it takes to add to the roster? There has been some consternation that because they are already over the luxury tax limit and with the reduction in spending last summer that Stan Kroenke would not allow the front office to spend any additional money to augment the roster. Kroenke has paid the luxury tax before and I do not think he will say no now as long as doing so makes sense.

For anyone wondering how the world financial crisis is affecting Kroenke I think it is safe to assume he can spend as much money as he wants on the Nuggets. He seems to be taking advantage of the economic recession instead of hoarding his cash in mattresses. He spent over $60 million to increase his ownership in Arsenal of the English Premier League just three months ago. Does that sound like he is freaking out over his Walmart stock?

I think you can count on Denver boosting their talent level and spending the money necessary to do it. Sports Illustrated’s Scott Howard-Cooper seems to be convinced that the Nuggets are going to be aggressive in the free agent market. I expect the same thing. I am convinced Denver wants to make their playoff run a launching point for something better instead of a onetime high point.

Denver did a good job of targeting high energy, athletic and cheap free agents to build a team that can run and play solid team defense.  Hopefully the Nuggets will continue to build a roster of players who can play great team defense, can shoot and play to win and not just for themselves.

Other free agents who I like (are either really good or would be cheaper than they are worth), but are either not going to change teams or Denver would have no interest in:

  • Josh Childress (Restricted – Atlanta Hawks/Greece) – Multi talented
  • Andersen Varejao (Unrestricted – Cleveland Cavaliers) – Scrappy big, great team defender
  • Ersan Ilyasova (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks/Turkey) – good rebounder and shooter
  • Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted – New York Knickerbockers) – Athletic and possibly cheap
  • Steve Novak (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Clippers) – Deadly shooter
  • C.J. Watson (Restricted – Golden State Warriors) – I like the way he plays
  • Lamar Odom (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Lakers) – No duh
  • Matt Barnes (Restricted – Phoenix Suns) – A more athletic version of LK
  • Hedo Turkoglu (Unrestricted – Orlando Magic) – Versatile, big shot maker
  • Ramon Sessions (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks) – Can score and distribute

No Qualifying Offer for Johan Petro

The Denver Nuggets arrived at the same conclusion regarding Johan Petro’s contract situation as I did.  They did not extend him a qualifying offer, a one year contract for just under $2.85 million, making him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.

I do not know if the Nuggets are interested in bringing Petro back at a cheaper price, the only news regarding the status of his qualifying offer was a sentence long blip at the end of an article that I missed the fist time I read it, but I would think he would have to be a cheap option if Denver is looking for a cheap big man to fill the role of emergency big man that Petro did so well last season.

Hat tip to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for actually reading the last sentence of the aforementioned article.

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