September 30, 2022

After winning his first Most Valuable Player award in 2020/21, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was even better in 21/22. And it had to be – with guard Jamal Murray sidelined while recovering from a torn ACL and forward Michael Porter Jr. on the shelf due to back surgery, Denver has missed two of its top three scorers for most of the season.

Given the absences of these two key players, it should have been a lost season for the Nuggets, but Jokic was so good you got the feeling the team still had a chance to make some playoff noise if Murray and Porter could do it. return.

Unfortunately, time finally ran out on the Nuggets’ season before Murray and Porter were set to return, and despite Jokic’s heroics – and his second straight MVP trophy – the club simply didn’t have the pieces to keep up. the eventual champion of the West. Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.


The Nuggets’ offseason plan:

Bringing healthy Murray and Porter back to their roster will go a long way in making the Nuggets a legitimate contender. But that doesn’t mean the team should just sit back and consider these returning stars their off-season “add-ons.”

Murray and Porter will make the Nuggets offense more dangerous, but neither player is an above-average defender, so Denver needs an extra wing or two who can defend (and ideally who can shoot, too).

Newly promoted head of basketball operations Calvin Booth will be responsible for finding these players, although it has limited resources to do so in the trade market. The Nuggets gave up two future first-round picks and four second-round picks without acquiring additional picks of their own, reducing the team’s ability to sweeten offers with draft assets.

This means the Nuggets may have to suspend players like Will Barton, Mount Morrisand eventually Zeke Nnaji as they pursue defensive improvements. All three are solid contributors on reasonable contracts, but Bones HylandMurray’s emergence and return should help make at least one of Barton or Morris more consumable.

Technically, the Nuggets also have the option to trade the No. 21 overall pick, although they would have to wait until after the draft to officially move him, due to the rule preventing teams from going without a first-rounder in two consecutive futures. . drafts.

It won’t bring back an impact player on its own, but tying the No. 21 selection to a combination of Barton, Morris and/or Nnaji would be enough to open up some intriguing possibilities for Denver. On the other hand, the Nuggets’ roster is getting expensive and adding a low-cost rookie could help control their tax bill, so maybe they’ll hang on to this year’s first round or try to come back in the second round rather than forfeiting the repechage entirely.

Booth and his basketball operations team will have several decisions to make regarding free agents, including DeMarcus Cousins, Austin Riversand David Roseau. Cousins ​​played well as a backup center behind Jokic and helped strengthen the second unit – I would expect Denver to try to re-sign him, as long as no other club offers him a significant increase. The Nuggets only have his non-bird rights.

The future of Rivers and Reed could be tied to the other moves on the Nuggets’ roster. They’ve shown they’re capable of playing rotational minutes, but they’ll be pretty low on the depth chart if Murray, Hyland, Morris and Barton are still in the mix and can look for other opportunities in this scenario.

The Greens – Green Ja Mychal and Jeff Green — could both reach free agency if they decline their respective player options. I would consider Jeff much more likely to test the market than JaMychal, given that JaMychal’s option ($8.2m) is the more expensive of the two and has just had a year of decline.

Assuming JaMychal signs on, the Nuggets could use his expiring contract to help match the salary in a trade, potentially opening up a bigger role for Nnaji. Jeff’s ability to knock down jump shots and hold multiple defensive positions makes him a valuable depth player, but he’s entering his 36-year-old season, so the team won’t want to pay him too much more than his starting amount. option ($4.5 million) .

Jokic, Murray and Morris are eligible for the extension this offseason, but only Jokic is a sure thing to get a new deal – he and the team are expected to finalize a five-year super-max deal that will lock him in through the season. 2027/28. Now is probably not the right time for an extension for Murray, who hasn’t played in over a year, or Morris, who wouldn’t be eligible to be traded for six months if he signs for more. money or more years than extend-and-trade rules allow.


Situation of the salary cap

Note: Our salary cap numbers are based on the league’s latest projection ($122 million) for 2022/23.

Guaranteed salary

  • Nikola Jokic ($33,047,803)
  • Jamal Murray ($31,650,600)
  • Michael Porter Jr. ($30,500,000) 1
  • Aaron Gordon ($19,690,909)
  • Will Barton ($14,375,000)
  • Mount Morris ($9,125,000)
  • Zeke Nnaji ($2,617,800)
  • Bones Hyland ($2,201,520)
  • Total: $143,208,632

Player Options

Team Options

Salary not guaranteed

Restricted Free Agents

  • Facundo Campazzo (qualifying offer of $4,000,000 / cap of $4,160,000): Early Bird rights
  • Vlatko Cancar (Qualifying bid of $2,228,276 / Maintaining the cap of $2,228,276): bird rights
  • Total (capacity): $6,388,276

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • 21st overall pick ($2,770,920)
  • Total: $2,770,920

Players eligible for the expansion

Note: These are players who are already eligible for an extension or who will become so before the start of the 2022/23 season.

  • Nikola Jokic (veteran)
  • Mount Morris (veteran)
  • Jamal Murray (veteran)

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Caps

  • Bryn Forbes ($5,400,000 capacity): Non-bird rights
  • DeMarcus Cousins (capacity of $1,811,516): non-bird rights
  • Troy Daniel (capacity of $1,811,516): non-bird rights 2
  • Richard Jefferson (capacity of $1,811,516): non-bird rights 2
  • Austin Rivers (capacity of $1,811,516): Early Bird rights
  • Total: $12,646,064

Out of Season Ceiling Outlook

With more than $143 million in guaranteed money committed to just eight players, the Nuggets are on track to go well past the projected $149 million luxury tax line, so they will be limited to the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-tier exception unless they breach a contract. or two.

Ceiling exceptions available

  • Exception for mid-tier taxpayers: $6,392,000 3

Footnotes

  1. Porter’s salary will be worth 25% of the salary cap. If the cap ends up above or below $122 million, this figure will be adjusted up or down.
  2. The cap holds for Daniels and Jefferson remains on the Nuggets’ books from previous seasons as they weren’t waived. They cannot be used in a sign-and-trade agreement.
  3. This is a projected value. The Nuggets could instead get access to the full mid-tier exception ($10,349,000) and semi-annual exception ($4,050,000) if they stay below the tax apron.

Salary and cap information from Basketball Insiders and RealGM was used in the creation of this post.