Although the season didn’t end the way they wanted it to, the Denver Nuggets have nothing to be ashamed of regarding their 2018-19 campaign.
After missing the playoffs the prior two seasons by one measly game, Denver, around the insane play of Nikola Jokic, exploded this year, winning 54 regular-season games, finishing as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed and coming within one victory of the Western Conference Finals. The season ended in a brutal way for them, to be sure, losing a hotly contested Game 7 at home to the Portland Trail Blazers, but this season Denver still proved they will be among the West’s elite for years to come.
That’s because not only do they have Jokic signed through 2022-23, the entirety of the Nuggets’ rotation is also signed at least through next season, leaving them without any holes to plug.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Denver will sit quietly this summer, either. They have the assets to hit the trade market for a big fish, they need to make a decision on one of their starters and whether to bring them back next year and they could choose to extend one of their young contributors.
But, for the most part, the Nuggets’ offseason will be mostly about regrouping and getting even better in 2019-20, a proposition that should frighten their Western-Conference counterparts.
GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Nikola Jokic: $27,504,630
Gary Harris: $17,839,286
Mason Plumlee: $14,041,096
Will Barton: $12,776,786
Jamal Murray: $4,444,746
Michael Porter: $3,389,400
Juancho Hernangomez: $3,321,029
Malik Beasley: $2,731,713
Torrey Craig: $2,000,000
Monte Morris: $1,588,231
Jarred Vanderbilt: $1,416,852
Paul Millsap: $30,000,000
Trey Lyles (Restricted)
Brandon Goodwin (Restricted)
The Nuggets are in a fantastic place. Pretty much their entire rotation is signed through next season, and the only players they have set to hit free agency are guys who proved to be poor fits and had fallen out of favor with head coach Michael Malone. That means, apart from continuing to develop that outstanding young talent, Denver doesn’t have much to do this offseason.
There’s definitely a chance they decide to attack the trade market and try to hit a home run there, though… perhaps with a guy like Anthony Davis. The Nuggets have the assets necessary to at least open the door with the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to how good their young core is, and how team-friendly their contracts all are.
The Nuggets also have a decision to make regarding Paul Millsap. Denver owns a club option on the next year of his deal, worth $30 million. That may sound pricey, but Millsap proved to be vital towards the Nuggets’ defensive efforts this season, a campaign in which they ranked Top-10 in defensive rating. Compared to their No. 23 finish in defensive efficiency from the year prior, Millsap’s presence was at least part of why Denver went from missing the playoffs to landing the conference’s second-overall seed. What’s more, Millsap also turned up his offense in the postseason, averaging 15.0 points and shooting 49 percent from the floor. It’ll be a tough decision, but it appears likelier than not that Millsap will be back in Denver next year; with just $17.1 million in cap space in Millsap does walk, it’s hard to see them finding an upgrade on the free-agent market without him. The Nuggets could also decline Millsap’s option and try to bring him back on a longer deal with a lower annual average value on his contract. Instead of the one-year, $30 million deal he’s currently owed if brought back, Denver could offer him him a three-year, $45 million contract, which would benefit both parties: Millsap with long-term stability and the Nuggets with lower cap hits.
The only other thing that may come up for Denver this summer is a potential extension for Malik Beasley. After a quiet first two years in the league, Beasley stepped up in a big way this season, averaging 11.3 points and 2.0 triples per game on 47.4/40.2/84.8 shooting splits – proving that he’s a legit rotation-caliber wing. If they can agree to a team-friendly price, the Nuggets would be wise to extend him this offseason rather than let hit him restricted free agency.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS
Thaddeus Young: A potential Millsap replacement, Young would do a great job replicating his value defensively, but without the same level of floor-spacing.
Taj Gibson: Also a good target if Denver needs to find a new starting power forward. His toughness and rebounding would mesh well with Jokic.
Markieff Morris: If Millsap returns, the Nuggets could stand to get stronger at backup power forward. Morris would be a good target at the minimum.
Patrick Beverley: A great option to back up Murray.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
Anthony Davis: If Denver wants to swing for the fences, they certainly have the assets to jump into the A.D. sweepstakes thanks to their outstanding young core, all of whom are on very team-friendly contracts. On one hand, it would really hurt their depth, which was one of their biggest strengths this season. On the other, pairing Jokic with Davis would be terrifying for the rest of the league.
Kevin Love: If Millsap walks, Love could be a great replacement. He might even be an upgrade offensively.
Bradley Beal: Beal is an outstanding talent, but, for Denver, would he be worth dealing away elite young players?
Nicolas Batum: The Charlotte Hornets could be on the verge of a total rebuild. Batum, though overpaid, would fill a somewhat important need for the Nuggets on the wing.
2019 DRAFT ASSETS
The Nuggets do not own a first- or second-round pick in the 2019 draft.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.