Where Do The Nuggets Go From Here?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Other than the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, there may not be a team that epitomizes resilience more than the Denver Nuggets. No matter what kind of obstacles they encounter, they find a way to be successful and win games.
They were one of the biggest surprises in the first round of the playoffs as they pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games. They once again found a way to exceed expectations, but moving forward they are going to be much higher. So, we take a look at where the Nuggets should go from here in order to build on their stellar 2011-2012 campaign.
Coaching and Management
The Nuggets are secure on the sideline and in the front office with George Karl and Masai Ujiri. The two worked together through the extremely difficult Carmelo Anthony saga a year ago and have kept the Nuggets competitive when it looked like taking a major step backwards was inevitable.
Karl received a three-year extension last year and looks like he could finish out the rest of his career with the franchise. At 61 years of age retirement may not be far off, but as long as his health is intact he’ll fulfill his current contract at the very least.
The 42-year-old Ujiri has really proven himself in his first stint at as a GM. He’s pulled off big deals at each of the last two deadlines and has the Nuggets positioned nicely with the salary cap. They don’t have any bloated contracts that are going to limit them moving forward, they have a stellar young core and a solid group of veterans. Considering the position he was put in, he couldn’t have done a much better job. Expect to see him running the Nuggets for the foreseeable future as he’s become one of the best young GMs in the business.
The Nuggets have the 20th, 38th and 50th selections in the upcoming NBA draft. With 11 players under contract for next season already and a couple of free agents in Andre Miller and JaVale McGee who they would like to bring back, they don’t have any glaring needs. They’re really going to be in a position where they can go with the best player available at 20 or trade it for future picks. There’s no lack of youth on the Nuggets’ roster to begin with, so there’s an argument to be made for putting their first rounder on the open market.
At 38 and 50 the Nuggets can look to invest in some foreign-born players who they could keep overseas until they have some roster spots open up. Combo guard Nemanja Nedovic from Serbia would be a nice investment as an eventual replacement for Andre Miller. 7’1 center Ognjen Kuzmic would make sense with their other second round pick since he has an intriguing amount of size. Late in the second round teams are mainly looking for players with the most potential anyway.
Hovering right around the $58 million mark where most believe the salary cap line will be drawn at for 2012-2013, the Nuggets are going to have the mid-level exception and bi-annual exception at their disposal. However, their primary focus should be on keeping their own free agents in Miller and McGee.
Both really showed their value in the Nuggets near upset of Lakers. Miller, a consummate professional, has backed off his desire to start or play for a contender. He now appears to be content with his role in Denver and willing to re-sign. Miller was the highest-paid Nugget last year at just over $7 million. His market value shouldn’t be more than $3-4 million, well within the Nuggets price range.
Things aren’t as clear cut with McGee. Anytime a young center shows intriguing flashes teams with cap space are always lining up to throw ridiculous money at them. The Nuggets quickly had second thoughts about the five-year $67 million deal they gave Nene. Ideally they can work out something with McGee in the $7-9 million range annually. Anything higher than that and they should strongly consider letting him walk.
As a restricted free agent, they have the right to match any deal he’s offered. Ujiri has made it clear that they intend to keep him. He’s an important piece with a ridiculous amount of potential, but he’s also been inconsistent throughout his career. Paying more than $10 million a year for an uncertainty is something the Nuggets should let another franchise do, unless it’s a short-term deal less than three years long.
The Nuggets also have the rights of shooting guard Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez has well-documented interest in returning to Spain with no shortage of teams interested in him. While he is talented with the ability to help them, they are better off letting him walk and giving Jordan Hamilton the minutes he would have gotten.
Should Miller and McGee get sign elsewhere during July, there will be no shortage of veteran options for the Nuggets to consider with their exceptions.
The Amnesty Clause
The Nuggets have yet to use the amnesty clause but that could change this summer. Forward Chris Andersen has made himself a prime candidate to get amnestied after getting in trouble away from the court yet again. Andersen is owed nearly $10 million over the next two seasons, well beyond his true value at this point of his career. Amnestying him could give Nuggets ownership the breathing room they need to get McGee inked to a long-term deal. Plus, with the emergence of forward Kenneth Faried, Andersen is even more expendable.
Al Harrington’s name has been mentioned as a candidate to get amnestied as well. He still brings a lot to the table, though, and the last two years of his contract are only 50% guaranteed. He’s actually tradable, whereas the Birdman is not.
With a clear direction and plan being executed, nothing serious needs to change in Denver. The addition of a healthy Wilson Chandler alone is going to make them better next year. As long as they can keep Miller and McGee or find serviceable replacements, they should continue to develop and remain a playoff team. As they learn from their experiences and form better chemistry, they’ll climb up the Western Conference rankings. The future is bright in Denver, without a doubt.