After yet another exceptional regular season, the Denver Nuggets found themselves going up against the powerhouse Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals.
With star guard Jamal Murray sidelined to a torn ACL and Michael Porter Jr. nowhere near 100%, NBA MVP Nikola Jokic just didn’t have enough help against the upstart Suns. In the end, Denver was swept out in a series that lacked competitiveness.
Now heading into what promises to be an interesting summer for the Denver Nuggets, there’s definitely some work for general manager Calvin Booth to do. Obviously, Murray returning healthy next season will be a big backdrop.
Meanwhile, veterans Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for nearly $23 million next season with Barton having already declined said option. Let’s dive into the latest Nuggets rumors with information on who they might target via free agency and/or the trade block — among other things.
Will Barton declines player option
Barton, 30, missed the end of the regular season and all but three playoff games with a hamstring injury. It’s just a continuation of injuries that have plagued the guard in recent years. In fact, Barton has missed 91 games over the past two seasons. Despite this, Barton just recently declined his $14.7 million player option for the 2021-22 season and will become a free agent.
It’s an important decision for the Nuggets in that they will have a need at the two-guard position should Barton leave in free agency.
Denver Nuggets rumors: Extending Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon
When Denver acquired Gordon from the Orlando Magic at the NBA trade deadline, it knew full well that he was set to hit free agency following the 2021-22 season. Giving up R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and a first-round pick, there was no reason to believe that the Nuggets planned on Gordon departing in free agency.
Unfortunately, the four-year, $76 million deal Gordon signed with Orlando in 2018 is structured in a way that handcuffs the Nuggets in a big way. According to Bobby Marks of ESPN, the max Gordon can receive in an extension this summer is $88 million over four seasons. He’s highly likely to wait until free agency in 2022 to ink a long-term deal.
As for Porter Jr., he broke out big time for the Nuggets this past season. The former first-round pick from Missouri averaged 19.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 45% shooting from distance. He’s seen as a central building block with Jokic and Murray in Denver. Set to enter the final year of his rookie deal, there’s some suggestions that Porter’s market value is roughly $27 million — a bit shy of the max.
The interesting dynamic here is that Porter Jr. might be inclined to sign said deal this summer given his history of injuries. Remember, the forward missed his entire rookie campaign to a back injury. That led to him dropping to the Denver Nuggets with the 14th pick back in 2018 despite being seen as a top-three prospect.
Denver Nuggets trade targets: Using the Jerami Grant trade exception
Realistically, Denver could apply this exception with a player or two and bring back a starter-caliber two-guard in return. Moving off impressive guard Monte Morris might seem to be a risk given Murray’s ACL injury, but that could be the best possible path for the Nuggets. They would then be able to bring back $18.5 million in salary.
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon and Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings are two potential options. If Denver wanted to get really crazy, it could even combine Morris’ contract with Barton (should he opt in) and the trade exception to bring in a near max contract two guard. The team’s 2021 first-round pick could be used as bait to lure a player like Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine. Just some food for thought.
Denver Nuggets free agent options
Being a non-tax paying team, Denver has a midlevel exception valued at nearly $10 million for once NBA free agency opens. The team could break up said exception by bringing in multiple veteran free agents. It could also use the entire amount to find another option at the two-guard position with Barton — assuming he opts in.
The good news? There’s a ton of potential options for the Nuggets. Former All-Star Victor Oladipo suffered a quad injury early in his tenure with the Miami Heat this past season. That places into question his availability for opening day. Perhaps, Oladipo takes the midlevel exception to join a championship contender.
If Denver wants to go with someone who will undoubtedly product early during the 2021-22 season, Even Fournier of the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans restricted free agent Josh Hart could make sense.