NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – Examining the Denver Nuggets’ top priorities this summer

NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – Examining the Denver Nuggets’ top priorities this summer post thumbnail image

The Denver Nuggets enter the NBA offseason with the lone resource that can improve their roster: health.

For a second consecutive postseason, Denver played short-handed; last year without guard Jamal Murray and this year with no Murray and no forward Michael Porter Jr.

The results were a second-round sweep against the Phoenix Suns in 2021 and an opening-round, five-game defeat to the Golden State Warriors in 2022.

Why Denver ranks 7th in NBA Future Power Rankings


State of the team

Roster status: Championship level — but only if healthy

This statement is not an indication of the job performance by Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly and coach Michael Malone. The two continue to represent the gold standard of running an NBA franchise.

But this Denver team has confirmed that even with an MVP on the roster, it can only go so far without Murray and Porter. Murray missed the entire season after left ACL surgery and Porter has missed the majority of 2021-22 after a third back surgery.

After reaching the conference finals in 2020, the Nuggets were swept out of the playoffs in 2021 and suffered a five-game defeat this season. In the past two series, Denver was outscored by an average of 14.8 points.

When the three shared the court last year before the Murray injury, Denver had an offensive efficiency of 123.9, the highest among 154 trios to play 600 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They also outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions in 784 minutes.

Murray and Porter are set to earn a combined $62 million in 2022-23, and with Aaron Gordon‘s extension set to begin, Denver will pay a luxury tax penalty for the first time since 2009-10.

Factor in the Jokic supermax extension, and the Nuggets will have $132 million in guaranteed salary tied up in four players for 2023-24.

The future finances leaves the Nuggets with no margin for error to compete for a championship unless this roster is fully healthy.


The reigning MVP and this season’s favorite to win the award is set to join an exclusive club. Jokic is not only expected to become the ninth player to sign a supermax contract but also the first second-round pick and youngest player to do so.

As of now, the five-year, $254 million contract would be the largest in NBA history.

  • 2023-24: $43.8 million

  • 2024-25: $47.3 million

  • 2025-26: $50.8 million

  • 2026-27: $54.3 million

  • 2027-28: $57.8 million

Per ESPN Stats & Information, 2021-22 was a season of firsts for Jokic. He became the first player:

  • With 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season

  • To average 25 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a season

  • To lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage in a season since steals and blocks became official in 1973-74

  • To rank in the top 10 in PPG, RPG, APG and field goal percentage in a season since 1969-70 when points, rebounds and assists leaders were first based on per-game averages

  • To account for 25% of his team’s rebounds and 25% of his team’s assists in a season since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68

  • With 19 triple-doubles at the center position since Chamberlain (31 in 1967-68 and 22 in 1966-67)

Jokic has also proved to be one of the more durable players in the NBA. He has missed only 24 games since 2015 and appeared in a minimum of 70 games in each season, including shortened seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21.


Future finances

The Nuggets join the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and Warriors as the only teams with three max players on their roster.

The company of the big-market teams now comes with a financial penalty and restrictions on how the Nuggets can add to their roster in free agency. As we highlighted above, a healthy Murray and Porter justify the cost to a team that lost in the first round.

The question heading into the offseason is if ownership approves the use of $6.3 million midlevel exception to sign a free agent. If Denver uses the exception, it will cost them an additional $14 million toward the luxury tax.

Below is a breakdown of the salaries of the four key players that Denver has on the books for the next four seasons:

Offseason cap breakdown and depth chart

Team needs


Resources to build the roster

  • NBA draft: First-round pick

  • Exception: $6.4 million tax midlevel

  • Cash: $6.3 million to send or receive via trade


Dates to watch

  • June 20: The Nuggets will have an eye on this date. Forwards JaMychal Green ($8.2 million) and Jeff Green ($4.5 million) have a decision to exercise their player option or become a free agent. Jeff Green has played at least 65 games in 12 of his 14 seasons, including 75 in his first year with the Nuggets. In the absence of Porter, Green started 63 games, averaging 10.6 points and shooting 53.8% from the field. If he declines his option, the maximum that Denver can sign him to is $5.4 million or the $6.3 million tax midlevel exception. JaMychal Green averaged the second-lowest minutes in his career (16.2) and points (6.4). If he declines his option, the Nuggets can sign him up to a starting salary of $9.8 million. He has established early Bird rights but if the raise in the salary exceeds 120% from the previous season, the contract has to be a minimum of two seasons.

  • June 29: Facundo Campazzo ($4 million), Vlatko Cancar ($2.2 million), Markus Howard ($1.8 million) and Davon Reed ($50,000) are eligible to receive a one-year qualifying offer.

  • June 30: Porter’s $176.9 million rookie max extension is based on a projected $122 million salary cap in 2022-23. The total and per-year salary becomes finalized when the NBA releases the new cap numbers before the start of free agency.


Restrictions

  • The Nuggets can trade their 2022 first-round pick but only on the night of the draft. They owe both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic a future first-round pick. Denver can trade a future first — the earliest is 2027 — but because the first owed to Orland is protected, there is no guarantee that the acquiring team will receive it. They are allowed to trade a 2029 first, but because of the seven-year rule, it cannot convey to the next season.


Extension eligible

  • Murray is entering year three of the rookie max extension he signed in 2019 and is eligible to sign for two additional seasons and up to $85.9 million. It is highly unlikely that the Nuggets would enter into a new contract right now with Murray.

  • Backup guard Monte Morris signed a three-year $27.4 million extension in December 2020 and becomes eligible to sign a second extension on Aug. 28. The new contract can be for an additional three seasons and up to $42.2 million in new money. In the absence of Murray, Morris averaged a career high in minutes (29.9), points (12.6) and assists (4.4). He is under contract through the 2023-24 season if an extension is not reached before the start of the 2022-23 regular season.


The Nuggets have their own first-round pick in June but are restricted in their future assets:

They owe Oklahoma City a top-14 protected first in 2023, 2024 or 2025. Two years after the first to the Thunder is sent, the Nuggets will send the Magic a top-five protected first.

For example, if the Thunder receive the Nuggets’ 2023 first, Orlando would then receive a 2025, 2026 or 2027 top-five protected first.


Here’s how ESPN’s Mike Schmitz has Denver selecting in June:

No. 21 (own): EJ Liddell | PF | Ohio State

One of the most improved players in college, Liddell has turned himself into a first-round pick by modernizing his game on both ends of the floor as a powerful 4/5. He has trimmed down, evolved as a perimeter shooter (38% from 3), expanded his playmaking off the dribble, become an asset in switch situations and developed into a true defensive anchor for the Buckeyes thanks to his stellar timing and nonstop motor.

Scouts still have questions about Liddell’s long-term upside as he stands no taller than 6-foot-7 with average positional length, a flat jumper that might take time to adjust to the NBA line and a somewhat power-reliant game.

Can Liddell score efficiently against NBA-caliber rim-protectors? If not, is he a skilled enough shooter, passer and ball handler to be an asset on the perimeter? Does Liddell project as more of an energy guy or is he the next collegiate winner who scouts will overlook because of his less-than-stellar measurables, underrating his incredible intangibles, productivity, basketball IQ and toughness?



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