Why Denver Nuggets Should Pay Kenneth Faried Before Full-Fledged Breakout

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIJune 16, 2014

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried jokes with photographers while being stretched before facing the Utah Jazz in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Denver on Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Kenneth Faried has carved a niche in the NBA by playing with unrivaled energy, hustle and explosiveness. He led all Denver Nuggets players with a player efficiency rating of 19.9 during the 2013-14 campaign. Now he’s working to improve his game and earn the title of “superstar.”

Denver’s front office would be wise to lock Faried up via contract extension before the 24-year-old experiences a breakout season.

“Manimal” is entering the final year of his current contract. He’ll become a restricted free agent during the 2015 offseason if he isn’t re-signed before then. The Nuggets already have a core of guys taking up cap space—Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari and J.J. Hickson, among others—but Faried’s youth and upside is worth the investment.

Management has no reason to fool around. Based on effort alone, Faried will prove to be worth every penny.

Locking Him Up Now

Nuggets management has already been mulling the prospect of keeping Faried in Denver with a long-term deal.

“We’ll talk to his representation,” general manager Tim Connelly said in May, per The Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey. “I think Kenneth is happy here. I think he’s really embraced what (Coach) Brian (Shaw) is trying to instill. Those are the type of guys that deserve to get paid.”

That may never be more accurate than it is following Faried’s tremendous second half.

Kenneth Faried Pre/Post-All-Star Break

After the 2014 All-Star break, the third-year pro averaged 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 54.6 percent from the field. He embraced an increase in minutes from head coach Brian Shaw and put up the best stats of his young career.

He didn’t see eye to eye with George Karl’s replacement initially, but Faried’s positive attitude and work ethic hint toward more improvement moving forward. Denver should expect more All-Star-caliber play.

On his moniker of being the high-energy guy, the Morehead State product said the following, per Dempsey:

I respect it, but that’s not something I want—‘Oh he’s the energy guy. That’s all he’s going to bring us.' I want to be that superstar player. I know what it takes. I’ve seen what it takes. I’ve watched guys at my position make it to that level, and I’m trying to make it there, too.

As a superstar, you’re supposed to have everything. You’re supposed to work on everything and get better at everything, and that’s what I plan on doing.

If the big man’s second-half stats and desire to be great are precursors of bright things to come, Denver can’t afford to let him increase his stock before negotiating an extension.

Risk of a Full-Fledged Breakout

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Signs point toward Faried working to develop his skills as a basketball player. As Dempsey writes, “working on finishing with his left hand and improving his ball handling and midrange jump shot” have to be priorities.

Perhaps “Manimal” could even start honing a three-point shot to expand his repertoire. If he manages to do those things—or even just put up the gaudy stats he posted from late February forward—he could opt for a new suitor during free agency.

The Phoenix Suns learned that lesson the hard way during the mid-2000s with shooting guard Joe Johnson.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/Associated Press

Instead of locking up the young 2-guard for the long haul to play alongside Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, owner Robert Sarver waited until after a breakout 2004-05 season. During that year, Johnson averaged 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting an absurdly efficient 47.8 percent from three-point range.

Johnson felt underappreciated in Phoenix and “stunned Suns managing partner Robert Sarver by asking Sarver directly not to match” a five-year, $70 million offer extended to him as a restricted free agent by the Atlanta Hawks, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Phoenix abided by Johnson’s wishes by executing a sign-and-trade that brought Boris Diaw to the desert. Diaw developed into a rock-solid role player around the Suns’ great core, but locking up Johnson at a modest price before he became a free agent might have changed their playoff fortunes.

The Nuggets can learn from Phoenix’s gaffe by negotiating with Faried as soon as possible.

They’re not going to be able to lowball the dreadlocked power forward, but both parties should be able to find a middle ground that satisfies both sides.

As Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal wrote in May:

Given Faried's loyalty to the team that took a chance on him after his Morehead State career, as well as the love showered upon him by the Denver faithful, I wouldn't be shocked to see a bit of a hometown discount. Both sides should be willing to listen to negotiations that revolve around numbers like $9 and $10 million per year, especially if there's an opt-out clause in the final season. 

According to ShamSports.com, Ty Lawson makes $11-13 million annually through 2016-17. JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari, meanwhile, make approximately $10-12 million per year through 2015-16.

It makes sense to consider those incumbent contracts when gauging how much Faried could be worth moving forward. At the very least, he'll earn more than his rookie-scale contract, which is set to pay him about $2.2 million next season.

Denver already has a crowded frontcourt, so it may benefit from a financial standpoint by putting McGee or Hickson on the trade block. The latter isn’t a good defender and has a lot of Faried’s same skills (rebounding plus interior scoring). The former continues to stay relevant for athletic hype and “Shaqtin’ A Fool” appearances.

Faried is a fan favorite who has also endeared himself to the organization. Coach Shaw has said, “I definitely want to have him back,” while Connelly called him, “The heart and soul of our team," per Dempsey.

That’s not a personality any team wants to lose.


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