Denver Nuggets 2014 NBA Free Agency Big Board: Ranking Top Targets
According to Basketball Insiders, the Nuggets have 11 guaranteed contracts for next season at just under $69 million. However, that doesn't include the non-guaranteed deal of third-year player Quincy Miller or any of their three draft picks.
On the other hand, David Pick of Eurobasket.com reports that Jusuf Nurkic, the No. 16 overall pick, is unlikely to sign with the Nuggets for the upcoming season due to his buyout with KK Cedevita, his Croatian team. It's also expected that second-round pick Nikola Jokic might stay overseas, too.
So, while Gary Harris will likely be on the books for the upcoming year, there could be as many as three spots available on this Nuggets squad. Given the restricted cap space, options are limited, but there's still some room to land someone who could play his way into the rotation or fit the next-man-in role.
If you're thinking Denver needs a superstar, it's coming from a trade. But I think we're looking at the bulk of the 2014-15 Nuggets, at least until the trade deadline.
Furthermore, as Aaron Lopez of Nuggets.com mentioned, head coach Brian Shaw recognizes the depth of his team and pointed to how the San Antonio Spurs used that to their benefit in last season's championship run. We could easily see a 10-man rotation with the Nuggets in the upcoming year.
Taking a look at Denver's depth chart, point guard and small forward are where general manager Tim Connelly could use an extra guy. Who should he sign?
The Nuggets are attempting to solve their defensive issues on the wing. They drafted Harris at the 2, Danilo Gallinari comes back from his knee injury at the 3 and Darrell Arthur returns at the 4.
But will Harris' height be a problem? Can Gallo stay healthy? Is Arthur still in the primary rotation later on in the year?
Especially if Miller doesn't come back, Denver needs someone who can play at both ends of the floor at small forward.
After already playing with four different franchises in his first five seasons, James Johnson is now an unrestricted free agent. He's coming off his best year with the Memphis Grizzlies that includes a solid 21.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per 100 possessions.
As a physical all-around forward with tremendous efficiency, this is someone who should easily be a primary contributor off the bench. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders reported that Denver has considered trading Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee—so Johnson could see legitimate action if this happened.
Johnson made a mere $680,263 with the Grizzlies last season and hasn't earned more than $2,812,006 in a season during his career. Therefore, the Nuggets should have the chance to make a great addition with Johnson.
With Aaron Brooks becoming an unrestricted free agent, the Nuggets are down to two point guards. Surely after last season's absurdly bad run of injuries, they don't want Randy Foye as the temporary floor general again.
After the Toronto Raptors waived D.J. Augustin and the Chicago Bulls picked him up, he flourished with 26 points and 8.7 assists per-100 possessions. His 16.8 player-efficiency rating and 6.4 win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) were career highs.
Augustin would battle it out with Nate Robinson for playing time, and Robinson would certainly have the inside track. It's possible Augustin wants to go somewhere else where he feels he has a better shot at a permanent spot.
But Shaw found a way to give Robinson, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller minutes for the first two months of last season. If Augustin wants to play in a more up-tempo system and Shaw elects to go with a particularly deep rotation this year, Augustin puts the finishing touches on a potent backcourt.
The Raptors signed Augustin for $1.267 million, and the Bulls picked him up for $755,459. Given his recent success, we might be looking at a two-year deal worth a little bit more than that, but it's something the Nuggets can afford.
Remember when Steve Blake was in a Nuggets uniform? That's right, he was for the final 49 games of the 2006-07 season when he tallied up a career-high 33.5 minutes.
The mileage is adding up on Blake as he enters his 12th year. He hasn't played more than 55 games since the 2010-11 season and health is a minor concern.
But if the Nuggets want a third point guard at a relatively cheap price, Blake is a terrific option.
He's still playing with sufficient efficiency—12.4 points, 10.1 assists and 1.8 steals per-100 possessions. Blake could be a nice 15-to-20-minute piece to the puzzle who can distribute after Lawson and knock down three-pointers.
To be fair, though, the odds of landing Blake are low.
His numbers are in a slight decline, but he's still a valid second-string guard and may want to go somewhere with more guaranteed minutes. According to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin, Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has already made an effort to bring Blake back to wear the purple and gold.
However, he couldn't maintain meaningful minutes with the Golden State Warriors and won't find a starting gig anywhere else. As long as the Nuggets don't have to commit to a three or four-year deal with him, Blake is worth a shot.
If Augustin and Blake fall through, Denver should look at another former Bulls guard—Jimmer Fredette.
When the Andre Miller dispute went down with Shaw last season, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported that the Nuggets and Sacramento Kings were in discussions about a trade that would have sent Fredette to Denver. After an agreement wasn't reached, Sacramento bought out Fredette's contract, and Chicago acquired him.
With Fredette now on the open market, the Nuggets could use his services. He can play the 1 or the 2, which is noteworthy when you have two point guards under 6'0" and can mix up the matchups.
The shooting numbers are what stand out the most at 40.1 percent from three-point range and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line. He has ridiculously amazing range, and if Fredette is surrounded by Denver's speed and depth, he should get plenty of open looks.
But let's not just assume Fredette is a three-point specialist. Yes, he's great at that, but he's only taken 42.1 percent of his field-goal attempts from behind the arc and has decent ball-handling skills to space the floor at point.
Fredette is an ideal candidate to round out the 15-man roster.
With all the injuries that hit the Lakers last year, Johnson logged 28.4 minutes and was the one guy who could guard on a nightly basis. He also forced 1.9 steals and blocked 1.7 shots per-100 possessions.
Even though he has a 110 defensive rating for his career, remember that every team Johnson has been on has had egregious defensive issues.
His offense is also improving—shooting career highs last year at 42.5 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from three and 79.2 percent from the line. He can handle the rock and has considerable athleticism for opponents to deal with on the fast break.
Let's also not forget that the Lakers got him last season for only $916,099. While he may deserve over $1 million, that's an easy consideration to make.
Again, this isn't a huge splash by any means. But for a team that needs defense while playing within the Nuggets' style, he's a solid fit.
Unless noted otherwise, all statistics and contract information are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com