The Denver Nuggets have been busy to start free agency, agreeing to terms with both center Nikola Jokic and wing Will Barton. But the team reportedly has an even bigger prize in mind.
According to Chris Mannix, the Nuggets are "aggressively pursuing a meeting with star free-agent forward LeBron James, a league source told Yahoo Sports, hoping to convince James that Denver's talent makes the Nuggets an ideal short-term fit."
Mannix added, "Denver has been in contact with James' agent, Rich Paul, and has doggedly tried to position the team as James' best option."
From a purely basketball perspective, James would make total sense in Denver. The Nuggets have built a solid, young team around Jokic (18.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 6.1 APG, 39.6 percent from three), Gary Harris (17.5 PPG, 39.6 percent from three) and Jamal Murray (16.7 PPG, 3.4 APG, 37.8 percent from three), among others.
The Nuggets could surround James with four shooters, giving them a daunting amount of floor spacing and facilitating. Jokic's shooting range and elite playmaking skills from the center position would make him a fantastic sidekick for James. From a fit perspective, it's easy to see how LeBron would slide into the Denver lineup seamlessly.
But there are other factors at play. Coming into free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers were considered the most likely destinations for James, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, and James reportedly spoke with Cavs general manager Koby Altman early Sunday morning.
If James is seeking a long-term deal, Cleveland holds the edge. The Cavs can offer him $207 million over five years, compared to the $152 million over four years that outside suitors like Denver can put on the table.
At the moment, the Nuggets don't have the cap space to sign him to any deal, as Bobby Marks of ESPN.com noted:
Cutting those three contracts would get them down to about $113 million in salary, still around $11 million over the $101.8 million salary cap for the 2018-19 season.
The Nuggets have other big salaries they could unload, including Paul Millsap ($29.2 million) and Mason Plumlee ($12.9 million), per Spotrac.com.
By signing Jokic (five years, $147 million) and Barton (four years, $53 million) to huge extensions, the Nuggets made it harder to sign James. But if James is truly interested in Denver, the team will find a way to bring him aboard.