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Thoughts on The Nuggets Future

Denver’s performance against the Lakers in this year’s playoffs highlighted their youth and their dependence upon jump shooting, but it also showed their potential:

  • Faried, despite being undersized, will grow as a scorer. The Nuggets should look forward to having a very good “dirty work” player which opposing teams can’t cheat off of.
  • Galinari, despite overhandling the ball and making some mystifying choices on defense in the playoffs, has shown he can be a semi-reliable half court scorer. Combined with his length and his outside shooting, he’s a tough match-up.
  • With his combination of speed, shooting, and aggressiveness, Lawson has shown star potential. I just read a great little recap of the Nuggets season that compared Lawson to Tony Parker…and I think that’s generous, but it’s also interesting. Lawson definitely hasn’t hit his ceiling yet (at least I hope not).
  • When Afflalo’s confidence is high, he can score surprisingly well. When it’s not, he’s still an excellent defender.
  • Chandler is a solid all-around player who would be a great 3rd scoring option.
  • Mozgov continues to show potential as an all-around big man, only I’m not sure he’s the right all-around big man for the Nuggets.
  • Koufos didn’t have much success in the playoffs, but in the regular season he performed pretty well. Worst case, he’s a solid rotation player.
  • McGee showed he has the potential to be a dominant talent, but also showed that he’s got a lot of work to do to get there.
In order for the Nuggets to plan their future, they need to figure out:
  1. Who is untouchable and who has value?
  2. What do they need?
  3. What are the goals?

Which Nuggets Are Untouchable? Which Have Value?

Of all the players on the roster, the most important are Lawson and McGee. In my view, these are the only two players who have a shot at growing into true stars, and therefore they should be almost untouchable in any trade discussion. Lawson is close to reaching the star level now, and I’m excited to see where his game improves during the off-season.

McGee, on the other hand, isn’t very close to that star level. He needs at least another 2 years, and perhaps another 3-4 years…and perhaps never. In order to be a star, McGee needs to get to a place where his scoring skills can match his raw physical gifts. He needs a much more refined post game and passing skills when the inevitable double team arrives. He also needs to understand how to find flow in the offense, where to be, etc. He’s got a lot of learning to do to be a better offensive player.

Defensively, McGee’s size and his aggressiveness already make him a defensive asset. With some good coaching, McGee can learn when to go for the block and when to stay on the ground. Coaching can also help him learn how to be a better help defender. If you assume he’s going to continue to grow and get stronger, his ability as a one-on-one post defender should grow as well. I see McGee becoming a significant defensive presence next season (like Marcus Camby even), especially if the Nuggets re-sign him.

After McGee and Lawson, the other untouchable players are Koufos, Faried, and Hamilton. Koufos should be considered untouchable due to his combo of low salary and potential – the Nuggets simple can’t find a backup big with his skills for any less. In the case of Faried and Hamilton, it’s too early to trade them as their potential still isn’t clear.

The rest of the roster should be considered available for the right offer. Here are the players with value and why they’re movable:

  • Galinari and Chandler have both just about hit their ceiling, which means it’s time to think about selling.
  • Afflalo has definitely hit his ceiling. When your assets hit peak value, you always have to think about moving them.
  • Mozgov is a good prospect, but the odds that he will become a star big man are low. His potential is still intriguing, however, so there are a few teams that would be interested in trading for him.
  • Brewer and Fernandez are replaceable, and they might have some value for the right team.

Harrington and Chris Anderson might have value in a trade, but they’re both old and pretty well paid, so they’re not exactly hot commodities. I doubt anyone would be interested in trading for one of these players without offering a similar type of player in return.

What Do The Nuggets Need?

Everything except a starting point guard. They’re good – but not great – at every other position, which means trading for a great SG, SF, PF, or C would be an upgrade over the player currently holding that slot on the roster.

What Are The Goals?

Aside from the obvious (winning a championship), the Nuggets goals should be:

  1. Continue to stockpile and grow assets
  2. Maintain salary flexibility at all times
  3. Structure the roster so that all the players peak at about the same time
  4. Leverage their assets and flexibility to obtain an elite player and make a championship push

What Should The Nuggets Do Next?

Considering that so many of the Nuggets current players have yet to reach their peak, and considering that the current roster can compete in the playoffs, the Nuggets don’t need to do anything. They can continue to develop their talent and see where it takes them. However, there are some problems with the current roster. First, the Nuggets will have 15 players under contract, assuming they keep all three of their draft picks and amnesty Anderson. Second, they have roster overlap at the forward positions, with four starter-level players to share two slots. Third, pending some other roster moves, the Nuggets will essentially be ‘capped’ out once they re-sign McGee in 12-13 and then again when they extend Lawson in 13-14 (I’m assuming both will earn deals in the neighborhood of $10 million a year). Once the Nuggets hit the cap, goal #2 is impacted, which in turn impacts goal #4. Therefore, the Nuggets should:

  1. Amnesty Chris Anderson. Perhaps the Nuggets could “pay” someone to take Anderson in exchange for one or two of their 2nd round picks in the upcoming draft (unlikely I think, but who knows in this draft). Otherwise, he’s a good amnesty candidate.
  2. Trade Mozgov by the 2013 trade deadline. It’s clear that McGee is the future (or at least the guy the Nuggets want to work with), which means Mozgov is the odd man out. Considering his size and cheap contract, someone will take a flyer on him in exchange for a draft pick or an interesting rookie.
  3. Waive goodbye to Rudy Fernandez. He adds depth, shooting, and he’s a surprisingly good passer, but he’s also a drama queen. Portland traded him for a reason – he should be signed and traded.
  4. Sign a veteran PG to back-up Lawson. While Lawson might have the experience he needs to close out games on his own now, I’d like to see Denver bring in a veteran to run the point and help manage close games down the stretch as needed. Delonte West, John Lucas, Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller (who probably won’t sign), and Chauncey Billups should all be on Denver’s radar. Hinrich would be a great addition in my view, mostly because he can backup either position, he’s a solid defensive player, and has years of experience. Keyon Dooling and Royal Ivey would both be good 3rd PG options, assuming Denver doesn’t keep Stone or draft a PG.
  5. Bring McGee off the bench for the first half of the 12-13 season, mostly because he needs to do a lot of work to prove he’s not a knucklehead. Starting Mozgov and/or Koufos over McGee will help ensure he’s continuing to work hard.
  6. Trade cap relief for talent this summer. One of Denver’s smartest moves last year was turning off-season cap space into Fernandez and Brewer, two young guys who may have trade value this summer or next spring. If Denver waits to sign McGee and doesn’t renounce Fernandez, they’ll have $5 million in cap space they can use to help another team reduce their salary. If they renounce Fernandez, that goes to $8 million before re-signing McGee. Undoubtedly there are teams in the league that would send Denver $5-$8 million in expiring contracts in exchange for a pick or a good young prospect.
  7. Be on the lockout for the next big deal. Denver has a great combination of youth, picks, and cap flexibility. They should focus on turning these assets into a star should one become available.

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