State of the Cap: Denver Nuggets
20012/13 Payroll: $62.7 million
2012/13 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $58 million
Roughly: $4.7 million over cap
Highlights: The Denver Nuggets had been building a pretty good team even before this summer. Then, as part of a monumental, shape-shifting trade involving four teams, the Nuggets acquired Andre Iguodala and made themselves even better. Iggy adds the kind of star power and veteran experience they were lacking and solidifies them as a possible contender in the Western Conference. The best part is that they didn’t have to give up much in order to do it. Al Harrington did not figure into their future plans and while Arron Afflalo is a pretty good shooting guard, Iguodala is certainly better. Denver definitely came out ahead in that exchange.
A star of Iggy’s stature commands a high salary and he’ll get it with $14.9 million coming next season (with a player option the following year for $16.1 million). There is no doubt that Iguodala is worth it. He may not be the scorer that Dwayne Wade is, partly why his deal is a little cheaper, but Iguodala is definitely on par with Wade when it comes to versatility. Last season, he filled up a box score with 5.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and shoots a good percentage from the field. His three point shooting has improved a lot, hitting a career high 39%, and he has been an excellent defender, which Denver especially needs. They were the highest scoring team in the league last year, but also the third worst defensive team. A lock-down defender on the wing will help a lot. Iguodala should be what the Nuggets need to make a deep playoff run very soon.
Point guard Ty Lawson is making a lot of teams look foolish for passing on him in the 2009 draft (especially the Wolves who picked him at #18 and then traded him away for nothing). He was the team’s leading scorer at 16.4 per game and nearly led in assists with 6.6. He wasn’t just jacking up lots of shots either. Lawson hit 48% of them, 36.5% on threes. Even more impressive was that he stepped it up in the playoffs and showed he could play well when it mattered. His 32 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5/6 shooting from the three point line in a game 6 win against the Lakers let everyone know that Lawson was the real deal. He will be paid well in the near future, but next season he’ll get just $2.5 million on the last year of his rookie deal. That makes Lawson’s contract one of the best values in the entire league.
Another high-value contract from a young player comes from Kenneth Faried. The 22nd pick in 2011 played very well, putting up 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 22 minutes a game, showing very efficient production. Faried is owed an extremely cap-friendly $1.3 million next season and has two more years left after that as a team option. Faried will be an important piece of Denver’s front line for years to come.
Before Iguodala’s arrival, there was only one player on the team with more than 5 years of NBA experience; Andre Miller. The well-traveled Miller is back for his second stint with the Nuggets and they got him at a pretty nice price for his kind of production. For just $5 million each of the next two years (and $4.6 million after that), the team gets a veteran presence who led them in assists with 6.7 per game and chipped in 9.7 points as well. Miller doesn’t need a lot of shots and is perfectly fine facilitating the offense to all of the other talented scorers. It is easy to see why Denver was eager to retain his services.
Lowlights: There is very little not to like about the Nuggets’ salary cap situation. Corey Brewer’s $3.2 million next season might be a little high, but its not terrible for a decent bench player who actually had a couple good games in the playoffs. Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov will get $3 million and $2.7 million respectively as little-used back-up centers, but they are decently productive in the few minutes that they do receive and they still have some promise.
The only player I might consider to be a little pricy is Wilson Chandler. Acquired as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade, Denver signed him during last season after he missed a lot of it because of a problem getting out of the contract he signed with a Chinese team during the lockout. He then got injured and played in just 8 games for the Nuggets. He has 4 years and $26 million dollars left, which isn’t a devastating sum, but Chandler is going to be a little rusty after missing so much time and his shooting percentages with the Nuggets haven’t been good. However, if Chandler returns to the form he showed as a Knick, he should be able to earn his contract as a key player in their rotation.
The Rest: Denver recently spent a lot of money on two players who they feel are keys to the future of the franchise. Danilo Gallinari received four years and $41.8 million while JaVale McGee pocketed $44 million over that same time period. Both are good players who also hold some risk at those prices. Gallinari has missed at least 20 games due to injury each of the past two seasons and his shooting has been stuck at 41% for a while. McGee only averaged 20 minutes a game in his short stint with the Nuggets after the trade, put up his best stats for a terrible Washington team, and has been known for making bone-headed plays at times. Knowing that both of these players will be getting eight figures each of the next four years is a tad worrisome.
However, the skill and potential of these players should lead to performances that are worthy of their contracts. Both are just 24 years old and entering their prime. Gallinari creates a lot of match-up problems with his ability to shoot threes and put the ball on the floor at 6’10”. McGee could very well be the next Tyson Chandler, changing games with just his rebounding and defense. As long as Gallinari can become a more efficient shooter and McGee can mature, avoid dumb mistakes, and earn the kind of minutes he deserves, then Denver should have an excellent core in place.
This team has done a pretty good job at finding gems late in the first round of the draft (Lawson, Faried) and they might have another one in Evan Fournier. He was the youngest player in French league history to average over 20 points a game. Even on a deep team like the Nuggest, its always nice to have a good, young prospect to mold.
Anthony Randolph was added this summer, which was a curious signing. This will be his fifth team in five seasons in the league so there is no guarantee he will stick around here. It won’t matter much, though, because his contract was very cheap. He is worth the shot to add a little depth.
Conclusion: Wouldn’t it be ironic if the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers also helped to create the team that knocked them off in the playoffs? There are good reasons why Denver gave the Lakers fits in the first round last season. They are talented, they are young, they play with toughness and they are well coached. McGee has the length and athleticism to bother Howard. Iguodala has the defense and experience needed to make it tough on Kobe. And at his age, I don’t think Steve Nash can hang with Ty Lawson for a whole game.
Could it happen? Absolutely. But in reality, its going to be very tough for anyone to beat the Lakers this year. They have Kobe, Howard, Gasol, and Nash for crying out loud. That shouldn’t stop Denver from setting lofty goals, however. Not only this season but beyond as well.