OPTIONS ABOUND FOR NUGGETS IN FREE AGENCY»
If the Nuggets miss on big names, who’s left?
This is the second of a two-part series looking at the Nuggets in NBA free agency. Today: Finding the right fit after big names leave the board.
Chris Paul was going to be the biggest name to hit the NBA freeagent market. Until he wasn’t.
The all-league point guard was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Houston Rockets this week, instantly reducing an already limited field of marquee names that became free agents when the clock struck 10:01 p.m. MDT on Friday. That’s when teams could begin meeting and negotiating with players from other teams. Deals can now be agreed to anytime, but they can’t be officially signed until July 7.
With Paul plucked from the pool, the so-called big fish who will be coveted when the feeding frenzy begins is limited to players such as forwards Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap and point guards Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and George Hill.
Several of those players are bound to go back to their current teams. And there will be no shortage of suitors for the others. So where does that leave the Nuggets, who have been active in their pursuit of a big-name player to add to a young roster?
Denver likely will court Millsap and perhaps Griffin. But so will several other teams with money to spend. While the Nuggets have a more attractive situation to pitch to free agents than at anytime since they last made it to the postseason, in 2013, the offseason comes with no guarantees. So there is little doubt Denver president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and general manager Arturas Karnisovas have created blueprints for attacking a field of available players if they don’t find their top targets.
There are more than 130 players who are free agents — that’s the unrestricted and restricted variety combined. Here are seven less-heralded names, in no particular order, that could fit with the Nuggets, not counting the team’s own free agents Danilo Gallinari (unrestricted) and Mason Plumlee (restricted): Johnson would instantly infuse a dose of toughness to a team that could certainly use it. Johnson averaged 12.8 points per game for Miami last season, so he doesn’t provide the same scoring punch as Gallinari, Denver’s starter at the small forward position last season, but he rebounds it well, has versatile defensive skills and has a willingness to share the ball (3.6 assists per game last season) that fits into what the Nuggets are doing offensively.
Taj Gibson, 6-9, PF, unrestricted: Gibson is as true a professional as they come in the NBA, and his desire and toughness that is illustrated most in the way he attacks the glass could be a great teaching tool for Denver’s young players. Gibson wouldn’t provide the offensive help in the frontcourt you’d get from Millsap or Griffin, but at the right price he could be a huge boon to the culture the Nuggets are attempting to cultivate. of Colorado star would provide defense the Nuggets sorely lacked last season. Though he brings almost no offense to the table, he would immediately help Denver limit penetration at the perimeter. The Nuggets may have to overpay a bit to keep Oklahoma City from matching an offer sheet. Addressing their biggest area of need won’t come cheap. the hard way. He was undrafted, cut twice by San Antonio and turned two 10-day contracts with Memphis into a multiyear deal. Now, he’s due to make eight figures per season. At 27, and with less miles on his legs than others his age, Green would inject toughness, defense and leadership into the frontcourt. He doesn’t have the same pedigree as other power forwards on the market, but he brings a number of tools to the power forward spot the Nuggets seek. The numbers for the 29-year-old Australian — averages of 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists last season — don’t jump off the stat sheet. But Ingles is a high-IQ small forward who consistently makes winning plays, evidenced by his performance during Utah’s run to the second round of the playoffs last season. He would be a defensive upgrade at the position — and fits into the smart, ball-sharing mold Denver is trying to cultivate. like to extend their two-man of the future, Gary Harris, this offseason. But Will Barton and Jameer Nelson will be free agents after next season and much is still left to be determined about how Emmanuel Mudiay fits into Denver’s future plans. The Nuggets need some insurance in the backcourt, and the 25-year-old Galloway could provide bench production at both guard spots.
P.J. Tucker, 6-6, SF, unrestricted: Tucker plays like a guy who chews on nails for breakfast. His toughness is a big part of his value, and he would be a big boost defensively at the three spot. He’s not a guy who will create much of his own offense, but moving and cutting around center Nikola Jokic is an easy way for just about anybody to get baskets in Denver’s offense.