If the Nuggets miss on big names, who’s left?

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider

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.

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