There are plenty of decisions that Tim Connelly and Company need to make this offseason, as they try to continue the Nuggets ascension up the ranks in the Western Conference. With a few key tweaks, they hope to make Denver a legitimate threat to compete with the Warriors for a trip to the NBA Finals.
The first choice they’ll need to make will come down to answering a very simple question: Is the current core group of players, with a little more experience and seasoning, good enough to make a leap beyond the 54 wins, No. 2 seed, second-round exit that the Nuggets posted in 2018-19?
If the answer is yes, then the decision is easy; Denver will exercise their team option on power forward Paul Millsap and pay the $30 million his contract calls for him to earn this coming season. That’ll keep the team together, with Millsap being the veteran in a group that includes Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
But if the answer is no, things get a little trickier. With the other big three locked into contracts, and still on the upside of their NBA careers, the most likely player to be moved out is Millsap; not bringing him back would free up a lot of cash and cap space to make other deals.
But it would also create a void in the lineup. While much-maligned, at least in some circles, Millsap did fill a key role for the Nuggets last season. He averaged 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, which were good-but-not-great numbers. That said, he was Denver’s only low-post scoring option outside of Jokic and he also brought a toughness to the lineup that no one else on the roster can match.
If Millsap goes, who could fill his shoes? Well, plenty of options are out there, available via free agency.
Top Five Available
1. Tobias Harris | Philadelphia 76ers – Harris had a breakout season, split between the Clippers (55 games) and the Sixers (27), averaging 20.0 points and 7.9 rebounds. At 26, he’s just entering the prime of his career, making him a hot commodity in free agency.
2. Marcus Morris | Boston Celtics – Morris is very similar to Millsap, both in terms of game and demeanor. He’d definitely provide the down-low scoring, while still being an occasional threat from the outside. But he also has the toughness the Nuggets would need.
3. Julius Randle | New Orleans Pelicans – After escaping the mess that is the Lakers, Randle had a career year in the Big Easy, averaging 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds despite only being a starter for roughly half the season. At only 24, he’ll be in high demand.
4. Thaddeus Young | Indiana Pacers – The soon-to-be 31-year-old veteran will do the dirty work, as he’s a solid defender, gets most of his points in the paint and works the glass. He’s a good fit for teams that don’t need another scorer to run plays through on offense.
5. Nikola Mirotic | Milwaukee Bucks – After being traded to Milwaukee, he got lost in the shuffle a bit on a talented Bucks roster. He likes to drift to the outside on offense, which makes him a good fit in Denver’s offense but doesn’t address the low-post need.
1. Harris – He’s at the point in his career where he would fit right in with Jokic, Murray and Harris, creating a four-man core for the next five years in the Mile High City. His time in Philly showed him how to fit in on a talent-laden roster.
2. Taj Gibson | Minnesota Timberwolves – Age is a concern, as Gibson will turn 34 during the season, but his experience and toughness would be a great replacement for Millsap. The way he tormented the Nuggets in game 82 of the 2017-18 season is what Denver needs.
3. Bobby Portis | Washington Wizards – Portis came off the bench for three-plus seasons in Chicago, but got a chance to start in Washington; he excelled in the role, averaging 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Wizards. At 23, he has a ton of upside.
Last Week: Centers – With Nikola Jokic on the roster, there isn’t a huge need in the middle for the Nuggets. But the Millsap decision could have a domino effect.
Next Week: Small Forwards – During the playoffs, Will Barton was a liability for the Nuggets. Replacing him with a legit scoring threat should be mission No. 1 for Denver.
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