The Nuggets must spin quickly.
The start of free agency Friday evening did not start as someone in the Nuggets organization had planned. Jerami Grant’s shocking decision to leave Denver for Detroit, despite identical three-year $ 60 million offers, would turn every front office, let alone one strongly convinced Grant would return.
The allure of a more prominent role had a lot of influence, according to competition sources. Grant didn’t necessarily like the idea of being the fourth option in a squad full of budding stars. For most of this year, Grant got off the couch behind aging veteran Paul Millsap. According to Grant, despite the success of the team, that was a sacrifice, according to a source in the competition.
In Denver, Grant wasn’t sure he could maximize his potential. In their pitch, the Nuggets told him they would further his growth as a player. It didn’t matter. Despite being a central figure in the Nuggets’ captivating late season, Grant had an eye for Detroit. Grant’s long-standing relationship with Pistons’ new boss, Troy Weaver, weighed heavily.
The Nuggets should be running now – because the franchise doesn’t currently have any financial flexibility below the NBA salary cap.
Unlike Grant, whose Bird had rights to Denver after last year’s trade with Oklahoma City, the Nuggets can’t cross the salary ceiling to sign free agents outside their organization.
The Nuggets have had an interest in clever defensive attacker JaMychal Green in the past. Late Friday night, those interests were aligned. Green agreed to a $ 15 million two-year deal with a second-year player option, a source in the league said. The deal takes advantage of the majority of Denver’s mid-level exception, according to another league source. Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo will take over most of Denver’s biennial exception. According to a league source, his two-year deal is worth $ 6 million.
Green, a more traditional force forward than Grant, immediately filled a gap. Given the uncertainty over Paul Millsap’s continued free service, the Nuggets needed insurance. They got it in Green’s physical post defense coupled with his perimeter shooting.
It is not immediately clear whether Green will fit into the starting grid. If not, one possibility could be Michael Porter Jr. start with power forward and keep Will Barton small forward, depending on his health. However, those questions will not be answered until the training camp begins, which starts in 10 days.
The Nuggets did what they could, given Grant’s unexpected decision. Ultimately, Green’s $ 15 million two-year deal is a relative bargain compared to Grant’s $ 60 million three-year deal – a number significantly higher than what several league sources predicted he would get.
So what now?
The Nuggets’ new priority is to keep Millsap, a league source said. As of Saturday afternoon, the 35-year-old veteran forward planned to take his time and consider his options. His return would add depth to the frontcourt and provide a measure of security in defense. It remains to be seen what kind of deal he could accept, having completed his three-year $ 90 million deal last season.
This is where the schedule gets tricky. From Saturday morning, two roster places were open. The Nuggets have no intention of keeping Keita Bates-Diop forward, a competition source said, which will open a third roster spot. That should be filled in by Bol Bol, whose two-way contract the Nuggets plan to convert, a source said.
If the Nuggets can keep Millsap, the next priority is limited free agent Torrey Craig. Without Grant’s defense, Craig is seemingly more valuable to the Nuggets than he was a day ago.
And if the Nuggets can’t keep Craig, they’ll try to add a mobile big man, a competition source said, after free agent Mason Plumlee headed to Detroit. The Nuggets have already identified at least two possible attacks, according to a source, in case their plan goes wrong. If Denver can’t find another suitable big man, that role could fall to Arizona rookie Zeke Nnaji, who drafted the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
In the wake of Grant’s decision, the Nuggets acted quickly. And with hardly any wiggle room under the hat moving forward, they’ll wait to see if their current plan comes true.