It’s almost that glorious time of year on the NBA calendar, free agency, when the rumor mill runs amok and hundreds of players join new teams and begin new journeys. Teams can begin talking to free agents on June 30 at 16 MT.
The Denver Nuggets are in an interesting position heading into free agency, fresh off bringing home their first NBA championship in franchise history. Their entire starting lineup — Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokić — is attached to long-term contracts, which certainly eases some of the burden on general manager Calvin Booth and the front office. office.
Promising sophomores Christian Braun and Peyton Watson are also under contract with the organization on rookie-scale deals through 2026. Vlatko Čančar and Zeke Nnaji round things out, as the final two players signed through 2025 and 2024, respectively.
Still, there are other questions to be answered as Booth looks to round out the defending champion’s roster. This free agency preview will be split into four parts highlighting Denver’s outgoing free agents, its spending power, its potential roster needs and some possible free agent options.
Denver’s outgoing free agents
- Bruce Brown
- Ish Smith
- Jeff Green
- DeAndre Jordan
- Reggie Jackson
- Thomas Bryant
- Collin Gillespie (Two-Way)
- Jack White (two-way)
We’ll start with the biggest fish in Denver’s 2023 free agent class, Bruce Brown, who declined his $6.8 million player option with the Nuggets to test the market. It has been reported by many that Brown is set to command a significant market as one of the best jack-of-all-trades players around. The Nuggets can offer Brown a maximum of $7.7 million next season, and his status is Denver’s biggest question mark heading into free agency. Will he sign elsewhere for more money annually? Or will he return to Denver’s championship core and ride it back? Time will tell.
Ish Smith, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan all fall into the same general bucket; this trio served as Denver’s locker room leadership instrumental in securing the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see Booth bring back one or more of these veterans to drive Denver’s culture.
If Brown ends up leaving Denver, Reggie Jackson is a candidate to replace his ball-handling skills off the bench. Heck, even if Brown ends up staying, there’s certainly a world where the Nuggets covet Jackson’s ability to run an offense as a fourth or fifth guard.
Thomas Bryant didn’t play much after being acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in February, but he brings floor spacing that could certainly highlight Denver’s best offense in the playoffs.
Booth indicated there is a good chance Collin Gillespie will return during the 2023 draft pick introduction pressers. He missed the entire 2023 regular season with a lower leg fracture. Jack White had some good moments down the stretch last season, but there will certainly be competition for the other of Denver’s two-way slots.
Denver, like many other teams in the NBA, is quite limited with its spending power in free agency. It can hand out veteran minimum contracts in the ballpark of $1-2 million annually. For example, Jordan was signed to a minimum-level veteran contract last season worth $2.9 million for a single season.
Denver operates above the cap as a tax team, meaning it only has access to the $5 million taxpayer middle-class exemption.
Otherwise, the Nuggets have three trade exceptions at their disposal to make deals with other teams. A $9.2 million trade exception from the Monte Morris trade with the Washington Wizards (for Caldwell-Pope). A $2.2 million trade exception via the LA Clippers from the Bones Hyland trade. And a $1.9 million trade exception from the Davon Reed trade with Los Angeles.
Remember, trade exceptions can not combined with each other to form a larger trade exception. They also cannot be combined with a player and his salary.
Operating under the hypothetical situation of Brown leaving the Mile High City in free agency, Booth will have his hands full trying to replace his immense skills.
Brown served as Denver’s primary ball handler in the reserve unit. He thrived in transition all season long and improved significantly as a pick-and-roll orchestrator. Free agents offering that kind of skill could fill a need for the Nuggets.
Perimeter defense could be another coveted skill. Brown was one of Denver’s best point-of-attack defenders and a great screen navigator. Surrounding Jokić with a cadre of solid perimeter defenders is never a bad idea when trying to replicate championship magic.
Three-point shooting has become a premium in today’s NBA. That is another area of interest.
And then it may finally be wise to search for a backup center. Denver’s small-ball bench units with Gordon at center thrived in the postseason, outscoring opponents by 10.5 points per game. 100 possessions. Still, versatility and the ability to match up with a variety of opponents is wise. A traditional big man could bolster Denver against teams with bigger frontcourts.
Potential free agent opportunities
We go by position for this section.
- Dennis Schroeder — Nuggets fans may recognize Schröder from the Western Conference Finals. Like Brown, he is a great defender and is excellent at getting around screens. Although his shooting efficiency leaves a little to be desired, he will bolster Denver’s perimeter defense almost immediately.
- Jevon Carter — Carter is another defensive minded point guard who started 39 games for the #1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. He’s also an excellent shooter at 42.1 percent in 2023 who showed strong progress as a pick-and-roll creator. He could very well be the best 3-and-D option at the point guard position in this free-agency class.
- Dennis Smith Jr. — ‘DSJ’ is an excellent candidate to potentially replicate Brown’s athleticism and defensive intensity. He was an All-Defense caliber player who improved the Charlotte Hornets’ defense by 10.7 points per game. 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Although his outside shooting is still a work in progress, he finished well at the rim at 64 percent thanks to his top speed and athleticism.
- Ayo Dosunmu — Prying away a restricted free agent like Dosunmu won’t be easy; Chicago has the ability to match any offer thrown at him. But if the Bulls decide to go a different direction, Dosunmu could be the best one-on-one replacement for Brown. Tasked with defending opposing stars at the guard position in Chicago, Dosunmu is an excellent cutter and off-ball threat. Players who stay active away from the action almost always thrive alongside Jokić’s creativity as a passer and floor-mapper.
- Patrick Beverley — Beverley is probably the best-known lead guard on this list. There may not be a more physical player at the guard position in the NBA, and Beverley’s transformed himself into a reliable three-point shooter throughout his 11-year career. That’s without mentioning the toughness and leadership he could bring to Denver’s locker room.
- Shake Milton – Milton absolutely thrived when given starting minutes, averaging 18 points, 5 assists and 2 rebounds last season as a 76er. Philadelphia’s crowded roster limited his options, and while Milton would come off the bench behind Murray and Caldwell-Pope, he would have the opportunity to orchestrate Denver’s entire backup offense for about 25 minutes a game — similar to Brown last season.
- Josh Richardson – Richardson is a good-not-great three-point shooter who has been particularly reliable from mid-range throughout his career. His calling card coming into the league with the Miami HEAT was his defense.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker – The Minnesota Timberwolves opted not to extend Alexander-Walker’s qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. The ‘NAW’ made a name for themselves in the postseason by forcing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into a rough 2-of-14 shooting night in the play-in game. He also chased Murray with a full-court pressure throughout most of Denver’s first-round series against Minnesota. The offense comes and goes, but he’s a legitimate defensive dog at the guard position.
- Jae Crowder — Crowder is a 33-year-old veteran with plenty of playoff experience. While his shooting falters from time to time, he has always been a rugged and physical defender capable of guarding a position. He’s been a plus rebounder at his position over his last four seasons and is an absolute magnet to snag steals.
- Joe Ingles – Ingles is a career 40.8 percent three-point shooter and is more than capable of running the pick-and-roll in a pinch thanks to his unselfish nature. There’s a good case to be made that he’s the best pull-up shooter in the entire 2023 free-agent class after making 46.9 percent of his three-pointers off the dribble as a Milwaukee Buck last season.
- Torrey Craig – Craig played in Denver in his first three NBA seasons and started a total of 69 games thanks to his defense and rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. He has since transformed himself into an excellent outside shooter, making 39.5 percent of his regular-season three-pointers and a ridiculous 44 percent of his playoff threes.
- Yuta Watanabe – Watanabe was an early-season surprise for the Brooklyn Nets, impacting the game with his nonstop hustle and dramatic increase in three-point shooting. A crowded wing rotation ultimately hurt Watanabe’s playing time, but he’s a 3-and-D wing with excellent size at 6’9 who shot 46 percent from deep. There is a chance that he is one of the biggest free agency steals.
- Prince of the Bull – The Minnesota Timberwolves recently declined Prince’s $7.4 million option, making him a free agent. Prince is another 3-and-D forward who made 37.8 percent of his three-pointers in his two seasons as a Timberwolf. He has also improved his off-the-dribble game in Minnesota, developing a reliable floater with 47 percent accuracy.
- Derrick Jones Jr. – Jones is a high-flyer who made 62 percent of his shots inside the restricted area. He is a willing cutter, exactly the type of player who could thrive next to Jokić and fill gaps. His athleticism has allowed him to rank at the top of his position in terms of block percentage, and he thrives as a secondary rim protector.
- Keita Bates-Diop — Similar to Watanabe, Bates-Diop could end up being one of the biggest steals in free agency. He’s a willing cutter who developed a bit of a post-up game in San Antonio by ranking in the 90th percentile at his position last season. ‘KBD’ also made 39.4 percent of his three-pointers and is a highly tuned defender who knows his rotations and communicates effectively. Basically, he’s the prototypical 3-and-D guy who can do a little extra with his off-ball movement and ability to back smaller players.
- Darius Bazley – Bazley recently became an unrestricted free agent when Phoenix withheld his qualifying offer. He’s a great athlete who shot 37.7 percent from three last season. At just 23 years old, he has serious 3-and-D potential with great size at 6’8 and a 7’0 wingspan.
The center market is quite thin. However, there is one player who stands out…
- Mason Plumlee – Yes, you read that right. Jokić’s former backup for five seasons may very well be the best available option for Denver at the center position. Nuggets fans should be very familiar with his game; he is an excellent rebounder and a great screener. Like Jokić, he excels as a passer as a playmaking five. Plumlee also finished well around the rim at 76 percent, and he would be an excellent backup option if he stays within the ballpark of what Denver is capable of using.