By Mike Misek
2010/11 Denver Nuggets Payroll: $73.4 million
2010/11 NBA Salary Cap: $56.1 million
Roughly: $17.3 million over cap
Kenyon Marton – ETO for $16.8 million
Renaldo Balkman – Unrestricted Free Agent
Malik Allen – Unrestricted Free Agent
Anthony Carter – Unrestricted Free Agent
Johan Petro – Unrestricted Free Agent
Joey Graham – Unrestricted Free Agent
Coby Karl – Non-guaranteed Team Option for $854K
Brian Butch – Non-guaranteed Team Option for $762K
Linas Kleiza – Rights retained, two years are left on his deal with Olympiakos but there is an NBA opt-out clause. With the Greek financial crisis, it is possible that the Angelopoulos brothers might not be quite so free spending.
Sani Becirovic – Brandon Jennings’ former Roma teammate signed with AJ Milano January for the rest of this after originally signing with Union Olimpija last summer. He will be a free agent again this summer, but his NBA chances appear slim.
Draft Picks – None
The Good: The Nuggets possess one of the top talents in the league with Carmelo Anthony, who’s in the prime of his career and they have surrounded him with some quality talent. The fact that Melo is not a free agent this summer being wooed by all the teams with cap room, unlike so many of the league’s other top young stars, is a positive. Granted, that might be a highly pessimistic outlook. Everything that could have gone right in order to allow Denver to make the Western Conference Finals in 2009 happened, and they still failed to make it. The Lakers and Nuggets were the healthiest of the eight playoff teams, and it played a big role in how deep they went. Last year, everything that could have gone wrong did. Given that Carmelo Anthony has an opt out in 2011, Kenyon Martin’s deal will finally expire, J.R. Smith will be a free agent, and Chauncey Billups’ deal for 2011-12 is only guaranteed for $3.7 million, it would appear that the most likely course of action for the Nuggets will be to stay the course for one more year hoping that the team will have better luck regarding the health of both their players and George Karl.
The Bad: Losing George Karl was a big deal and the main reason for falling short of the conference finals. Barring a bout of craziness that leads Kenyon Martin to opt out of $16.8 million, Denver will enter the summer between $15-17 million over the salary cap and $5-7 million over the luxury tax. Kenyon Martin was not the same player after his March knee injury. The good news is there’s just one year left on his deal, the bad news is that it’s for 16.8 million. Nene will need to step up his level of play to justify the 2 years at 11 per left on his deal. Following a trip to the Western Conference Finals, Nuggets management showed a willingness to operate above the luxury tax this season. It will be interesting to see how the purse strings are adjusted after being knocked out in the first round this season.
The Future: The team does not have a lot of options to drastically improve their roster. From a talent standpoint, it is difficult to see how the team can upgrade its top eight, especially given it has no draft picks and lack of financial flexibility. It is not a major problem as talent is not the problem. If healthy, they have the talent to be the second best team in the West. Such is the odd state of the West where the difference between 2 and 8 is health. The team does struggle, however, from a low collective basketball IQ. It gets notice when the team loses, but they have been in the 50-54 win range for each of the past three seasons. One would expect the Nuggets to scour the free agent market for a few heady veterans to fill out the back half of the roster for the veteran’s minimum. It is also likely given that they do not have a draft pick, and likely a number of empty roster spots, that they be an attractive option for players who go undrafted. last year’s first rounder Ty Lawson is proving to be an excellent late round selection (20th) and will provide quality depth and a likely eventual successor to Billups.