Nuggets 2024 offseason preview: What’s next for Denver roster after playoff disappointment?

Nuggets 2024 offseason preview: What’s next for Denver roster after playoff disappointment?

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The 2024 offseason will either be a showcase of the Nuggets’ patience, or their reaction time.

It’s up to general manager Calvin Booth to determine which philosophy is the way forward after Denver’s NBA title defense ended abruptly and disappointingly in the second round of the playoffs. Were the Nuggets good enough to repeat if they just hadn’t blown that 20-point lead in Game 7? Or was the series loss to Minnesota a broader revelation about the championship viability of their roster as currently constructed?

The 2024 offseason features another late first-round draft pick, a critical player option for a championship-level starter and a lot of salary cap limitations as Denver prepares to operate on the fringes.

Who’s under contract next season?

Before getting into player options and team options, the Nuggets have just shy of $168 million in contracts on the books for 10 players. The 2024-25 salary cap was projected around $141 million as of April, with the luxury tax line at $172 million, the first tax apron at $179 million and the second apron at $190 million.

In 2023-24, Denver’s roster was the sixth-most expensive in the league, with a $182 million payroll that exceeded the first apron and prevented mid-season roster moves such as signing a waived player whose previous salary exceeded the mid-level exception. Now with roster spots to fill, the Nuggets could trigger the second apron next season, incurring more penalties. They wouldn’t have any access to the midlevel exception at all, for instance, and they would be barred from aggregating multiple of their players’ salaries to trade for a player with a higher salary.

In the age of this new collective bargaining agreement, that’s simply the cost of being a championship contender. It’s understood organizationally that Denver has to keep spending in order to maximize the remaining prime years of three-time MVP Nikola Jokic, debatably a top-15 player in the history of the sport already. “You have a responsibility to him,” team president Josh Kroenke said this week. It’s just a matter of how the money is divided and how to circumnavigate the increasingly dynasty-averse CBA restrictions from a long-term perspective.

“The core of this team was assembled under a different CBA,” Kroenke said. “We drafted, we developed and we built this team under a different set of rules. Those rules have kind of changed on the fly.”

Here are the contracts on the books for the 2024-25 season as of Memorial Day weekend, not including player options and team options.

Player Salary* Contract expires
C Nikola Jokic $51,415,938 2028 offseason^
G Jamal Murray $36,016,200 2025 offseason
F Michael Porter Jr. $35,859,950 2027 offseason
F Aaron Gordon $23,841,455 2026 offseason^
C Zeke Nnaji $8,888,889 2028 offseason^
G Christian Braun $3,089,640 2026 offseason+
G Julian Strawther $2,552,520 2027 offseason+
F Peyton Watson $2,413,560 2026 offseason+
G Jalen Pickett $1,891,857 2027 offseason
F Hunter Tyson $1,891,857 2027 offseason
* Salary figures via and | ^ The contract year is a player option | + Does not include qualifying offer year

Who has contract options this offseason?

The biggest story of the offseason is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s $15.4 million player option, which he’s expected to decline. If he does, the Nuggets will attempt to re-sign him in free agency. They have his Bird rights, unlike last offseason with Bruce Brown when they couldn’t match a lucrative offer from Indiana. But if Caldwell-Pope is offered a long-term deal by a team with substantial cap space such as Philadelphia or Orlando — two teams that will show interest, according to a league source — will it make sense for Denver to meet the offer?

Caldwell-Pope is a superb fifth starter: durable, efficient beyond the arc, borderline All-Defensive Team. But going into the second apron for multiple years isn’t just a question of ownership’s willingness to spend. It’s a question of mortgaging the team’s future. If the Nuggets are over the second apron at the end of 2024-25, their first-round draft pick seven years into the future (2032) — an asset that cap-cramped contenders often use in trades — will become frozen and un-tradable. If they remain over the second apron for three of five seasons, that pick will automatically move to the end of the first round, remaining frozen.

“Some organizations, they’ll be happy paying whatever (luxury tax) they could to have the potential to win a championship,” Kroenke said. “When you start talking about draft picks, that’s when you get people’s attention pretty quick.”

If the Nuggets need cap relief to improve their depth in the short term, which Michael Malone didn’t trust in the Minnesota series, paying handsomely for KCP isn’t going to supply that. Difficult decisions wait.

Backup point guard Reggie Jackson also has a player option at $5.25 million, which he is likely to exercise. Vlatko Cancar, who missed the 2023-24 season with a left ACL injury, has a team option in his contract at $2.3 million.

If all three options were exercised, Denver’s 2024-25 payroll would near $191 million for 13 players with two more roster spots to fill (excluding two-way contracts).

Who is entering free agency?

Two players who were signed to the veteran minimum — Justin Holiday and DeAndre Jordan — are set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer. Holiday was a newcomer to the roster in 2023-24, and he played an unexpectedly significant role in Denver’s playoff rotation. In the second round, the Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves by 36 points when he was on the floor, leaving a strong final impression.

If the Nuggets make an effort to run it back with their championship-winning starting five, they’ll need to continue relying on rookie scale contracts and veteran minimums to fill out the end of the bench. Players such as Jordan and Holiday matter because Malone has a reputation for trusting experience far more than youth, even during the regular season.

“You can go get minimum guys and try to get what you can out of them, and if you have tax issues, those guys, if they have good seasons, they’re not gonna be on your team the next year,” Booth said this week.

How many draft picks do Nuggets have in 2024?

The Nuggets possess the No. 28 pick in the first round of the draft and the No. 56 pick in the second round. Last season, they selected Strawther with the 29th pick, Pickett with the 32nd and Tyson with the 37th. Booth’s stated strategy regarding the CBA is to lean on drafting and developing a second wave of talent that makes the roster recyclable over time when the salary cap gets suffocating.

The obstacle, of course, is that it’s more difficult to hit on draft picks late in the first round. Booth has seemingly succeeded with Braun and Watson, but the trio of 2023 picks struggled to earn playing time other than Strawther in the first half of the season. Denver’s 2024 first-round pick is available to be moved the night of the draft, but future draft capital is limited.

“We’ll get with our staff and continue to have conversations about what to do with our pick: trade up, trade down, look to trade out,” Booth said. “We’re gonna be flexible about what we think about doing.”

Key dates

June 25: Reggie Jackson’s opt-in deadline

June 26: NBA draft, first round

June 27: NBA draft, second round

June 29: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s opt-in deadline

July 1: NBA free agency (unofficial)

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