JaVale McGee, Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller will all wake up with one thing in common July 1: An uncertain future with the Denver Nuggets.
Fernandez and Miller have reached the end of their contracts with Denver, and when free agency begins will they will be able to sign with whomever offers them a contract. McGee, obtained midseason from Washington via trade, will be a restricted free agent, giving the Nuggets a chance to match any offer extended to him.
Will these three return to Denver for another playoff run, or will general manager Masai Ujiri lead the team in a different direction as they strive to obtain a NBA championship?
Miller, a 36-year-old point guard, averaged a career low 9.7 points last season in a backup role with Denver. His average of 27.4 minutes per game was the lowest minutes per game since his rookie season, a number that perhaps is the cause for the rumors that he was unhappy with his role.
While Miller’s leadership played a major part in the Nuggets success, one has to think that the former University of Utah point guard will not be returning to the Pepsi Center court for the 2012-13 season. With his career drawing to an end, the veteran guard will likely receive an offer to start for another team and decide to play there. His $7.8 million contract last season also likely makes him too expensive for a backup guard on a team full of young players.
Fernandez, acquired in a trade from the Dallas Mavericks, only appeared in 31 games in the 2011-12 season, suffering from a back injury that kept him out of action. His most meaningful impact on the season may have come on a beautiful play that led to Kenneth Faried’s first points in the NBA. His contributions came with the second unit, a role that will likely be filled by Jordan Hamilton during the upcoming season.
The most recent news about Fernandez indicate that he will be leaving the US to play internationally. In an interview with TuBasket.com, Fernandez spoke of his respect for George Karl, his comfort with the playing style, but indicated that if Real Madrid made an offer that was better than the offer coming from a NBA team, he would be playing in Spain next season.
That leaves priority number one for Denver – resigning JaVale McGee, the curious 7’0″, 237 lbs. project who was obtained from Washington for Nenê.
While McGee has a reputation of a “knucklehead,” his play improved in the 31 games he spent in Denver, which culminated in an impressive performance against a talented Los Angeles Lakers frontline. McGee showed improved discipline on defense, improving his rebounding percentage while still collecting 22 blocks in the series. McGee performed so well against Andrew Bynum that he began to receive praise from national media such as JA Adande, who said, ” Who would have thought when we talked about impact centers in this series, it would be JaVale McGee, not Andrew Bynum?”
If Denver believes that the culture of winning and the coaching staff can further the maturation of McGee, then perhaps the reward of a multi-year contract will outweigh the risk implied by taking on the young center. Players with 7’6″ wingspans who can dunk from behind the backboard and significantly alter shots on defense usually get rewarded with large contracts in the $40-$50 million range.
If the Nuggets are able to resign McGee, what does their lineup project to be next season? If Evan Fournier, the Nuggets most recent first round draft pick, comes over from France, the Nuggets would have 14 players on their roster out of a maximum 15. With the Nuggets propensity to play small, it would make sense that the Nuggets would attempt to sign one more point guard to complement starter Ty Lawson and young backup Julyan Stone.
An affordable player who could be looking for a one-year deal to redeem his recent struggles is a familiar name for Nuggets fans – Raymond Felton. Felton played last season with the Portland Trailblazers, starting 56 games but putting up some of the worst numbers of his career.
If he rejoined Denver, there would be no argument about whom would be the starter, like there was when Felton arrived via the famous Carmelo trade. This is clearly Ty Lawson’s team to lose, and Felton would have to understand that coming in. This could be a good move because of the affordability of Felton after a poor year, and the familiarity of the offense with Felton. While Stone is projected to serve as the backup, competition in practice would serve the second year guard well as he fights to earn playing time. If Felton plays well, the Nuggets get the most out of the contract. If Felton plays poorly, he will only be around for one year anyways.
Another option for the Nuggets to solidify the point guard position would be Keyon Dooling, formerly of the Boston Celtics. Dooling would provide value as another backup guard if he continued to knock down timely jumpers in a similar fashion as he did during the 2012 playoffs. Dooling, who celebrated his 32 birthday in May, would come to Denver with 49 games of playoff experience to help provide leadership to a Nuggets team that is one of the youngest starting lineups in the league.
With all of the hype surrounding the Dwight Howard soap opera in Orlando and the Deron Williams courtship between Dallas and New Jersey, don’t look for the Nuggets to clamor for attention. Most of the roster is already set for next season, and if the Nuggets are able to resign McGee, the team will look very similar to the team that fans were able to enjoy in the seven game series against the Lakers.
About the Author
Written by Daniel Lewis
Deputy editor of digital content for Brigham Young University newspaper, The Universe. Native of Denver, Colo. He likes to ride his bicycle.