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Paging Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard: The Nuggets believe they should be key players in the battle for top-tier free agents this summer

Harrison Wind Avatar
May 21, 2019

Hey, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and the rest of the 2019 free agent class. The Nuggets are ready to pitch you about why you should sign in Denver this summer.

Do you want to win? The Nuggets won 54 games last year, the fourth-most in the league. Denver has staying power atop the conference too with a superstar in Nikola Jokic who’s as unselfish as they come. He’s signed through 2023 and would rather assist on your 3-pointer than shoot his own. The Nuggets won a playoff series this year and their young core, which is all under contract for at least the next season, took the Portland Trail Blazers to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals.

“When people say, ‘It’s about winning, it’s about winning,’ I don’t know how we’re not 1, 2 or 3 with a bullet,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said Tuesday regarding the prospects of top-tier free agents considering Denver. “… I think it’ll be fascinating to make those calls. And if it’s about winning and they don’t want to talk to us, then it’s a disingenuous answer.”

But if starting your own media company per se, or dabbling in other off the court ventures is more important to you at this point in your career, Denver can help with those pursuits as well.

“The ownership group is the most impactful and powerful ownership group in all of sports,” Connelly continued, referencing Stan and Josh Kroenke’s worldwide assets that range from sports teams in the English Premier League, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and esports’ Overwatch League, to their entertainment holdings which include multiple television stations. “From London to L.A. There’s no one who has what the Kroenke’s have. And there’s no ownership group I think that is more hands-on and more knowledgeable of who works for them across every spectrum of their organizations.”

Or maybe building your personal brand is your top priority? Denver is in the middle of its own tech boom with Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Facebook and Arrow Electronics all paying rent within the state. More are coming too. In 2018, Colorado launched a $500,000 marketing campaign called “Pivot to Colorado,” a poaching strategy designed to lure top Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech talent to the area.

“If it’s about growing your brand. Again, the unique opportunities Denver presents right now as being one of the hottest cities in the country,” Connelly said. “Coupled with an ownership group that has a stake in any and everything in entertainment.”

The city is dynamic. You’d be hard pressed for anyone that visits Denver and who doesn’t leave here thinking, ‘Wow. What a great city. I’d love to live there.'”

The Nuggets enter the 2019 offseason in an enviable position. Denver has its entire rotation under contract for next season except starting power forward Paul Millsap, who by all indications will likely be back in a Nuggets uniform one way or another, but can be aggressive on the open market, one that has a more than just one or two names who would fit nicely alongside Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray in the Nuggets’ starting lineup.

The 2019 free agent class is strong, with headliners like Durant, Leonard and Thompson, but it also packs talent behind the top names at small and power forward, the Nuggets’ two weakest position. After a season where Denver took the Western Conference by storm, how can the Nuggets take that next step? Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic or Bojan Bogdanovic added to this current roster would do the trick.

The Nuggets will enter this summer with a little over $90 million committed towards next year, which puts Denver around $12 million under the reported salary cap for the 2019-20 season. With a few slick moves that would divert some money that’s already on the books for next season elsewhere, the Nuggets could put themselves in position to absorb a max-level contract if need be. That’s if there’s actual interest among the league’s real movers and shakers.

NBA scuttlebutt would seem to indicate there is. Josh Kroenke in an appearance on Altitude Radio this week said that he can see top tier free agents or title chasers considering Denver soon, which falls in line with what many around the team say. The Nuggets are on the ruling class’ radar for potentially the first time ever. Will that interest translate into commitments prior to or right when free agency opens, which the Nuggets will need in order to clear the necessary room to absorb those signings? We’ll see.

But if those free agency dreams don’t come true this summer, Denver won’t fret. It shouldn’t either. The Nuggets can roll the exact same roster back from this season and with an extra year of experience under their belt seemingly advance another round in the playoffs. A patient and prudent approach, like the one the Nuggets have followed over the last few seasons, is how the majority of Denver’s roster is thinking.

“We could have won yesterday and been in the Western Conference Finals,” Jamal Murray said the morning after the Nuggets’ Game 7 loss about if additions needed to be made to Denver’s roster. “We would have been a top-4 team and a contender. We lost by four. I was 4 for 18. (Damian Lillard) was 3 of 17 and we lost. So I think we’re contenders right now.”

On paper, the Nuggets will be among the most talented teams in the league next season, as they were this year. And the pure, raw and unfiltered emotions that flowed throughout the Nuggets’ locker room after the Game 7 defeat portrayed a team who felt like they still fell short of what could have ultimately been achieved. Jokic was in tears and tried to put the blame on himself for the Nuggets’ season-ending loss. Players apologized to Connelly for letting the team and organization down.

The Nuggets president of basketball operations dealt with the loss by immediately flipping the page. Connelly took time to reflect on a successful season, which he and Malone agreed before tip-off that they’d do at some point over a beer regardless of how the night turned out, then quickly turned his suit in for a t-shirt and shorts and enjoyed a postgame Mother’s Day dinner before watching the defeat again a few times later that night.

Connelly then flirted with his hometown Wizards’ vacant president of basketball operations opening and traveled to Washington D.C. over the weekend to meet with owner Ted Leonsis. After what Connelly characterized as a “discussion” and an “exchange of ideas” he returned to Denver and said Tuesday that in the end couldn’t envision leaving a Nuggets organization that he had helped build from the ground up. Next up, an offseason full of intrigue, highlighted by the impending debut of 2018 first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. at Summer League.

The only thing that could distract from the much-hyped rookie’s Las Vegas showcase? Agreeing to terms with an A-list free agent during the first few days of July.

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