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What signing Dwyane Wade would mean for the Denver Nuggets' present and future

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 6, 2016

 

Sometime Wednesday, the Denver Nuggets’ brass, which will reportedly consist of president Josh Kroenke, general manager Tim Connelly and head coach Michael Malone, will sit down with Dwayne Wade and his inner circle, likely inside of a plush mid-town Manhattan hotel conference room and try to convince the three-time NBA champion that Denver is the best place for him to continue his career.

Wade to the Nuggets seemed like a pipe dream just a few days ago – a similar scenario to when Denver was suddenly thrown into an Adrian Wojnarowski report of a second tier of teams who were also interested in Kevin Durant‘s services. However, after an initial low-ball offer from the Heat, Wade sent the NBA stratosphere into a frenzy by jetting off to Ibiza to hang with LeBron James, Chris Paul and their significant others and open up the possibility that he won’t be in Miami this fall.

How’d we get here?

The Heat initially offered Wade a contract worth $10 million per year, a 50 percent cut from his 2015-16 salary, that reportedly angered the “Heat-Lifer” who then likely leaked that he was in the process of setting up meetings with the Knicks and Bucks.

From there, Miami lost out on Kevin Durant and upped their offer to Wade to $20 million per year, perhaps sensing that Wade could actually be serious about leaving South Beach. However, it doesn’t appear that the extra money put a bandage over distrust and resentment currently standing between Wade and the Heat organization.

Wade has made over $25 million in sacrifices throughout his time in Miami and taken pay cuts on three straight deals. He’s never been the Heat’s highest paid player and Wade wants the respect and pay day of someone who’s about five years away from getting a statue in front of American Airlines Arena. The 34-year-old wants security and his last big contract, and even though the Heat would give him the $20 million per year he was originally asking for, bridges may be burnt for good.

The Nuggets, armed with the most cap room of the rumored Wade suitors, acted quickly. Denver let it be known they have the most money to spend and reportedly offered Wade a two-year contract worth upwards of $52 million and took the steps necessary to secure a meeting with him Wednesday. Other teams reportedly followed suit and landed meetings with Wade on Wednesday as well.

What signing Wade would mean for the Nuggets next year

If Denver is able to pull off one of the more unlikely free agent signings in recent memory, it wouldn’t signal a dramatic shift from what the Nuggets are building, but reaffirm their plan over the next couple of seasons to be fixtures in the Western Conference playoffs.

Adding Wade likely means veterans Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried are all in for this season and the organization’s goal of making the playoffs next year would seem drastically more reachable than before. Wade, plus a healthy Gallinari and Chandler, and a rejuvenated Kenneth Faried would form a likely playoff team in the West, which is exactly what the Nuggets’ Security Council should be pitching to the 12-time NBA All-Star.

With Durant heading to the Warriors, the Western Conference is all of a sudden in flux. Golden State and San Antonio are givens, but Oklahoma City will drop off, the Los Angeles Clippers could be shaking things up before the trade deadline if things start poorly, and Portland, Dallas, Memphis, and Houston aren’t teams you’re running to the bank over. With Wade, the Nuggets could very well vault into that second group of West teams and suddenly making the playoffs with this current group for the next two or three years with Wade seems very doable.

Still, it’s a tough sell considering what Denver’s up against.

Cleveland, which hasn’t reportedly gotten a meeting with the free agent, yet, features Wade’s best friend in James and the ability to essentially coast for a season and wind up back in the Finals. But the Cavs don’t have any money to spend and a contract for Wade would likely have to coincide with James taking a massive pay cut on the 2016-17 contract he hasn’t signed yet. Chicago and Milwaukee are situations that aren’t much different from Denver, except for Wade’s mid-western roots, but the Nuggets can offer the most money out of all three of those teams.

With Wade, Denver’s expectations take an unprecedented leap. Gone are the moral victories where Nikola Jokic‘ smile and candor in the locker room offsets a fourth-quarter collapse and the mental lapses on defense that caused Malone headaches throughout last season are magnified times ten.

Bringing on the future Hall-of-Famer would signal a slight delay in Gary Harris or rookie Jamal Murray‘s usage next season but that doesn’t mean it will hinder their development. Simply being around an accomplished veteran like Wade, even if it will take away from their playing time has its benefits. Post-Wade, the hope would be Denver’s youthful core of Emmanuel Mudiay, Harris, Murray, and Jokic would be ready to pick up right where those veterans left off – in the playoffs.

Denver’s on court performance is, of course, the driving factor behind pursuing Wade, but you have to wonder if the Nuggets would be so hot on his tail if they weren’t 30th in the league in attendance last season and if their television ratings weren’t likely in the pits. Wade undoubtedly gets people coming back to Pepsi Center, he unquestionably leads to an uptick in season ticket purchases and a rare national and local buzz about the Nuggets.

It’s tough to put a price on that.

Let’s talk money

Denver’s reported offer to Wade is two-years and $52 million – the highest offer that’s out there right now. Operating under the notion that the Nuggets offer is $26 million in year one and $26 million in year two (the terms of the proposed deal were not disclosed), his 2016-17 contract is roughly 27.6 percent of the Nuggets’ salary cap. Fast forward to 2017-18 when the cap is expected to spike again to roughly $107 million and his contract would take up about 24 percent of Denver’s space. That’s a lot of money for a 34 and then a 35-year-old who’s often injured but did play 74 games last season, even with an increasing salary cap.

There’s also talk of Wade wanting a third year in his contract and he’d probably sacrifice some money for the financial security of earning upwards of $20 million when he’s 37-years-old. I’d guess Wade would back off his $25 million figure if a team threw in a third year and if that number was below $20 million it wouldn’t be that hard of a hit with a cap that’s likely still rising, but at a much slower rate than before.

Wade likely wants his last big pay day plus the security of a three-year deal. However, giving a player with the miles and injury history like Wade nearly $20 million when he’s 37-years-old sounds awfully Kobe Bryant-ish.

How Wade sets Denver up for the future

The true value of signing someone like Wade might not even be seen in the first year he spends in Denver.

The Nuggets want to be major players in 2017 free agency and Wade giving Denver just a meeting helps their cause, but signing with the Nuggets would increase their notoriety around the league tremendously.

Think back to 2014 when James was in the process of leaving the Heat and was fielding offers from other franchises. The Phoenix Suns somehow secured a meeting with Rich Paul (James’ agent) and although they didn’t end up landing James, Phoenix got their name out there as a potential free agent destination. A year later, when LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out of Portland, the Suns got a similar meeting, which ended with the Phoenix narrowly losing out on Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs. Still, the Suns were seen as a major player in the free agency landscape.

Denver could reap the benefits of a simple Wade meeting or better yet a signing for summers to come. Free agents would take the Nuggets more seriously as a destination which could lead to higher-tiered players sitting down with Nuggets management when they may have passed them over before.

Where does Wade land?

The Heat are still the odds-on favorite to retain Wade’s services next year. He played this game with Miami last summer before re-upping with the only NBA franchise he’s played for, but this year seems more tumultuous than last.

There’s also a chance the Nuggets are being pulled along in an attempt to get the Heat to come up to Wade’s desired number, a tactic that wouldn’t be a surprise, but would still benefit the Nuggets from simply being in these discussions in the long run.

Cleveland is also an option, as would any team that currently houses James, but there’s little wiggle room for the Cavs to give Wade the money he desires.

Bringing on Wade is a dangerous move for a franchise that’s done so well in establishing a clear core that could take them back to the playoffs as soon as next year without the former superstar. Wade would hinder the development of Harris, and take away minutes from Murray and Barton, but Nuggets management won’t pass up on the chance to acquire a future Hall-of-Famer and a three-time NBA champion.

Wade could be in Denver next season, or he might be using the Nuggets as a smoke screen to pry more money out of president Pat Riley and owner Mickey Arison. Either way, Denver simply being in the mix for a free agent of his caliber is a productive move for an organization that’s taking the right steps back to the playoffs, with or without Wade.

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