Despite a tremendous finish to the 2012-13 regular season and a franchise record of 57 wins, once again the Denver Nuggets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
With the offseason on the horizon, it's time to look at how the Nuggets can improve their roster for 2013-14.
Denver had one of the most unique teams in the NBA last season. While there wasn't a superstar, the Nuggets led the league with 106.1 points per game with their aggressive play toward the rim in an up-tempo offense.
Nonetheless, there are a few holes on this team that need to be addressed before the Nuggets can make a run at the Western Conference Finals.
Here is what the Nuggets front office should do before next season.
Try and Sign Andre Iguodala to a 4-Year Deal
Andre Iguodala has a player option of $15,904,750 next season, but according to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post, Iguodala is expected to opt out and test free agency.
Iggy has nine years under his belt, so pursuing a longer contract at this point makes sense. It seems unlikely that Iguodala will get $15 million per year over roughly four seasons, since his numbers have slightly declined the last few years. The number should be somewhat lower, but not be significantly.
Essentially, if he takes a slight pay cut but is guaranteed to make that amount over roughly four years, the security prevails.
Denver needs to do whatever it can to keep Iguodala. According to Benjamin Hochman's Twitter account who works for the Denver Post, general manager Masai Ujiri wants Iggy to stay put.
Ujiri on Iguodala possibly returning to Nuggets: “I’m very optimistic that things will go well. … We want him back.”— Benjamin Hochman (@nuggetsnews) May 9, 2013
Here are Iguodala's regular-season per-game numbers from 2012-13 and where he ranks on the team in those statistics: 34.7 minutes (first), 13 points (tied for third), 5.4 assists (third), 5.3 rebounds (third), 1.74 steals (first) and 1.6 fouls (first among players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game).
Iggy has a diverse skill set that makes him a tough player to defend. Furthermore, because of his overall athleticism and the way he attacks the hoop, Andre's a perfect match for Denver's philosophy.
Let's also not forget that while many Denver players didn't live up to their regular-season numbers in the playoffs, Iguodala matched or exceeded his.
The tricky aspect for the Nuggets is that Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee are all signed through at least the 2015-16 season at between $10 and $12.5 million per year. Adding a fourth player to that list doesn't give Denver a lot of flexibility, but considering how beneficial Iggy is—and if the number is closer to $10 million per year—he's worth it.
Don't Re-Sign Corey Brewer or Timofey Mozgov
Corey Brewer brought momentum off the bench with his scoring both inside and outside for much of the season. He also bricked a ton of shots and didn't contribute a lot in other areas.
While scoring was Brewer's primary job, Brewer's three-point percentage hasn't improved as he moves further into the prime of his career. He hasn't shot better than 30 percent the last three seasons from behind the arc and shot a career-high 3.7 attempts per game in 2012-13. That's too many empty possessions for someone who contributed fewer than three rebounds and two assists per game.
At this point, there's no reason to believe Brewer's production will vastly increase. Even though Corey is a solid defender and has great size at 6'9" playing the 3, he's not efficient enough and is too inconsistent from the outside.
As for Timofey Mozgov, he will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. But according to basketball.sport-express.ru, Mozgov doesn't believe he fits in Denver.
Mozgov is right. He did play in exactly half of the regular-season games, but he didn't see any playing time in the playoffs. Most of Mozgov's minutes later in the year came in garbage time or when someone in the rotation didn't play on a specific night.
For someone who made just under $3 million playing that role, let him go.
Draft a Center
Outside of Stephen Curry's dominance, the biggest deficiency Golden State exposed on Denver was the center position. With both teams averaging 45 rebounds per game (second) and the Warriors without David Lee, Golden State still manhandled the Nuggets in the playoffs on the glass for a 27-board advantage.
More specifically, Andrew Bogut dominated Kosta Koufos. Koufos was a minus-43 in the series and lost his starting spot after the blowout in Game 2. Bogut averaged 8.2 points and 10.3 rebounds in the series while only playing 27.5 minutes.
JaVale McGee provided a spark off the bench in the regular season, whether it was from his acrobatic rejections or his thunderous dunks in transition. However, that was a rarity against the Warriors, and McGee's overall game needs a lot of work.
Therefore, with several center prospects in the 2013 NBA draft, this is the perfect time for the Nuggets to address this need with their 27th overall pick.
One player who would fit the Nuggets system perfectly is Kansas' Jeff Withey. The 7'0" Jayhawks center posted 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game in his senior season. He also shot 58.2 percent from the field.
More importantly, Withey not only excelled in Bill Self's transition game and could play above the rim, but he has tremendous footwork and can deal a lot of damage on the low block.
Drafting a player like Withey could make an impact instantly on both ends of the floor.
Sign a Shooter and a Perimeter Defender
Pending Andre Iguodala's decision on whether to stay in Denver or not will determine the options on what the Nuggets can do for the rest of free agency.
Should Iguodala leave, Denver could make a bigger play with the extra $16 million. In examining the players who will become free agents in the offseason, two players fit the scoring role off the bench.
The first is Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Martin replaced James Harden as the sixth man off the bench this season and made 42.6 percent of his three-pointers on 4.8 attempts. He also shot 89 percent from the line and would help Denver's 70.1 percent free-throw shooting (28th).
The other is J.R. Smith. The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year spent five seasons with Denver, and his ability to create his own shot would help the Nuggets in the half court and slow a team like the Warriors down when they begin to catch fire.
He also knows how to bring everyone at the Pepsi Center to their feet.
If Iggy stays in Denver, the Nuggets won't realistically have those options.
Two names that wouldn't cost as much but still provide a deep-scoring threat are Marco Belinelli and Kyle Korver. Both players will be unrestricted free agents.
In terms of a perimeter defender, Tony Allen, an unrestricted free agent, would be an excellent addition. Allen doesn't scare you with his numbers, but he always takes on the opponent's best offensive player on the outside. There is a reason why he has started for Memphis the last two seasons.
It's crazy to think he was only paid $3.3 million in the 2012-13 season for his tenacious work. But with this being his ninth season in the league, his value shouldn't increase too much in his next contract.
A player like Allen should be a priority for the Nuggets front office.
Keep Julyan Stone, but not Quincy Miller
The Nuggets should extend the qualifying offer to Julyan Stone for just over $1 million. Stone is a young point guard at 6'6" who is mostly known for his defense. He even sneaked in for a few minutes in Games 4 and 5 against the Warriors.
As for Quincy Miller, he only played in seven games in the 2012-13 regular season for a total of 26 minutes. Since the Nuggets have a solid team as it is and they need more of an immediate impact to become a Western Conference Finals contender, his spot on the roster should be saved for someone else.
Ultimately, Iguodala's decision will influence what the Nuggets can do with the rest of their team. If he comes back and Denver follows this blueprint in the offseason, look for the Nuggets to be one of the biggest threats in the West next year.
All salary information is from Hoopshype.com
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