Denver Nuggets’ offseason storylines include Nikola Jokic’s max contract, Will Barton’s free agency

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AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets high fives fans as he walks off the court after the second half of the Nuggets’ 88-82 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, April 9, 2018.

Michael Malone and Tim Connelly echoed the same sentiment. The Nuggets’ coach and president of basketball operations are sick of holding their final media gathering right after the conclusion of the regular season.

“How many times can you be the bridesmaid?” Connelly said Friday, less than two days after the Nuggets lost an overtime heartbreaker at Minnesota in their regular-season finale.

Despite finishing with a 46-36 record, Denver missed the playoffs by one game for the second consecutive season. But there’s reason for optimism, as Connelly stressed “this is the most confident I’ve felt in our core group since I’ve been here.” The Nuggets are building around standout big man Nikola Jokic, steady two-way guard Gary Harris and sharpshooting point guard Jamal Murray. Paul Millsap, Denver’s marquee free agent signing, will also be aiming for a season of full health after missing 44 games following surgery to repair a torn left wrist ligament.

Now, the Nuggets’ goal is to sharpen their roster in the offseason. Here are the prominent story lines facing Denver this summer:

1. Does Nikola Jokic sign a max contract?

Connelly alluded to “some pretty interesting financial decisions” looming for an organization that does not have a lot of money to spend. But signing Jokic to a max deal as soon as possible seems like a no-brainer.

Because Jokic — who averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists and compiled 10 triple-doubles in a spectacular third season — was a second-round draft pick, his rookie contract has a team option for his fourth season in 2018-19. If Denver declines that option, he becomes a restricted free agent, allowing the Nuggets to match any offer from another team. If Denver exercises that team option, Jokic would become an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2019.

“Nikola’s gonna be here for a long time,” Connelly said. “He’s a guy that’s been tremendous in how quickly he’s developed and a guy that we love. And he loves Denver. The sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better … whatever keeps him here the longest is best for us and best for the team.”

2. Does Will Barton re-sign with the Nuggets?

Denver’s most prominent unrestricted free agent is Barton, who flashed his versatility as a starter and backup at both guard spots and small forward while putting up career-best numbers (15.7 points, five rebounds, 4.1 assists).

Barton has a strong connection with the Nuggets, the organization that helped him blossom as a significant contributor during its rebuild. But Barton has also expressed his desire to be a full-time starter. That will not happen at shooting guard, as Harris signed a lucrative contract extension prior to last season. But it could happen at small forward.

“We’re hopeful we can get something done,” Connelly said. “(Barton is) our guy. We love him. I think if he’s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”

Barton said: “We’re building something real special here. I love playing with Jok and Jamal and Gary. The guys we have in the locker room, I like being around. The coaching staff has really come a long way with trusting me and me trusting them. Just the whole organization, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

Denver’s other unrestricted free agents are 17-year veteran Richard Jefferson, who was not in the rotation, and backup point guard Devin Harris, who was acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline.

3. Does Wilson Chandler opt in?

Though Chandler did contribute 6.5 rebounds and two assists per game and was often credited for solid wing defense, his 10 points per game scoring average was his lowest since he averaged 9.4 in 2011-12. He finished with zero points in 48 minutes during the Nuggets’ loss at Minnesota.

Chandler has a player option for $12.8 million next season. Though the Nuggets do not have much wing depth behind Chandler — especially if Barton does not re-sign — it would not be stunning to see Chandler move on. Chandler, who is not typically one to publicly speak his mind, did not address the media during player availability on Thursday.

4. Do the Nuggets trade Kenneth Faried?

The longest-tenured Nugget is also their third-highest-paid, as Faried is set to make $13.8 million in 2018-19. But Faried fell out of the rotation this season, then was inactive for several games down the stretch. That makes his contract an albatross.

Denver reportedly tried to trade Faried at the deadline, but could not find a desirable suitor. Now that he’s on an expiring contract, perhaps there will be more options this summer, particularly if the Nuggets package him with a draft pick or young, out-of-the-rotation player.

Faried also did not address reporters after the season ending loss.

5. Does Torrey Craig earn a full NBA contract?

One of the feel-good stories of the Nuggets’ season was the emergence of Torrey Craig, a 27-year-old rookie who parlayed a two-way contract into a rotation role with Denver. Malone and teammates lauded Craig’s defensive versatility, ability to knock down corner 3-pointers and overall energy after beginning his professional career in Australia. Now Craig is a restricted free agent, and said Thursday that staying in Denver would be “ideal.”

Denver Nuggets’ contract statuses for 2018-19

Unrestricted free agents
Will Barton
Devin Harris
Richard Jefferson

Nikola Jokic
Team option for 2018-19
2018-19 salary (if team opts in): $1.6 million
*If Nuggets decline team option, Jokic will become a restricted free agent and Denver can sign him to a max contract.

Wilson Chandler
Player option for 2018-19
2018-19 salary (if he opts in): $12.8 million

Darrell Arthur
Player option for 2018-19
2018-19 salary (if he opts in): $7.5 million

Paul Millsap
Contracted through 2018-19 (team option for 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $29.2 million

Gary Harris
Contracted through 2021-22
2018-19 salary: $16.5 million

Kenneth Faried
Contracted through 2018-19
2018-19 salary: $13.8 million

Mason Plumlee
Contracted through 2019-20
2018-19 salary: $12.9 million

Jamal Murray
Contracted through 2018-19 (team option for 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $4.5 million

Trey Lyles
Contracted through 2018-19 (qualifying offer for 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $3.4 million

Juancho Hernangomez
Contracted through 2018-19 (team option for 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $2.2 million

Tyler Lydon
Contracted through 2018-19 (team options for 2019-20 and 2020-21)
2018-19 salary: $1.9 million

Malik Beasley
Contracted through 2018-19 (team option for 2019-20)
2018-19 salary: $1.8 million

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