The Denver Nuggets finally went for it.
For years, Denver has been careful. They built a young core through the draft, first with Emmanuel Mudiay before turning to Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. They also had veterans Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Jameer Nelson. It was difficult, trying to win while adding youth. After a 2013 playoff failure broke up the team, Denver struggled and had not been in position to make a big move since.
On Sunday, the Nuggets agreed to a three-year, $90 million deal with veteran star forward Paul Millsap, league sources confirmed to CBS Sports. The deal includes a team option in the third year, a key point in the negotiations.
Here's what you need to know.
A perfect fit: Millsap is, on every level, a player Denver needs. Jokic is their best player and their future. He's also a huge defensive liability and cannot play power forward. So Jokic needs to play with a power forward who can defend and also can space the floor so there's no drag on offense. That's Millsap.
Millsap helps with rebounding, is great defensively, and he's a savvy player who can operate without the ball. Denver's offense is built on constant ball movement, and with Millsap, the Nuggets add a great scorer who also can deliver pinpoint passes. His court awareness is among the best in the league, and in an 11-year career he has never played fewer than than 64 games for a season.
Off the court there are benefits, too. The Nuggets have needed a leader among their best players, and Millsap provides that. He's a total pro who knows how to do his job and has played for winners in Utah and Atlanta. He's low maintenance off the court, and that's a real benefit to a talented, eccentric and sometimes amped locker room. He can set a tone, and this signing tells veterans this team is serious about winning.
The concerns: Now, for the bad news. Millsap is 32, and shot 31 percent last season. The Nuggets are banking on this drop-off being a blip in an otherwise rock solid career. But if his production slips, it means they invested big time in a player whose expiration date as an impact starter may have passed.
Additionally, the size of the deal means they are likely to lose Gallinari, begging questions at small forward. Chandler can slide into that spot, but also has an option for 2018 he is expected to exercise.
Millsap is also not known as a fiery leader, and that could be something the team still seeks.
The contract: The Nuggets were beneath the salary floor last season, that's how little they have tied up. In 2019, assuming Chandler and Darrell Arthur opt out, and if they pick up team options on their young players, and if you ballpark Harris for $16 million per season, the Nuggets still would have roughly $30 million in available cap space in the summer of 2018.
So they had money to spend. They still have to fill out the roster, and likely will pursue another medium-sized move. They still have tradeable assets, including Kenneth Faried, on the books for less than $14 million per year for two more seasons. But they could afford this short-term payoff of $30 million per season in order to improve their standing, learn how to win and make Denver more attractive as a free agency and trade destination.
The team option in the third year means if the situation doesn't work out, Denver can bail on Millsap's $30 million final year, which could prove vital since that's when Jokic's likely-max extension would kick in. This deal gives them options. If Millsap thrives and the team is competing, they pick up the option and keep rolling. That team option is a key component and is part of why this is such a win for Denver.
Ultimately, the Nuggets had to make this move. They missed on several draft night trades, including some in the organization thought were close. If they hadn't gotten this done, there was very real chance they slip backward. That still could happen, considering how much teams in their conference have improved the past three weeks. But this move puts them a much better situation. The Nuggets took their biggest swing, and potentially sent one out of the park into the mile-high air.