After losing in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past year, the Denver Nuggets are back to the drawing board.

The NBA Draft in two days, and NBA Free Agency opens up next Sunday. General manager Calvin Booth and the Nuggets will look to improve their team, and it’s possible that beyond four of the five starters, the rotation might look a little different after what’s expected to be a chaotic few days. That’s just how the offseason is, and the Nuggets are being forced to play the game. The Boston Celtics won the championship this year, and it’s on the rest of the NBA to catch up.

With that in mind, here’s my take: 25 free agency and trade targets that could help the Nuggets win a championship in the 2024-25 season.

Apr 29, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) holds his ankle in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers during game five of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 1: The pivot point

Players that dictate everything the Nuggets do in free agency and trade markets.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Wing, Denver Nuggets

This is the biggest decision of the offseason for the Nuggets. As I’ve written before, “Caldwell-Pope is expected to decline his player option and explore the market.” The Nuggets, currently a second apron team with Caldwell-Pope’s player option and then cap hold on their books, cannot replace their starting shooting guard in an equitable way if he signs with another team. If he decides to stay, great. The Nuggets will be happy to have him back and know that their elite starting lineup will remain intact.

This isn’t a 1-to-1 of the Bruce Brown situation. While there are luxury tax ramifications for keeping KCP, the Nuggets can pay him as much money as they want because they have full bird rights on his contract. Whether they choose to pay enough to keep him is up for debate. I’ve laid out the case for why allowing him to walk away isn’t an outright bad decision.

Whether Caldwell-Pope returns or not is the pivot point for the vast majority of Denver’s free agency decision making.

Tier 2: Trade Targets if KCP walks

Players making $9+ million next year that Denver cannot acquire unless Caldwell-Pope leaves in free agency

Bogdan Bogdanovic – Wing, Atlanta Hawks

Perhaps the most straightforward option the Nuggets could attempt to trade for is Serbian wing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finished fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting for the Hawks this past year. Bogdanovic is a creative playmaker and floor spacer, averaging 16.9 points and 3.1 assists in 79 games, 33 starts. He’s a poor defender, but he would offer additional offensive punch to a Nuggets rotation that needs it.

Figuring out the trade isn’t easy though. Bogdanovic makes $17.26 million in 2024-25, so the Nuggets would need to send out additional salary beyond Zeke Nnaji ($8.8 million) and Reggie Jackson (assuming he opts into his $5.25 million player option by tomorrow). Would they trade Julian Strawther in a deal like this? Would the Hawks accept a 3-for-1 trade? Would the Nuggets send out draft compensation?

There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but this is the kind of move that’s necessary talent wise to keep up with the rest of the NBA.

Dorian Finney Smith – Forward, Brooklyn Nets

Finney-Smith isn’t a traditional replacement for Caldwell-Pope, but he’s a veteran with a similar skill set that would fit into Denver’s playoff rotation reasonably well. Making just $14.9 million in 2024-25, the Nuggets could potentially build a trade around Nnaji, Jackson, and draft compensation, a deal Brooklyn might consider with center Nic Claxton receiving offers north of $20 million per season.

Finney-Smith isn’t an elite shooter (career 36% 3-point shooter). He isn’t an elite defender. He’s solid in both areas though, and at 6-foot-7 he would give the Nuggets more playable size that they missed last season following Jeff Green’s departure.

Jordan Clarkson – Guard, Utah Jazz

Clarkson won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2020-21 for his potent scoring off the bench. He’s always been a volume shooter though, rather than a player that enhances the effectiveness of the offense. He simply gets buckets at average to subpar efficiency.

However, there’s something to be said about adding a gunner to Denver’s bench that can take the attention away from other players. Jamal Murray has struggled staying effective in those minutes, and players like Reggie Jackson, Christian Braun, and Peyton Watson can’t handle that assignment on volume. Clarkson can. He’s done it for years, and it might free up the rest of the team to do the dirty work.

Kevin Huerter – Wing, Sacramento Kings

The Kings are reportedly bringing back Malik Monk on a significant contract. It was the most they could offer him and a deal that makes me wonder if he was promised a starting spot too. The Kings are also reportedly looking to upgrade at forward and are dangling both Huerter and Harrison Barnes.

Could the Nuggets sneak in as a potential third team in a Huerter trade? They’ve got their defensive wings in Braun and Watson. Why not go get a floor spacer in Huerter to start games and ensure Denver’s starting lineup remains potent offensively?

Kelly Olynyk – Big, Toronto Raptors

Olynyk would certainly not be a replacement for Caldwell-Pope, but he would help the Nuggets bench lineups tremendously. Earning $12.8 million in the 2024-25 season, Olynyk was acquired by the Raptors along with Ochai Agbaji last trade deadline. It’s expected that Toronto will try and hold onto Olynyk, but if they’re interested in continuing their rebuild and acquiring assets, the Nuggets could dangle draft compensation along with the noted Nnaji + Jackson trade package.

Imagining Olynyk operating in dribble handoffs when Jokic leaves the court is extremely enticing, though unlikely to happen.

Jan 10, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard De’Anthony Melton (8) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 3: Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception Candidates

Players expected to earn more than a minimum contract in free agency (Only applicable if KCP leaves in free agency).

De’Anthony Melton – Guard, Philadelphia 76ers

Melton will hit free agency in a week, and he would be my first call if I were Calvin Booth and knew that Caldwell-Pope was walking away. Melton’s a very solid 3&D guard, a bit undersized for big wings, but one of the most active defenders with his hands in the entire NBA. He’s a career 36.9% 3-point shooter and would be a capable starter next to Jamal Murray in the interim.

Monte Morris – Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves

Morris wasn’t ultimately needed in the Timberwolves rotation with a trio of Anthony Edwards, Mike Conley, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker ahead of him, but that same problem doesn’t exist in Denver. The Nuggets could use Morris’ skill set as a facilitator, especially if the Nuggets are forced to move Reggie Jackson in one of the above trades to replace Caldwell-Pope in the starting unit. The Nuggets obviously have familiarity with Morris, and they had interest in reacquiring him at last year’s the trade deadline.

Kris Dunn – Guard, Utah Jazz

Dunn is the ideal defensive-minded facilitating guard to pair with Jamal Murray in the point guard room. He’s played a rotation role in Utah after nearly falling out of the NBA, but he appears ready to contribute consistently again and could do so in a limited role on a contender. Dunn would be a value add defensively and could pick up some of the assignments vacated by Caldwell-Pope.

Goga Bitadze – Center, Orlando Magic

Goga Bitadze is the only center included in this group because it’s difficult to find centers worth this specific contract. Most jump directly from minimum contract to non-taxpayer mid-level because playable centers in the playoffs are scarce. Bitadze began the year as the third center in Orlando but was quickly elevated to starter to replace Wendell Carter Jr. where he flourished. Bitadze isn’t a high-minute option, but he showcased strong defensive skills and could do the same in Denver.

Kelly Oubre Jr./Nicolas Batum – Wing/Forwards, Philadelphia 76ers

It’s unlikely the Nuggets could snag either Oubre or Batum, both of whom are expected to return to Philadelphia after the Sixers sort out their extensive cap space. If, however, one of the two falls through the cracks and aren’t retained, the Nuggets could offer them similar roles on a contender built around the two-man game of an MVP center and Kentucky star guard. Oubre’s the better, more well-rounded scoring threat, but Batum is an elite veteran and would make the Nuggets better in the playoffs.

Tier 4: Trade Candidates even if KCP returns

Players making less than $9 million next year that Denver can acquire independent of KCP’s contract.

Jae’Sean Tate – Forward, Houston Rockets (Team Option)

The Rockets, much like last year, have an absolute glut of interesting and talented wings/forwards. Tate was ninth on the team in total minutes played, while Cam Whitmore ranked 10th and Tari Eason (following his injury scare) ranked 12th. Expect those two to command more minutes and for Tate’s role to diminish, so perhaps the Rockets would be interested in sending a rotation caliber wing/forward with defense and playmaking skills Denver’s way.

Vasilije Micic – Guard, Charlotte Hornets

Micic was initially on the OKC Thunder before being moved the Charlotte in the Gordon Hayward trade. Micic isn’t in Charlotte’s long term plans, but he could help a team like Denver that needs more backcourt playmaking with the second unit in the short term. He’s a poor defender, but the Nuggets have the defensive wings to hide him in a regular season setting.

Jevon Carter – Guard, Chicago Bulls

Carter is a defensive, off-ball point guard option who was primarily a spot-up specialist in Chicago next to all of their ball handling guards and wings. He has more playmaking in his bag than he showed there, and he’s a solid, though undersized defender who can contribute positively to a team defense concept.

Tier 5: Minimum Contracts

Players the Nuggets could sign in free agency no matter what happens with KCP.

Justin Holiday – Wing, Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets were happy with Holiday’s contributions and would welcome a return. He shot a high three-point % and played solid defense within his role. If there’s one position the Nuggets have enough of at the moment, it’s 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-7 off-ball wings, so they may decide to add a player at a different position of need instead. Still, if Caldwell-Pope leaves, there’s a world where Holiday’s the best option at starting shooting guard.

Vlatko Čančar – Forward, Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets reportedly declined Vlatko’s team option of $2.38 million for the 2024-25 season yesterday, according to Denver Post’s Bennett Durando. According to Durando, there’s a mutual benefit to re-signing Čančar to a new minimum contract, so the Nuggets are likely to use one of their 15 roster spots on him. The Nuggets missed the Slovenian forward last year due to a torn ACL. Čančar is expected to play for Slovenia in the Paris Olympics this summer.

Andre Drummond – Center, Chicago Bulls

Drummond is the first realistic addition the Nuggets could make in free agency, a backup center with a couple elite skills as a rebounder and rim finisher. Drummond averaged 15.3 minutes per game in games he came off the bench for Chicago, and he could expect a similar role with the Nuggets as backup for Nikola Jokic. He’s likely the best of a solid crop of minimum salary center candidates.

Delon Wright – Guard, Miami Heat

Delon Wright is a strong defensive guard who knows how to play. He’s a veteran that provides perimeter size at 6-foot-5 and would fit right in as an approximation of Bruce Brown. He’s a solid playmaker and shooter and will be coveted by contending teams in free agency. He could be a potential Taxpayer MLE candidate if KCP walks, but there’s a possibility he would join the Nuggets on a minimum if promised a role.

Apr 21, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates after a dunk on a pass from guard James Harden (1) in the first half during game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook – Guard, Los Angeles Clippers

Westbrook is a tough fit in many styles of play, but if there’s something he could go for a team like the Nuggets, it’s drive and dish during the bench minutes. Westbrook can still get into the paint, and if there’s a player that can take advantage of that skill, it’s Nikola Jokic. It would be weird, but he could be a jolt of energy the Nuggets could use.

Daniel Theis – Center, Los Angeles Clippers

Another member of the Clippers, Daniel Theis is a solid, versatile backup center who can handle some different assignments. He can pick and pop a little, and he can pass a little, and he can switch a little defensively. He’s passable in most areas, and that’s an upgrade for the Nuggets. They need cohesiveness, and Theis would be a solid option.

Chris Paul – Guard, Golden State Warriors

Much like Westbrook, Chris Paul is in a different stage of his career and could help Denver’s bench by being a primary ball handler. Paul is one of the best floor generals of all-time and was one of the lone bright spots in Golden State, whose bench outplayed the starters consistently. Paul would be playing his 20th season and probably shouldn’t play every night. The nights he would play though would be good nights for the Nuggets bench.

Dario Saric – Big, Golden State Warriors

Another reason for the solid Warriors bench was Dario Saric, who is in a similar stage of his career as Daniel Theis. Saric is a better passer and scorer and is still decent as a defender due to his rebounding and smarts. He’s not quite the second unit option that Kelly Olynyk would be, but he’s a good enough passer that he could handle some responsibility. Perhaps the best big man option behind Bitadze and Drummond.

Gordon Hayward – Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder

Hayward was traded to the Thunder and never really got involved in the offense where his usage dropped significantly from his time in Charlotte. Perhaps he wasn’t the right fit in OKC. Perhaps his skill set has diminished significantly. Either way, he’s a solid all-around player and could help the Nuggets frontcourt out a bit from a versatility standpoint.

Jae Crowder – Forward, Milwaukee Bucks

Crowder is more of an off-ball option with better defensive skills than Hayward, but the same sentiment rings true. Crowder has contributed to several playoff teams but has struggled to stay on the floor in the postseason. He’s a ninth man in a rotation that gets cut down to eight players in the playoffs. That might be enough for the Nuggets, putting Braun and Watson in better positions on the floor to succeed.