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Breaking Down the Battle for the Final Denver Nuggets Roster Spots

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

An NBA team can carry as many as 20 players during the offseason. Those 20 players can be brought into camp, and can also be on the roster throughout the preseason as well. Prior to the start of the regular season, however, this number must be trimmed to 15.

Following the Ty Lawson trade, the Denver Nuggets have 17 players on their roster, assuming they get a deal done with Darrell Arthur, which they’re rumored to be close to completing. Not included in that number is Ian Clark, who appeared on the Nuggets’ Summer League team and who many believe deserves a shot at a spot on the final roster.

Here is a breakdown of their roster as it stands now:

Players on guaranteed deals
Emmanuel Mudiay
Jameer Nelson
Nick Johnson
Gary Harris
Randy Foye
Will Barton
Wilson Chandler
Danilo Gallinari
Kenneth Faried
J.J. Hickson
Jusuf Nurkic
Joey Dorsey
Nikola Jokic
Joffrey Lauvergne
Darrell Arthur

Players on Non-Guaranteed Deals
Erick Green
Kostas Papanikolaou

Other Players of Interest
Ian Clark

With 15 players already on their roster with guaranteed deals, assuming the Arthur deal gets done, it would be easy to assume those are the players the Nuggets will go into the season with. But a closer look may reveal a different story.

Of those 15, there are two players whose role is most in question, i.e. may not have a spot on this team by the start of camp — Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson.

Assuming the Nuggets want to give heavy minutes to their youngsters in the frontcourt, Nurkic, Jokic and Lauvergne — we can only hope this is the case — Hickson doesn’t appear to have a role on this team going forward. It can be easily argued that he never fulfilled any meaningful role on this team to begin with, but I digress.

Similarly, with the addition of Nick Johnson, the re-signing of Barton and the desire to unleash Gary Harris in his sophomore season, Foye appears to be the odd man out in the backcourt.

I imagine that Tim Connelly is actively exploring trade options for both of them, and I’d be surprised to see either of them break camp in a Nuggets uniform. I proposed this trade yesterday with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I think it makes some sense for both sides:

Even if this isn’t the deal that ultimately goes down, it’s likely Connelly would be looking for salary cap relief in return for them rather than players, so let’s assume for the sake of this article that any trade wouldn’t bring back anybody of note, thereby reducing the total of guaranteed contracts to 13.

There would then be three players in Green, Papanikolaou and Clark vying for the final two roster spots. It should be noted that the Nuggets have until Oct. 4 to decide how much they like Papanikolaou, at which point his salary for the upcoming season becomes guaranteed. Should they choose to, they could waive him before that time and his salary wouldn’t ever count against their cap.

There’s also the possibility that the Nuggets bring in another player or two for camp and preseason to add some additional competition. Glen Rice Jr. could be a decent prospect for the Nuggets to take a flyer on. For the second year in a row, Rice absolutely shined in Summer League, proving once again that he has the ability to absolutely explode on the offensive end. He’d certainly have value on a team I believe will be in desperate need of perimeter shooting and scoring in general.

But assuming they enter camp with the roster in its current state, it’ll likely be a two-man battle between Green and Clark for the final spot. Papanikolaou has enough upside and is an intriguing enough prospect that the Nuggets will be hard-pressed to send him packing, even considering the fact that his $4.7 million may put them slightly above the cap.

Green and Clark have similar strengths, but in the end I think the Nuggets will realize that Clark’s game simply doesn’t translate well to the NBA. He has absolutely lit up Summer League over the past few seasons, including 2013 MVP recognition, but he’s yet to make a meaningful contribution on the floor during the regular season.

His struggles have stemmed largely from his flawed shooting mechanics. His extremely low release point makes it difficult to get shots off against skilled NBA defenders, so while he has value with his ability to hit wide open three-pointers, the shots he can hit are comparatively limited.

Green has more value as a ball handler, which is something the Nuggets suddenly have a plethora of with the addition of Johnson, but he also can light it up from deep so he’s a more versatile player overall. He also has the added advantage of being tied to the Rudy Gobert trade, so the Nuggets may be less likely to give up on him simply from a public relations perspective.

Of course all of this hinges on the hypothetical scenario I proposed earlier involving a Hickson/Foye trade. If the Nuggets are unable to move either, or both of those two, the fight for the final roster spots becomes even murkier, which is all the more reason neither have a clear role on this team and must be moved by any means.

The Nuggets enter the offseason with an interesting mix of young and inexperienced prospects, and mid-level veterans. I don’t think they’re done making moves to reshape their roster, but there likely won’t be anything earth-shattering that happens either. This is pretty much the roster they’ll enter the season with.

The fight for the final few roster spots could end up being the most intriguing storyline to follow as training camp opens, and unless something drastic happens over the next two months, this is how I see it shaking out.

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