The Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round just four years ago.
He’s already good enough to lead them to the playoffs.
That the 46-win Nuggets missed the postseason doesn’t invalidate that. They just happened to play in one of the deepest conferences of all-time, and Paul Millsap missed most of the season due to injury. Jokic is already a borderline All-Star at age 23.
His unexpectedly rapid ascension creates numerous difficult questions about building for the present or future.
A big one: Should Denver exercise or decline Jokic’s $1,600,520 team option for next season?
Exercising it would keep Jokic at an extremely cheap salary next season, but it’d make him an unrestricted free agent in 2019. Declining it would make Jokic a restricted free agent this summer, and though that would mean giving him a massive raise, the Nuggets could control securing him long-term.
Jokic’s agent has advice for the team.
Nick Kosmider of The Athletic:
Jokic wants to get paid big next season, not wait another year. Denver will probably accommodate him. Letting him hit unrestricted free agency is just too risky.
The Nuggets could try to condition declining Jokic’s team on him accepting less than the max – which projects to be about $146 over five years or $109 million over fours if he signs an offer sheet with another team. Jokic might compromise.
Jokic drawing any salary even near market value could push Denver over the luxury-tax line next season. The Nuggets declining Jokic’s option could lead to them trading Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Wilson Chandler and/or Darrell Arthur (in the likely event the latter two opt in), not re-signing Will Barton and/or not using the mid-level exception.
So, Jokic’s option presents one question. Determining how much to pay him if the Nuggets decline it is a whole other, related, negotiation.