Nuggets pivot, re-sign Paul Millsap to one-year deal after Jerami Grant’s stunning departure in free agency

The Nuggets pivoted fast.

The start of free agency Friday night didn’t begin the way anyone in the Nuggets organization envisioned. Jerami Grant’s jarring decision to leave Denver for Detroit, despite identical three-year, $60 million offers, would leave any front office spinning, let alone one that strongly believed Grant was returning.

But Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly didn’t wallow in the disappointment. First, he secured a two-year, $15 million commitment from free-agent forward JaMychal Green late Friday night, according to a league source. Next, on Saturday afternoon, he reached an agreement on a one-year, $10 million deal with veteran free agent Paul Millsap that includes potential bonuses, according to another league source.

The back-to-back frontcourt splashes helped insulate the Nuggets from disaster, having already lost Mason Plumlee and Grant to Detroit on the first day of free agency Friday.

But it was the shock from the Grant news that set everything in motion.

For Grant, the allure of a more featured role held a lot of sway, according to league sources. He didn’t necessarily love the idea of being the fourth option on a team full of budding stars. For the majority of last season, Grant came off the bench behind the aging Millsap. In Grant’s mind, despite the team’s success, that was a sacrifice, according to a league source.

In Denver, Grant wasn’t sure whether he could maximize his potential. In their pitch, the Nuggets told him they’d further his growth as a player. It didn’t matter. Despite being a central figure in the Nuggets’ riveting postseason run, Grant had eyes for Detroit. Grant’s long-standing relationship with new Pistons executive Troy Weaver carried weight.

The Millsap signing was, partially, a reflection of the team’s financial predicament under the NBA salary cap. Denver had Millsap’s Bird rights, which allowed them to go over the salary cap — an allowance they didn’t have for free agents outside their organization.

The Nuggets had interest in Green, a savvy defensive forward, for years. Late Friday night, those interests aligned in the immediate aftermath of Grant’s departure. Green’s deal will utilize the majority of Denver’s mid-level exception, according to another league source. Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo will take up the majority of Denver’s bi-annual exception. His two-year deal is worth $6 million, according to a league source.

Green, a more traditional power forward than Grant, plugged an immediate gap. Given the temporary uncertainty over Millsap’s free agency, the Nuggets needed some insurance. They got it in Green’s physical post defense coupled with his perimeter shooting.

It isn’t immediately clear whether Green will slot into the starting lineup. If not, one possibility could be starting Michael Porter Jr. at power forward, and keeping Will Barton at small forward, depending on his health. Those questions, though, won’t be answered before the start of training camp, which opens in 10 days.

The Nuggets did what they could given Grant’s unexpected decision. Ultimately, Green’s two-year, $15 million deal is a relative bargain compared to Grant’s 3-year, $60 million contract — a number significantly higher than what several league sources predicted he’d get.

After Green, the Nuggets’ priority became Millsap, and they worked diligently to get that deal done. His return adds depth in the frontcourt and a measure of security defensively.

This is where the roster gets tricky. As of Saturday afternoon following the Millsap deal, there was one roster spot open. The Nuggets don’t intend to keep forward Keita Bates-Diop, a league source said, which will open up a second roster spot. That spot should be filled by Bol Bol, whose two-way contract the Nuggets plan to convert, a source said.

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