DENVER (AP) — Now that the Denver Nuggets have a player they coveted in the NBA draft, their focus shifts to the start of free agency next week.
Michael Porter Jr. went to the Nuggets at No. 14 Thursday night, giving them a potential impact player. Now the priority this offseason is keeping their own free agents and locking down the face of the franchise.
Center and budding superstar Nikola Jokic is the top priority, and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly has said the Nuggets want to sign him to a long-term contract before he hits the market next summer.
“Nikola’s going to be here for a long, long time,” Connelly said. “Whatever we do, we’re going to ensure that he’s here as long as possible. We’ll talk to Nikola, his brothers and his representation and he’ll be in Denver for a long, long time. He’ll be buying here.”
Will Barton is an unrestricted free agent and forward Wilson Chandler can opt out of the last year of his deal. Connelly said the Nuggets want to retain both.
“Will Barton is still a priority,” Connelly said.
Barton was versatile and valuable for Denver coming off the bench or in the starting lineup.
His 15.7 points a game were fourth on the team playing small forward and both backcourt positions. He started 40 of the 81 games he played.
Swingman Torrey Craig, 27, who split time last season with the developmental G League and the Nuggets on a two-way contract, also is a free agent.
Porter can help alleviate the potential loss of those three because he can play small forward, but health is an issue for him. The 6-foot-10 forward was considered a top-five pick before a back injury that required surgery limited him to three games at Missouri last year.
His back and hip soreness during pre-draft workouts knocked him from the top of the draft to the last pick of the lottery where Denver grabbed him, but Porter said he’s ready to go and will put himself in the hands of Denver’s medical staff.
“They’re going to put a plan together for me,” he said. “Sometimes, even if you feel really good, they want you to feel even better before they put you on the floor. It’s all on what the team wants me to do, but I feel like I can play immediately.”
Picking Porter as well as getting Jarred Vanderbilt and Thomas Welsh in the second round on Thursday stockpiled Denver’s roster, but it won’t change the blueprint for next month.
“The draft was going to have very little impact on free agency,” Connelly said. “The guys that are up we want to keep, and we’re going to be aggressive trying to keep them.”
By MICHAEL KELLY, Associated Press
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