Major breaking news regarding key Nuggets free agent becomes official

Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies
Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies / Justin Ford/GettyImages

In the wake of the first round of the 2024 NBA draft, all attention turns toward free agency. By all accounts, the Nuggets nailed their draft, trading up to select DaRon Holmes II out of Dayton, a versatile big man who should theoretically fill a lot of needs in Denver.

But the good vibes wore off quickly as by the end of GM, Calvin Booth’s media availability on Wednesday night, he had already pivoted to discussing free agency, and specifically Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. To sum up the message, Booth basically said that KCP can do whatever he wants, but the team is set up to be fine without him. 

He even went as far as to speculate that Christian Braun would replace Caldwell-Pope in the starting lineup and that his on/off rating with Nikola Jokic was just as good. It was wild to hear Booth talking so bluntly and openly about the impending situation when most Nuggets fans are hoping the team will still come to terms on an extension.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope declines player option, becomes free agent

Well, now that impending situation is becoming more and more dire. On Thursday, Shams Charania of the Athletic reported something that has been long assumed, Caldwell-Pope is officially declining his player-option. KCP turned down the $15.4 million for next season and will now become an unrestricted free agent where Charania stated he is “expected to receive interest from multiple teams with salary cap space.”

None of this should be particularly surprising to Nuggets fans, but still, now it’s real. There was some fleeting hope that KCP may opt-in and agree to an extension, and there is still a chance he’ll return to the Nuggets on a new long-term contract. But all of that feels less likely now, especially on the heels of Booth’s comments after the draft.

The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Nuggets

The positive spin here would be that if the Nuggets lose KCP they’ll have a little more financial flexibility to work with as they’d sneak back under the first apron of luxury tax, allowing them to aggregate salaries in trades, use the taxpayer's midlevel exception to sign a player in free agency, and a few other benefits that could help with team building and roster construction.

But the negative spin here is obvious; the Nuggets would be losing a very good player and a key part of their starting lineup. KCP was one of the missing pieces that allowed the team to take the next step and win a championship. He’s the team’s best perimeter player by far and one of their best shooters. 

And that’s not to mention the veteran presence and leadership he has provided, which are invaluable. It’s nice that the Nuggets may get some more flexibility, but there is no way they’ll be able to bring in a player as good as Caldwell-Pope for next season. Things may work out with the young players and corresponding moves, but there’s no way to sugarcoat it, this would be a brutal loss.