Projecting the contract Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signs this offseason

Apr 14, 2024; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 14, 2024; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest story of this offseason for the Denver Nuggets is the next contract for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP has a $15.44 million player-option for next season which he is expected to decline later this month, making him an unrestricted free agent.

The case for the Nuggets to keep Caldwell-Pope

Even if that’s the case, the Nuggets have Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights, allowing them to go over the cap to sign him and match any deal he can get on the open market. Hopefully, all things equal, he would choose to stay in Denver, keep the starting lineup intact, and compete for another championship.

The case against the Nuggets keeping Caldwell-Pope

But that’s no simple task for the Nuggets. Even without KCP’s contract on the books, the Nuggets are dangerously close to going over the second apron of luxury tax with the current roster. Bringing him back in any capacity ensures that they’ll be well over that threshold and likely forced to salary dump someone like Zeke Nnaji and fill the roster out with minimum contracts.

The higher the price tag gets for Kentavious, the further over the second apron the team will end up, and the harder it will be for the team to duck under. The starting lineup will be intact, but it will be incredibly difficult to build any depth and it will be very difficult and expensive to make any moves in the future. It’s going to be a difficult decision and it may come down to what kind of contract offer(s) KCP receives on the open market.

What’s a fair price for Caldwell-Pope?

The free agency class is looking fairly uninspiring this summer and if certain players opt-in or extend with their current teams it will get even bleaker. That’s bad news for teams with cap space and money to spend, but great news for the few good free agents like KCP. He’s proven to be a winning player, starting for two different championship teams over the past few years, contributing excellent perimeter defense and reliable ballhandling and shooting on offense.

Caldwell-Pope will be highly sought after on the market, and deservedly so. Some comparable players who have signed or extended in recent years and what they’ll make next year include guys like Josh Hart ($18.1m), Collin Sexton ($18.2m), Norm Powell ($19.2m), Marcus Smart ($20.2m), Dillon Brooks ($22.3m), Jaden McDaniels ($22.6m), Kyle Kuzma ($23.5m), Terry Rozier ($24.9m), and Dejounte Murray ($25.5m). 

You could argue some of those players are better or worse than KCP; they are at different points in their careers and fill different needs. There are no perfect apples-to-apples comparisons, but those seem like some reasonable comps. Now keep in mind that there will likely be a small bump up from the past because the cap keeps going up, so add in a small tax for that. Plus, most of those contracts grow each year along with the cap - so keep that in mind. And we must also factor in that teams are going to be desperate to spend their money and it only takes one team to overpay (see Bruce Brown last season).

Give it to me straight: What should the Nuggets pay?

Given all of those factors, it’s fair to imagine that any contract for Caldwell-Pope next season starts at $20 million per season. I think teams may be willing to offer him more on a short-term deal much like how we saw Brown get the massive two-year $46 million deal last season from the Pacers. I won’t be surprised at all to see something similar with KCP all the way up to $25 million a year for a couple of years.

That would get incredibly rich incredibly fast for the Nuggets and they’ll have a hard time matching that offer. But perhaps they can sell KCP on the security of extra years. They could conceivably get away with a slightly smaller deal but three or four guaranteed seasons. That would also be risky as KCP as he’ll turn 32 this upcoming season and would be in the twilight of his career by the end of that deal.

Ultimately, the Nuggets may have to draw a hard line somewhere around $22.5 million a season and sweat out the decision. We don’t know exactly what Caldwell-Pope will prioritize. He’s got a great thing going in Denver, but he could easily carve out a prominent role on another team while getting paid more as well. It’s a massive story all around and we likely won’t get any clarity for several weeks.