Will Barton wants to stay with the Denver Nuggets—which makes sense. They helped salvage his career after he came over from the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the Arron Afflalo trade. He’s since morphed into one of the NBA’s most plucky bench contributors, even garnering some Sixth Man of the Year consideration over each of the past two seasons.
Knowing all this, surely Barton and the Nuggets will find common ground in free agency this summer. He may have turned down an extension last offseason, but the market isn’t expected to be particularly robust this year. A happy-medium price has to exist.
And perhaps it does. But that won’t stop Barton from exploring his options. He wants a permanent starting role, which could lead him to leave Denver, per The Denver Post‘s Gina Mizell:
“We’re building something real special here,” Barton said Thursday. “I love playing with (Nikola Jokic) and Jamal (Murray) and Gary (Harris). The guys we have in the locker room, I like being around. The coaching staff has really come a long way with trusting me and me trusting them. Just the whole organization, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.” . . .
“If I would be able to know I would be a starter coming into next season, that would push me in the offseason,” Barton said. “It’s something that I’ve never been before or done before. That’s what makes me who I am and what makes me better every year. That will definitely be a goal of mine.”
Barton’s desire to start, while understandable, could cause some issues for the Nuggets. Four of their five starters are locked and loaded, assuming nothing drastic changes between now and next year: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic. That fifth spot doesn’t necessarily have to belong to Wilson Chandler, who might be a free agent himself (player option). But the Nuggets would probably prefer it go to a truer wing who can tackle some of the toughest defensive assignments.
That, after all, was their biggest Achilles heel this past season—wing depth. The four-starters-plus-Barton lineup finished the year with a net rating north of 30, but it also only appeared in 13 games and doesn’t seem to have the defensive versatility to survive long term. If Murray makes a defensive leap and Millsap remains healthy, perhaps it could work. But then who do the Nuggets turn to as their second-headliner? And how much are they willing to invest in Barton and this theoretical starting-lineup model?
Questions abound in Denver this summer. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Nuggets are willing to commit the money and role required to keep Barton in town.