As head coach George Karl said after Monday night's 103-101 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nuggets could have used forward Wilson Chandler on the floor. Instead, Chandler sat in a suite with Nuggets management and watched three rookies play in the fourth quarter and overtime. The restricted free agent is reportedly in town to work out a deal to re-sign with the Nuggets.
Chandler had been playing in China for the Zhejiang Lions since the lockout began, but the team agreed to release him early after he helped the Lions qualify for the playoffs. Chandler told Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com that he hopes to sign a contract with the Nuggets "in the next week or so."
Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said he hopes to have Chandler back. No other teams have been mentioned as possible suitors for the small forward, who came to Denver last year in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Since Chandler is a restricted free agent, the Nuggets would be able to match any offer he might receive from another team.
Chandler still needs the Chinese Basketball Association to issue his International Basketball Federation letter of clearance before he can return to the NBA. The CBA could wait until the Lions' season ends, but it issued former-Nugget Kenyon Martin's letter of clearance two weeks before his team's season ended and his departure was less civil than Chandler's.
As deep as the Nuggets appeared to be at the beginning of the season, they are quickly falling victim to the compressed schedule and failing bodies. Danilo Gallinari, the team's leading scorer, suffered a severe ankle sprain on February 6 and Karl hopes to have him back the week after the All-Star break. Nene seems to have been day-to-day for the entire season, Rudy Fernandez has missed time with a back injury and Ty Lawson left Monday night's game with an ankle injury and is also listed as day-to-day.
Chandler, who averaged 12.5 points and five rebounds per game for the Nuggets last season, could fill the hole left by Gallinari's injury and help get the Nuggets back on track. The team started the season 14-5, but has gone 4-10 since then thanks to a rough schedule and injuries. Denver currently has a tenuous hold on the eighth seed in the Western Conference, just one game ahead of Portland.
What the Nuggets and Chandler are presumably discussing is whether he will sign with the team just for the remainder of the season or long-term. The team has just over $47 million on the books for next year and a rather full roster. So the Nuggets could offer Chandler a nice extension, as the salary cap will likely be somewhere in the high $50 millions.
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Given the four-year, $42 million extension the Nuggets recently gave to Gallinari, management has to ask itself how much money it wants to sink into the small forward position. An Arron Afflalo-type contract would be reasonable for Chandler, meaning the Nuggets would be paying Gallinari and Chandler somewhere in the range of $17 million a year combined.
Then again, the Nuggets are paying Gallo like a 35-minute-a-game player -- so they could easily decide to sign Chandler just for the remainder of the season and spend less money on a back-up next year. This could be a wise move, given that players like Corey Brewer and Al Harrington can log quality time at small forward.
Chandler told Lopez, "A long-term deal would be fine." And as this season has shown, a team can never have too many talented players. Plus, Chandler helps fill the Nuggets tattoo quotient, which took a hit last year when 'Melo was shipped out of town and the big, pasty, plain canvases of Gallo, Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos were brought in.
More from our Sports archive: "J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler & Kenyon Martin: Will a Nugget win a championship -- in China?"