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Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Denver Nuggets season recap: Vlatko Cancar

By meerna Jun12,2024

When the Denver Nuggets watched Jeff Green take an $8 million-a-year contract from the Houston Rockets, they knew they were losing a solid chunk of their rotation. Uncle Jeff provided veteran leadership, yes, but he also provided a solid twenty minutes each night as a versatile player off the bench. No doubt, the Nuggets had in mind that fifth-year forward Vlatko Cancar would be able to compete for that role in the upcoming season. Unfortunately for Vlatko and Denver, the injury had other plans. Over the summer, Cancar suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during the Basketball World Cup qualifying round and was lost for the season before it even began to force Denver to change its plans.

Statistics of the 2023/2024 season

Not applicable

The story of the season

Vlatko’s injury was widely reported. Nothing was guaranteed to him in terms of playing time after last season, but Green’s departure and the players’ similar size and skill set made him feel like Vlatko was the most likely successor. Additionally, Cancar showed solid play as a point guard, which meant that if he were to replace him as a backup, the Denver big could potentially open up some plays to his bench team similar to those that could be made by players starting with Nikola Jokic. Vlatko would still be undersized as a center, though, so it’s by no means certain that he would get playing time compared to DeAndre Jordan or Zeke Nnaji. Denver’s bench group has struggled, essentially since the beginning of the season, with defensive rebounding, which ultimately led to increased playing time for Jordan, the biggest player with a guaranteed contract, and that could have turned out to be true even if Vlatko had been healthy. Still, Vlatko’s continued improvement throughout his career, his work ethic on and off the pitch and his ability to make good decisions when he had the ball in his hands made it seem like 2023/2024 was the year he would finally be able to you can trust in a regular rotation of minutes. An injury and a year-long recovery put all that on the back burner, and Denver struggled to find answers on the frontcourt throughout the season. Now, after suffering a serious injury but with no immediate answers in Denver’s rotation, Vlatko’s future is in doubt.

Prospects for the 24/25 season with the Nuggets

Vlatko is one of the biggest mysteries when it comes to players who may or may not return to the Nuggets next season. Denver currently has a team option for next season that will pay Vlatko $2.3 million. They have until June 23 to make a decision on this matter. If Vlatko could have played last season and been effective in any way, it would have been a no-brainer. His $2.3 million total means he is playing for the veteran minimum and if he had been able to contribute in any way on the court last season, his contract would have been treated as an absolute value. However, recovering from a serious injury is a bit more difficult, mainly due to Denver’s tight lineup and the uncertainty of what Cancar will be able to do if he returns.

It’s unlikely the Nuggets will have many open roster spots this summer, so while Cancar is viable, if Denver doesn’t believe he can play a significant role, they may look elsewhere. For example, let’s say the Nuggets make a big combination in the draft. They still have Zeke Nnaji at their disposal, and this could be a scenario where having a guy like DeAndre Jordan or another true five could be something very desirable for them. If at the same time they want to strengthen their playmaker position and perhaps look for a winger to replace Justin Holiday, Vlatko’s place in the squad may turn out to be out of the question. The truth is that Denver currently has five open roster spots. One seems to have already been mentioned with Reggie Jackson and his ability to accept a player option to return next season. It should be assumed that Denver will fill another roster spot in the first round of the draft (at least until it emerges otherwise). The team’s third place spot hangs in the balance following Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s offseason decision. By the time free agency even opens, Denver may only have two roster spots left and still be looking for a point guard, a true five, and a backup winger, and they won’t have the luxury of knowing how it will all work out in advance. they have to make a decision on the Cancar contract.

This narrowing of the lineup could make Vlatko expendable, but I expect the Nuggets to use it only as a last resort. Depth and fit can be controlled to some extent by Calvin Booth’s decisions and vision. Denver’s ability to adjust to the fixed salary on the books, while its precarious position for a second tax apron is much more limited. Unless the Nuggets make a big trade or let KCP walk and completely commit MLE taxpayer dollars to a big bailout, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they would choose an outsider rather than simply exercise Cancar’s option. Given Denver’s situation, he has plenty of chances to do so. First of all, he’s cheap, as cheap as any player you can sign in free agency. Secondly, he already knows the Denver system and feels comfortable in the organization and vice versa. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, he has a very good relationship with Jokic as a fellow Balkan native, and the two have talked openly about their friendship. Even if Vlatko doesn’t contribute on the court, he brings something to the Denver locker room that no other player on their current roster can: a taste of home for the Denver star.

I predict Vlatko will return next season. Of course, how he responds to his recovery from injury plays into the decision, and it would be foolish to think that Vlatko will jump right back into the court next season and not have time to re-acclimate to the NBA with a reconstructed knee. However, the cost of keeping him and what he can bring to the team outside of regular playing time means I don’t see anything wrong with it. The part about squeezing the lineup is a bit iffy. We saw the Nuggets ultimately lose a player to free agency due to a tight roster (Torrey Craig), but the Nuggets are so limited in terms of the moves they can make that choosing someone from outside the organization over Vlatko, who has been around for a long time five years and is very profitable, it would be a great surprise.

By meerna

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