The Denver Nuggets have a plethora of major roster decisions looming at the conclusion of the 2017-18 NBA season, but Will Barton’s contract situation is one of the most interesting of all.

Barton signed a three-year deal with the Nuggets worth nearly $10.6 million about three years ago. As to be proactive, sources have confirmed to Mile High Sports that the Nuggets’ President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly offered Barton the largest extension allowed under the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement — four-years and $42 million — near the beginning of the 2017-18 season.

With that being said, according to Chris B. Haynes of ESPN, Will Barton has turned down that contract extension that would pay Barton $42 million over the next four years. While this news appeared on the morning of April 5th, Barton had turned down the extension a “while ago” as one member of the Nuggets’ front office told Mile High Sports.

Here is an excerpt of Haynes wonderful feature on Barton:

“Last summer, after hiring Aaron Goodwin as his agent, Barton turned down a four-year, $42 million extension in early October, league sources told ESPN. That was the most Denver could offer, given salary-cap rules. Goodwin told Barton to bet on himself, and Barton has put up strong numbers. But the 27-year-old will be entering a different market than free agents in recent summers. Due to the abundance of spending after the new TV revenue deal kicked in, money appears to have drastically dried up for this class.”

There is a lot to digest here. It is notable that Barton was told by his agent, Aaron Goodwin, that he should bet on himself and test the market. There could be quite a few reasons for this.

  1. In the days of ‘space and pace’ basketball, the archetype of long, athletic, and versatile wings has gone up in value tremendously and Barton is undoubtedly a part of that group. Cashing in on that does make sense fiscally.
  2. Barton has always bet on himself. This is a man who captioned his most recent Instagram post with, “I’ll never give up on me. I came out a murder zone.” Barton has not had an easy path to this point in his life and the only way he made it this far was betting on himself. It makes sense that he would continue to do so.
  3. Barton knows that he likes the city of Denver, that the coaching staff supports him, and that the front office values him. Essentially, as long as Barton is willing to take what the Nuggets want to pay him, he has a fall-back option if testing the free-agent market does not go as planned.
  4. As long as Barton is a free agent, Denver can offer him whatever they want because they have full bird rights. Basically, because Barton has been with the Nuggets for more than three years, the Nuggets can go as far into the luxury tax as they please to sign Barton.

While it is clear that Barton likes the city of Denver, his teammates, his coaches, and the front office (Barton and the Connelly family — Dan and Tim — have been close since Barton was in high school), what remains unclear is if he envisions himself playing the same ‘jack of all trades’ role that he is currently in.

Going back to the Nuggets’ media day to start this season, Barton told reporters that his goal is to eventually be a starter and, in the same feature that Haynes wrote on Barton, he doubled down on that comment and said,”I’m a starter. No doubt about it. No question in my mind.”

That leaves a strange situation for the Nuggets. Barton has goals of being a starter and, with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris holding down the starting backcourt roles, the only spot that Barton could start at is the small forward spot. If Wilson Chandler opts-out of his contract with the Nuggets this offseason, Barton could slide into the starting small forward role which is a spot that Barton has been highly effective in. The five-man group of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic has a net rating of +32.0 over 65 total minutes this year thanks to an incredible defensive rating of 92.0. While it is a small sample size, it is hard to definitively say that Barton could not operate as the Nuggets’ starting small forward.

Considering that Chandler has had a down year by nearly all accounts, the odds are favorable that Chandler elects to opt-in on his $12.8 million player option. If he does so, it is hard to envision Denver ponying-up to sign Barton for anything more than the four-year deal worth $42 million that has already been offered with Chandler still on the roster. Without making a trade to send out one of Chandler, Kenneth Faried, or Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets would have to step pretty far into the luxury tax to do so. Just look at Denver’s cap sheet.

*This cap sheet has accounted for Jokic’s potential five-year, $146.45 million max contract, Darrell Arthur and Chandler opting-in to the last year of their deals, and is without Barton. Thanks to Jeff Siegel of TheStepBack for making the cap sheet.

Without any moves to open up cap space — and with Jokic’s five-year max contract that is worth $146.45 million — the Nuggets will already be over $9 million into the luxury tax. That makes bring back Barton as a free agent tough; regardless of the fact that Denver can go as far into the luxury tax as they want to resign him. That would require ownership signing off on Barton’s hypothetical contract and the frugal Nuggets’ ownership group. Although, there have been rumblings that the Kroenke’s do not mind paying a luxury tax bill — as long as the price matches the production.

That leaves the last — and most important — aspect of Barton’s free agency; what is Barton himself looking for?

“I think the biggest things I’m looking for is respect, honesty and a team that’s going to be real aggressive and show that they really want me,” Barton told Haynes of ESPN. “I want to be where I can be able to showcase my entire game on a regular basis, somewhere they really believe in me and are ready for me to have a bigger role.”

While there are clearly hurdles to overcome for Will, “The People’s Champ”, Barton to end up back in Denver, Barton has made it clear to Mile High Sports in the past that he credits the Nuggets organization for allowing him to grow and become the player he is today which goes a long ways for Barton.

Barton — who’s mantra of ‘Protect the Family’ is inscribed on multiple chains that hang around his neck on a seemingly nightly basis — is a fiercely loyal individual. Even with Barton turning down the extension that was offered to him by Denver, there is still a very real chance that Barton is wearing a Nuggets uniform to start the 2019-20 NBA season because of the respect and confidence the Nuggets organization have consistently shown to him.

“I love Denver. I really want to stay with the Nuggets,” Barton told Haynes. “This is where I got my shot, and I’m so thankful.”