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February 19, 2009 1:06 AM

Kleiza's questionable Nuggets future

By Chris Tomasson
Rocky Mountain News

It's understandable Linas Kleiza's name has floated around as Thursday's NBA trade deadline approaches.

How do the Nuggets intend to pay Kleiza next season?

The salary cap is expected to go down next summer. Players union director Billy Hunter told the Rocky Mountain News he expects it will decrease about $1 million (from $58.68 million), and the luxury-tax threshold (now $71.15 million) will go down a corresponding amount.

So let's say next season's tax threshold drops to $70 million. Where does that leave Kleiza, the Nuggets forward who will be a restricted free agent?

The Nuggets already have eight players next season committed to make about $66 million. That gives them $4 million for five additional roster spots if they want to stay under the tax line.

Considering the Nuggets were close to signing Kleiza to a four-year, $25 million contract extension last October before owner Stan Kroenke elected not to go through with it, you do the math. It doesn't add up considering it's doubtful Kroenke, who has worked so hard to get under the tax line this season, would want to be back above it next season.

With the Nuggets next season in jeopardy of paying the tax, it would seem very possible a team could swoop in and sign Kleiza to an offer sheet Denver doesn't match. And there always remains the possibility Kleiza could bolt to Europe, leaving the Nuggets with nothing although they would continue to hold his restricted rights if he ever were to return to the NBA.

For now, let's see what happens at Thursday's trade deadline. Indications from the team are no move of consequence is expected.

But last-minute deals always come up. And Kleiza's questionable future with the Nuggets has to enter the equation.



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