It looks like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Denver Nuggets are parting ways. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Pope “intends to sign a three-year, $66 million deal with the Orlando Magic.” The starting five that brought Denver a title in 2023 and then tied the best regular-season record in team history is no more.

There’s also a report that Denver offered a “salary pretty similar to what he ended up getting from Orlando”  and that’s where I get confused. The same report also indicates that Denver was willing to go 3 years. Either Denver was going to retain KCP or they weren’t. $22 million in Average Annual Value doesn’t do anything to their ability to miss the second tax apron penalties that paying him $26 million in AAV would have. If they needed the flexibility for the offseason plan then they really couldn’t have Pope sign back with them at any market-value price. If they wanted him, then they could have thrown him an extra couple million to make up for the lack of state income tax in Florida and KCP would likely have been back. Maybe he didn’t want to return, but if that’s the case it’s also a problem for the team to solve – are they burning out the players who make the system around Jokic and Murray work?

So is there a plan in Denver, or just a vague suggestion of hopes and aspirations? What does this mean for Denver?

It releases the cap hold they had for him, and gives them a $5.18 million Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to use, which is a couple million more than most vet minimums and might get them a slightly better caliber of player. Of course the last time the Nuggets used it, they gave it to Reggie Jackson – the same Reggie Jackson they just paid 3 second-rounders to get rid of because of the player option they included for the second year of that deal.

It also frees up a spot in the starting lineup, whether for an outside addition or an internal promotion for Christian Braun. The defensive assignments for Braun are a more natural mold than KCP’s deadly deep shooting, which kept the floor spaced for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to perfect their two-man game. Braun will need to prove his is more able to make those shots, and honestly more willing to take them in the flow of the offense than he has been so far, but being surrounded by starters would probably help with that. Braun looked better in the playoffs defensively than KCP in some matchups, but part of that was Pope being injured. Braun has big shoes to fill, because a healthy Pope was a key member of that title-winning squad.

There is still the chance that Denver moves KCP in a sign-and-trade to Orlando rather than simply letting him walk in free agency, but that’s not entirely up to them. And naturally it saves owner Stan Kroenke a significant chunk of money in salary and taxes if the Nuggets do not do that and instead just work with minimum salary vets and the MLE to fill the last few roster holes. The referendum on smart vs. cheap hasn’t played out just yet.

But through all this change, let’s not forget here to honor Pope’s legacy in Denver: he was part of the first title in Denver Nuggets history and that legacy can never be tarnished. His locker room leadership and championship pedigree from his now-two rings goes with him to Orlando, where he hopes to help lift a young and talented Magic squad into title contention.

Since General Manager Calvin Booth soured the draft night vibes by offhandedly confirming the Nuggets were probably not going to bring KCP back, all of Nuggets Nation is waiting to see what the plan actually is to replace Denver’s 5th-best player. We’re about to find out if there is a better plan for replacing KCP than there was for replacing the contributions of Jeff Green and Bruce Brown. More to come as Denver tries to get back to the Finals – just not at any cost.