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Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Denver’s Will Barton go after a rebound during the first quarter of the conference semifinals at Ball Arena on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

The wait for Will Barton III’s decision could delay the Denver Nuggets’ decision-making process this offseason.

Barton has until July 17 to opt into the 2021-22 Nuggets squad in the form of a player option worth $14.7 million for next season, according to spotrac. Denver’s offseason started Sunday when the Suns eliminated the Nuggets in a second-round sweep. Barton didn’t tip his cap toward Denver or free agency but detailed what he wanted.

“Just to be appreciated, being in a winning environment,” Barton said. “A chance to win and just to be myself and play my game.”

Part of that appreciation, Barton confirmed Sunday, was a starting role. A day later, he took to his verified Instagram account and kept it cryptic, captioning a pair of photos of himself in Nuggets uniforms with “In love with it more than ever. Want it more than ever. My best basketball is ahead. I’m excited to get better. Year 9 over. We’ll see what’s (a)bout to happen next …”

Should Barton accept his player offer, the Nuggets would have a good chunk of the projected $112 million salary cap spoken for with Nikola Jokic ($31.6 million), Jamal Murray ($29.5M), Aaron Gordon ($16.4M) and Monte Morris ($8.9M) under contract next season, while Michael Porter Jr., set to make $5.3 million next season, is in line for a big raise following the conclusion of his rookie deal.

JaMychal Green also has a player option worth $7.6 million for next season. Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee and Austin Rivers are set to enter unrestricted free agency, but Barton’s decision figures to have the biggest impact.

Barton was drafted by Portland and came to Denver in a 2015 trade that included Aaron Afflalo. Barton signed a three-year deal that offseason and re-upped for three more years, four including the player option, in 2018. The years since featured Barton earning the starting spot on a playoff team he desired but also included personal and professional lows. A cousin, someone he considered “probably the closest person to me at that time,” was murdered in late 2019.

On the court, he remembered being booed at home during the 2019 playoffs and suffered frustrating injuries that forced him to watch most of the last two postseasons. He was unable to participate in the bubble playoffs.

“My body fails me,” Barton remembered. “I’m not able to compete in the playoffs again.”

He spent most of the shortened offseason without a ball, focusing on coming into the season as healthy as possible. That failed to prevent a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the end of the regular season, the first round of the playoffs and Game 1 against the Suns. It was among the injuries that derailed what was hoped to be a special run.

“We make moves. We start catching our stride as a team. My play picks up, individually. I think we have the pieces set up to win a championship,” Barton said. “(Then), my star point guard (Murray) goes down for the season. After that, I get a serious injury. After that, PJ (Dozier) gets a serious injury. Here, in the playoffs, once again it’s tough not being able to do something you want to do, knowing you can make a big difference.”

His coach believes the franchise will continue to field a team fit to contend at the highest level with the Most Valuable Player under contract for the next few seasons.

“Our challenge is to find a way as an organization to continue to help him and put players around (Jokic) that can ultimately win a championship,” Michael Malone said. “What I love about our group is we have an ownership family in Josh and Stan Kroenke that, they want to win a championship. We are really passionate about that, so we have to find ways to be better across the board to make that happen.”

What is clear is Barton wants to win somewhere.

“It will definitely play a role,” Barton said. “I definitely believe we’ve got the pieces and if we’re healthy, I feel like we can win it. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Jokic nearly unanimous first-teamer

The NBA’s new Most Valuable Player came a vote shy of being a unanimous first-team selection. Nikola Jokic was an all-NBA first-team selection on 99 of 100 ballots and a second-teamer on the other. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was a unanimous selection, while Golden State’s Stephen Curry got 98 first-team votes. Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard, of the Los Angeles Clippers, round out the first team.

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