Solving Problems: Nuggets Need Nene And More
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The Denver Nuggets have gone through a lot over the last year, so they’re probably enjoying the peace and quiet caused by the lockout to a certain extent. After all, at this time last year they were the talk of the league due to the status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.
The Nuggets offered Anthony a three-year, $65 million extension, which he refused to sign because he wasn’t sold on their ability to contend for a championship. That led to speculation running rampant over whether or not the Nuggets would risk allowing Anthony to become an unrestricted free agent or trade him beforehand to ensure they received some value in return.
For months that was all anyone would talk about regarding the Nuggets. His coach, teammates and even family were constantly questioned about his desire to be there. Eventually, Nuggets management made the decision that trading him was the right move. They didn’t want to be like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had faith in their ability to retain unrestricted free agent LeBron James only to see him sign with the Miami HEAT, leaving them devastated and with no choice but to rebuild.
On February 21st the Nuggets traded Anthony to his hometown New York Knicks, who he likely would have signed with had he become a free agent anyway. In return they received Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and multiple draft picks. To make the deal work, they also had to include Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman with Anthony.
Trading Anthony marked the end of an era. For the last eight years Anthony had been the face of Nuggets basketball and the catalyst behind their development into a consistent playoff team. However, the team had no choice but to trade him because he clearly didn’t want to be there anymore. He almost certainly would have walked at season’s end because there were several other teams, along with the Knicks, prepping to make a run at him.
The Nuggets finished the season respectably at 50-32, earning a first-round match up in the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They fell to the Thunder in five games, but the fact they even qualified for the playoffs in such a tumultuous year was a victory in itself.
Thanks to the financial flexibility they gained from the Anthony trade, the Nuggets are in a position where they could really do some things – but their first order of business is very clear.
Keeping starting center Nene is a must for the Nuggets, even in a year where there are two other top-tier centers available in free agency in Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler. At 29 years of age Nene has proven to be a true force inside the paint, while still improving overall. They tried to work an extension with him immediately after trading Anthony, but were unable to come to an agreement before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired. They did appear to be very close, though.
Four key role players for the Nuggets last year – J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler, are also free agents. Chandler and Afflalo are restricted while the other two are unrestricted. They have the Bird Rights to all four, but Smith and Chandler have signed one-year deals in China and are bound to those through March. There have been reports that Martin is considering doing the same.
By drafting Morehead State power forward Kenneth Faried, who led the NCAA in rebounds per game last year, and Texas guard/forward Jordan Hamilton, the Nuggets have put themselves in a position where they don’t necessarily need to keep all of those players. If they can keep Chandler for the right price they should, but it may be time to move on from Martin and Smith.
Rather than chasing Smith, Martin and Chandler the Nuggets may be better off re-signing their other restricted free agents Afflalo and Gary Forbes, preserving some cap space for the 2012 offseason when there will be a little bit more talent available on the market. More importantly, they’ll have time to plan and think things out rather than being rushed like they will be when the CBA gets done this year.
Of course, they could decide to use that cap room this offseason despite the short time period that they’ll have to work with. There are some quality free agents out there on the market who could make a big instant impact, like shooting guards Jamal Crawford and Jason Richardson. They could really use the scoring punch that they would provide in the backcourt as they are already set at point guard with Andre Miller and Ty Lawson.
There are also a couple of small forwards who would be appealing fits in Thaddeus Young, whose versatility makes him quite attractive, Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier. Battier is the kind of player who this Nuggets team could really use. His leadership and defensive prowess would be a great benefit to this young team, but he may be looking to be in a contending situation right now.
There are a few decent options at the power forward spot with David West highlighting this year’s crop of available four men. West would be ideal to put alongside Nene inside, but he’ll be tough to sign. Carl Landry and Glen Davis are cheaper options who would still bring a lot to the table.
As far as trades are concerned, the Nuggets don’t have much to offer unless they’re willing to give up one of their younger players. They won’t find much interest in the contracts of Al Harrington or Chris Anderson, but Miller’s expiring contract could fetch some offers closer to the deadline.
Anytime a team trades away a superstar like Anthony there is going to be a transition period where they take a few steps backwards. Luckily for the Nuggets, they’ve done as good of a job as they can at keeping themselves competitive now with flexibility to do big things in the future. Rather than being destroyed by Anthony’s departure like the Cavaliers were by LeBron’s, they’re almost in a better position than they were with him.
With a veteran head coach in George Karl, a young general manager ready to prove himself in Masai Ujiri, and a solid young core of talent there is plenty of reason to be optimistic in Denver. By keeping Nene and adding the right piece or two, they could stay in the Western Conference top eight and not even miss a beat without their former All-Star.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat at 11 am EST this Friday. You can get your questions into him here.