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Blog Entry

The Nuggets, free of Melo, control their destiny

Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:46 am
Edited on: December 14, 2011 6:52 am
 
By Matt Moore

When trading a superstar, you look at two options. You can try and aim for a similar, albeit lesser star, or you can aim for financial flexibility and young players. When the Denver Nuggets traded Camelo Anthony last February, they received young players and financial flexibility, but they also recieved something better. Choice. 

The team was not so devastated by Anthony's deparure as to be forced into a pure rebuilding episode. They had young players like Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson, and got back more in the form of Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov. But they also had cap room to bring in someone, or, if they wanted to bring back Nene. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports that's just what they did, inking the 29-year-old to a 5-year, $67 million deal which puts him at less per year than Marc Gasol, and which is less than the reported four-year, $70 million offer from the Nets. In locking up Nene, the Nuggets are entering into exciting but dangerous territory.

The Nuggets can compete for the playoffs right now. If Lawson continues his progression and Gallinari becomes a full-fledged star and young players like Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried contribute anything, along with Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer, who the Nuggets acquired Tuesday in a trade with Dallas, then Nene allows them to push for as high as a five-seed in the West. With the Lakers undergoing signs of a possible implosion and Dallas clearing space for 2012, along with San Antonio's age finally wreaking havoc on them, the Thunder really only stand as a major long-term challenge in the West, provided the Clippers don't get Chris Paul. A deep, talented, versatile team with depth, size, experience, youth, athleticism and range? The Nuggets have everything you'd want in an all-around collection of talent.

The Nuggets are expected to zero in on restricted free agent Arron Afflalo, according to Berger, and as a result, will have a killer lineup of Lawson-Afflalo-Gallinari with some combination of frontcourt players beside Nene filling out the roster. They'll still have long-term flexibility, with only Al Harrington standing as a major impediment and will still have the amnesty clause as a weapon to use to clear space. Most of that cap space will be absorbed by extensions for Lawson, Gallinari, and potentially Mozgov, but that doesn't alter the fact that they can use those contracts and players to upgrade or go in different directions.

Still, the re-signing of Nene has its drawbacks. They are a win-now team. They are not aiming for the next superstar, they're trying to grow one out of either Lawson, Gallinari, or, less likely, Nene. They're trying to catch lightning in a bottle and that's a difficult act in the NBA. It's said that the worst thing you can do is end up in NBA purgatory, a constant 5-8 seed playoff team who never winds up going anywwhere. But the Nuggets might get to have their cake and eat it, too. With the kind of young roster they have, and a viable anchor in Nene to bolster the interior, Denver can have it both ways.

Masai Ujiri caught flak from everyone for waiting on the Melo deal last fall, seemingly squandering opportunities to get better deals. Instead, not only did he take in a king's ransom for Anthony, he has converted that haul and the cap space it afforded into a team that isn't struggling to fill roster spots, one that can take risks and make savvy moves, a team on the rise that can also compete now. There's no telling where Ujiri will take the Nuggets over the next several years, but unlike so many franchises beholden to the fate of one player, the Nuggets have options, now.

Wherever they're going, it's their decision which path to take.
Comments

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: December 14, 2011 4:38 pm
 

The Nuggets, free of Melo, control their destiny

With the Lakers undergoing signs of a possible implosion and Dallas clearing space for 2012, along with San Antonio's age finally wreaking havoc on them, the Thunder really only stand as a major long-term challenge in the West, provided the Clippers don't get Chris Paul. A deep, talented, versatile team with depth, size, experience, youth, athleticism and range? The Nuggets have everything you'd want in an all-around collection of talent.
Strange how narrow perspectives get and how reckless the opinions become when looking at a team's potential on paper. The most recent challenger to rise in the West has been the Memphis Grizzlies. Not a mention here. The other powerful young team in the West remains the Portland Trail Blazers. Not a mention here. Memphis with Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph certainly has to be considered a better front line than Nene, Al Harrison and Gallinari. Not even close. For that matter Portland with LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum, along with Marcus Camby and maybe later Greg Oden is a better front line as well. The backcourt of Lawson and Afflalo (no longer with JR Smith) can penetrate and can defend but can it really score? Probably not better than Felton, Matthews, Smith for Portland and probably not better than Conley Allen, Mayo and Henry can score for Memphis.


The likelihood of another Western team emerging in the next two years is higher as well. As often as Kahn has been excoriated in Minnesota he now has a real coach who can achieve according to the considerable talent on that team. Watch for Minnesota to return to being a competitor. And watch out for Utah which has also amassed young talent that will surprise some fans. The West is maybe more competitive this year and next than in any of its best years. In the 66 game schedule the young legs will exact a price from the older teams in LA, Dallas and San Antonio. That should show up in injury reports and losing streaks by March.


hoobasking
Since: Dec 14, 2011
Posted on: December 14, 2011 3:13 pm
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Since: Dec 10, 2006
Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:42 pm
 

The Nuggets, free of Melo, control their destiny

Selling the farm to get a big name doesn't always work out. Now that Denver owns the Knicks' farm, it will be interesting to see who really wins this trade.



Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:26 pm
 

The Nuggets, free of Melo, control their destiny

I generally agree with this assessment.  Personally, I'm not looking for big-time success this year (though, of course, I'll take a Championship!).  Instead, I think they need to resign Afflalo, then use the year to assess the potential of all their young players.  That means everyone gets some minutes to see what they can contribute.  Ujiri needs to be able to project what he has in Gallinari, Mosgov, Hamilton, Faried, Fernandez and Brewer to decide who stays long-term and who can be traded for other assets.  By the end of the season, they need to know who they're going to put around Lawson, Afflalo and Nene. 

For the moment, I also think they should hang onto Harrington and not use the amnesty on him.     Yes, his contract is an albatross, but he's a veteran player who can help some of the youngsters over the rough spots, and the amnesty shouldn't be used until Ujiri really needs to clear cap space for an important free agent addition.  If the young group he has now shows a lot of promise, then it's just possible that a star free agent might want to come to Denver to help the team get to the top.  Then, having the amnesty in his pocket would be a great asset for Ujiri to use to make room for a max contract.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com