Eduardo Najera Versus the Luxury Tax

It is well past time I get back to our offseason series of evaluating the Nuggets roster and addressing the various issues facing them, ranging from financial considerations to how these pieces fit (or do not fit) together.  We have looked at the bottom of the roster and evaluated the ramifications of keeping Nene.  Today we will begin to dig in to the group of players who were constants in the eight man rotation throughout the season with a look at Eduardo Najera.

 

Eduardo is far from a perfect player.  He is undersized to play inside and because of that is a below average rebounder.  He struggles to defend in the post against top notch power forwards.  He is not quick enough to defend small forwards nor can he handle the ball and pass well enough to play small forward on offense.  However, despite all of his shortcomings, he was a very valuable player for the Nuggets this season for one reason. 

 

He plays hard all the time.

 

There is only one player on the Nuggets roster who will get down on the floor every time there is a loose ball and it is Najera.  Even though he is not a great defender, he commits to play defense on every possession whether he is matched up against Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant.  Najera is also a good zone defender as he is smart and understands positioning.  There is a great example of his defensive savvy in the Pickaxe and Roll Film Room from the crucial late season game in GoldenState.

 

The other aspect of Eduardo’s game that makes him so valuable is he can play 10 minutes or 40 minutes.  You hear about players who have to have their roles defined and they want to play a set amount of minutes at set periods during the game.  Najera will play at any point in the game for as long as he has to.  He is not a player you want consistently playing 35-40 minutes a night game after game, but he can do it from time to time and you do not need to worry about him crumbling mentally because his routine has been altered.

 

Offensively Najera is no scoring machine.  He only scored more than 12 points three times and never topped 20 points in any game this season.  However, he was part of one of the strangest storylines all season.  He almost made as many three pointers this season as he had attempted in his career up to this point.  He connected on 53 three pointers and had only attempted 55 before 2007-2008. 

 

It is no secret that he had been working on his three point shot.  He finally reached the point where George Karl encouraged him to shoot it.  Not only was he effective, but he ended up the second most accurate three point shooter on the Nuggets roster at 36.1% placing him ahead of Melo, AI, Chucky Atkins and Linas Kleiza.  He even improved during the course of the season.  Early on he would only shoot when there was no defender within ten feet of him.  By the end of the season he was able to speed up his release enough that he was hitting shots with defenders nearby. 

 

The other aspect of Najera’s offensive game that I am a big fan of is his cutting ability.  He has great instincts and does a tremendous job of slashing into the lane when the defense least expects it.  He is also a good finisher at the rim off of these cuts even though he is not the most explosive leaper around.

 

On a team full of high draft picks, Najera is the gritty role player who does not care about numbers or fanfare.  He is a tremendous asset to the community and does a great deal of charity work both locally and in his native Mexico where he is regarded as national hero. 

 

Of course, there is always a financial aspect to take into consideration.  As of July 1, 2008 Eduardo is an unrestricted free agent.  I seriously doubt there will be a bidding war for his services, but a player of his caliber will be in demand.  Allowing Eduardo to walk will help decrease the Nuggets team salary by almost five million dollars and then another five million in luxury taxes.  I doubt that Eduardo is going to get a deal with a starting salary of five million, but he is certainly a three to four million dollar player.  If he ends up getting an offer for four million from someone is it worth the Nuggets shelling out eight million bucks to keep him?

 

If the Nuggets are serious about winning next season they will have to pay that price.  I believe Najera is a good fit with this team.  He wants to be here.  He has come out and said that George Karl is the best coach he has ever played for (which does kind of make you fell sorry for him).  Even if Denver declines to bring him back, they will have to sign someone who replicates what he does.  We saw how poorly the decision to let Steve Blake walk in order to save a couple of million bucks with Chucky Atkins worked out last year.  Let’s hope they do not make the same mistake with Eduardo this offseason.

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