The Denver Stiffs reader wish list...

Pardon the tardy blogging. I've been busy getting organized now that the playoffs are over (for us), juggling a few projects and watching the Magic make a mockery of the NBA Finals. After watching the Magic lay over and die at Staples Center on Thursday night, I have a renewed respect and appreciation for what the Nuggets were able to do in that building just a few weeks ago. The Nuggets may have lost their mental edge in two of three Staples Center games, but they never played like cowards and made the Lakers work on almost every possession.

But we're not here to dwell about the past, but rather look towards the future.

Part of being a good sports blogger (something I'm still working on) is knowing what your readers want to discuss. After posting my column on Linas Kleiza on Wednesday and seeing the comments that followed from that and Monday's column, it's become clear to me that my fellow Stiffs are more interested in who the Nuggets might acquire than re-signing their own players right now. So before we tackle the other Nuggets free agents - Chris Andersen, Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter - let's dive into the Denver Stiffs reader wish list, in order of the (approximately) most discussed names to the least discussed...

RASHEED WALLACE

The Good: First suggested by Denver Stiffs reader "ACE III", bringing Wallace to Denver has picked up a lot of steam on this blog throughout the week. For starters, he's a solid 6'11", has a championship ring and has years and years of playoff experience playing alongside the Nuggets own Chauncey Billups. Wallace is also a tough, gritty defender who guarantees you about seven rebounds and one block per game. And with the ability to shoot three-pointers, he extends the floor in a way that Kenyon Martin and Nene cannot.

The Bad: Where do we start? First, because he knows he can shoot from the outside he does so way too often for a guy his size. Since joining the Pistons in 2004, 'Sheed has never shot better than 44% from the field. That's unacceptable for a center/power forward. Second, the reason he has years and years of playoff experience is because he's old. Before the 2009-10 season begins, 'Sheed will be 35 years old. Third, even though you always hear that 'Sheed is "a great locker room" guy, the bottom line is that he's a high maintenance individual who draws technical fouls with such regularity that he makes K-Mart look like a saint. With 'Sheed on board, the technical-prone Nuggets would guarantee their opponent about four free points per game off technical fouls alone.

The How: In order to acquire Wallace via free agency the Nuggets would have to sign him at the expense of re-signing Andersen and Dahntay Jones. When reading through all these various scenarios, keep in mind that re-signing Andersen - because he's coming off a one-year deal - is the equivalent of signing a free agent off the street cap-wise. In other words, if the Nuggets use up their mid-level exception money to secure the Birdman, the only way to also acquire Wallace would be a sign-and-trade with the Pistons that uses up the Nuggets trade exception money. In the bad open market to come, my hunch is 'Sheed (who made $13.7 million last season!) will garner at least $6 million per season for three seasons, although he'll ask for a lot more. 'Sheed's age and history of on- and off-the-court issues should keep his price range in check.

The Verdict: Even IF the Nuggets could somehow get 'Sheed cheap in a sign-and-trade and keep Andersen, I don't believe acquiring 'Sheed is worth the risk. And monetarily, I don't see how this could get done. Assuming Andersen took a $4 million annual salary and the Nuggets brought 'Sheed in at $6 million and the Nuggets didn't re-sign Kleiza or Jones, they'd be $13 million over the tax threshold (meaning Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke would have to cough up $26 million on top of his other losses, approximately where they were at the end of the 2007-08). Moreover, knowing this could be his last contract, 'Sheed will be looking for a minimum of a three-year deal. Meaning that the Nuggets would be on the hook to pay a 38-year-old 'Sheed beyond K-Mart and Chauncey's time in Denver.

Even though Andersen's star may have dimmed a bit against the Lakers, I'd rather have the Birdman back for about $4 million per season and swing another deal to get a big man than see the Nuggets sign 'Sheed to a $6+ million annual contract.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL

The Good: Shaq's name was first thrown into the Denver Stiffs hat by longtime reader "KarlSucks" and has been discussed quite a bit since then. The reasons for bringing in Shaq are obvious: he's coming off his best season in four years, remains an imposing center (something the Nuggets don't have) that would allow Nene to move to his natural position of power forward and wants nothing more than to knock out the Lakers in the postseason before calling it a career. If healthy, a frontline of Shaq, Nene and Carmelo Anthony could be the NBA's best.

The Bad: Already 37 years old, in 2008-09 Shaq maintained his streak of consecutive seasons played without appearing in all 82 games at 18. And by the way, that's how many seasons he's played in the NBA. Shaq's also really expensive ($20 million owed to him for 2009-10) and is as high maintenance as they come. The Suns mortgaged their future to acquire Shaq and go for a ring when Shaq was two years younger than he is now. Their reward? One first round exit, one postseason absence and no cap flexibility.

The How: As mentioned in my "5 Questions for the Offseason" post, the only way to acquire Shaq directly from Phoenix would be if the Suns sent Shaq plus Jason Richardson to Denver for K-Mart's awful contract plus two or three more Nuggets contracts (likely Steven Hunter, a re-signed Kleiza and even a re-signed Johan Petro) just to get the Nuggets within the $10 million trade exception that the Nuggets possess from last summer's Marcus Camby trade. Richardson would have to be included because otherwise the Suns would have no incentive to acquire K-Mart other than to ditch Richardson's onerous deal. And even after all that, the Nuggets would be looking at being $15 million over the tax threshold, would have no Chris Andersen and with Richardson they'd have a player fighting for playing time with J.R. Smith. Not a good idea.

The Verdict: Unless there's a three-team deal out there I'm not seeing, can you say "no chance"? I like Shaq. I like his personality. I like what he does for the community. I like that he takes young players under his wing. And so on. But I don't like the Nuggets mortgaging their future just to make a deal of this magnitude work. If you could trade K-Mart and Hunter straight up for Shaq, you'd give this serious consideration. But even though Suns GM Steve Kerr has made an assortment of bad decisions, I don't see him being dumb enough to acquire K-Mart without parting with Richardson.

CHRIS KAMAN

The Good: Also first suggested by "KarlSucks", Kaman on paper is what the Nuggets could really use: he's a legitimate seven-footer, he's only 27 years old, and he can score around the basket while blocking 1.5 shots per game. Kaman is also on my "All Shoulder Hair" team alongside Rudy Fernandez and Nuggets shoulder hair legend, Danny Schayes. Before getting hurt in 2008, Kaman was being talked about as a potential All-Star and averaged 15.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg and 2.8 bpg that season.

The Bad: Kaman can't stay healthy and picks up quick fouls. In the second year of a lucrative five year contract, Kaman appeared in just 31 games, although he was reasonably productive when he played. In the season before, his best statistically, Kaman played in just 56 games.

The How: A lot of readers have jumped on "KarlSucks" suggestion of acquiring Kaman and have assumed the Nuggets could get Kaman by dealing K-Mart. Not so fast. To make a trade in the NBA, the salary you take back must be within 125% plus $100,000 of the traded salary. So for the Clippers to take on K-Mart's $15.4 million salary next season, they'd need to part with Kaman's 2009-10 salary of $10.4 million plus either Ricky Davis' $2.5 million or Mardy Collins' $1.8 million salary to get close enough to K-Mart's deal. The other route to acquiring Kaman would be to part with Nene as their salaries better match up, but I think most Nuggets fans would prefer Nene over Kaman.

The Verdict: If I were the Nuggets, I'd try to acquire Kaman in exchange for Martin in a heart beat. But in spite of the stupidity of their recent dealings (notably acquiring Zach Randolph at an average of $16.7 million per season over the next two seasons) and with the likelihood of them drafting Blake Griffin in July's NBA Draft, there's no way the Clippers bring on another power forward, even if they're hell bent on parting with Kaman's contract. With the Clippers likely to trade Marcus Camby (who's in the final year of his deal) at some point next season for future assets, Kaman will become their only viable center.

RON ARTEST

The Good: "Agent Fisher" gets credit for bringing up Ron Ron as does The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla. We all know the obvious positives with Artest: he's a tough, tenacious defender who can capably guard three positions on the opposing team - shooting guard, small forward and power forward. A huge plus for me regarding Artest is that he could fill in for Dahntay and Kleiza by himself.

The Bad: The Nuggets tried to acquire Artest from the Kings in 2008 in exchange for Eduardo Najera and Kleiza, but head coach George Karl allegedly shot it down as he didn't want another potentially difficult personality in the locker room. Of more concern to me than Artest's personality is his shooting percentage. Artest shot a pathetic 40.1% from the field last season and is a career 42.2% shooter. And those percentages don't keep from shooting, either.

The How: Coming off the final year of his contract in which he made $8.5 million last season, Artest is an unrestricted free agent. Therefore, in order to acquire Artest the Nuggets would be faced with the same scenario as possibly acquiring Rasheed Wallace: they'd either have to sign Artest at the expense of re-signing Andersen or do a sign-and-trade with Houston to acquire Artest while using up much of their trade exception money to make it work. Unlike the 'Sheed scenario, since Artest isn't a center the Nuggets would have to re-sign Andersen and do the sign-and-trade for Artest, sending them deep into luxury tax hell.

The Verdict: All NBA fans are familiar with Artest's checkered past on- and off-the-court and his penchant for getting kicked out of games. But when he's with it mentally, there may not be a better free agent to be had this summer. That being said, the actual costs of acquiring Artest combined with his poor shooting make me too squeamish to get behind this deal. Even if the Nuggets could get Artest at, say, $5 million per season while keeping Andersen at $4 million per, they're looking at an $81 million payroll ($12 million over the tax threshold).

ANDREW BYNUM

The Good: "Kyle Scott" gets his name in print here for suggesting Bynum last Monday (see, I do read every comment!). The best thing about Bynum is that he's tall (a legit 7'0") and young (turning 22 in October). And you can't coach height and age. I also believe Bynum can be a real contributor in spite of his sub-par efforts since returning from a second knee injury this season and, if acquired, gives the Nuggets a formidable low-post presence for at least 10 years.

The Bad: Beyond being known to check out of games for long stretches, Bynum's contract can be a bit daunting to look at. He's owed $15 million for the 2011-2012 season with a team option for north of $16 million the season after that.

The How: Even though he's been in Phil Jackson's dog house for much of the postseason (although it's tough to say for sure if Bynum is on the outs with Phil for if he's just hurt still), the Lakers won't part with Bynum unless they get something substantial in return. One possibility would be Nene, whose contract matches up with Bynum's, plus another small contract to make the numbers fit. But if the Nuggets were to send Nene directly to the Lakers for Bynum, the Lakers would remain just as good - if not better - than they already are. However, if Bynum has indeed fallen out of favor with Jackson and the Lakers priority were to re-sign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, perhaps a three-team deal could work whereby the Nuggets would send Nene to the Cavaliers, the Cavaliers would send Ben Wallace's expiring contract to the Lakers and the Nuggets would take Bynum.

The Verdict: With the amount of time and money already invested in Bynum, and given his age and height, I don't see the Lakers parting with him...especially to a direct conference rival like the Nuggets. But if the Nuggets could somehow trade Nene for Bynum by way of Cleveland, I'd do it.

MARC GASOL

The Good:
Suggested by Denver Stiffs reader "CB" (I'm assuming he's not Chauncey Billups undercover), bringing in Pau's brother to give the Nuggets some toughness inside for next year's conference finals isn't a bad idea. At about $3.4 million per season over the next two, Marc is a bargain for a guy who's going to be a 10-10 producer next season.

The Bad: Because Marc is such a bargain and the Grizzlies are insistent on staying well below the cap while remaining somewhat respectable, why in the world would the Grizzlies ship him to Denver?

The How: The only way the Nuggets could pry the younger Gasol away from the Grizzlies would be to take back Marco "Hot Wife, Horrible Contract" Jaric in the deal. And again, Nene would have to be the bait on this one as he'd in theory fit with whatever the Grizzlies plans are for the future. With Jaric owed $7.1 and $7.6 million over the next two seasons (he must have the best agent in the world in addition to having the best wingman) combined with Marc's reasonable salary, the numbers would match up.

The Verdict: To make this deal happen, you'd basically be sending Nene out-of-town for Marc Gasol while being hamstrung by Jaric's contract for two consecutive seasons. We don't need a true seven-footer that badly.

CHRIS WILCOX

The Good: "ICEMAN" threw out Wilcox's name the other day noting that he's an unrestricted free agent. When healthy and not getting arrested on concealed weapon charges, Wilcox is a gritty 6'10" inside force capable of double-digit scoring, eight plus rebounds and unlike Wallace, he shoots within his range and has a career 52.7 field goal shooting percentage.

The Bad: With the exception of a two-and-a-half year run with the Sonics during which he put up solid numbers, Wilcox has been the odd man out at most of his stops in the NBA, his minutes have been spotty and he hasn't produced consistently. Whether this is the result of a lack of motivation, size at the center spot, injuries or something else we just don't know.

The How: Like Wallace and Artest mentioned above, acquiring Wilcox could be done through free agency (meaning Birdman wouldn't be re-signed) or through a sign-and-trade with the Knicks. Wilcox will probably command about $5 million per season on the open market.

The Verdict: Wilcox's toughness and ability to finish around the basket would be welcomed in Denver. Moreover, he'd be a great insurance policy to the oft-injured K-Mart and Nene. But at 6'10", he's not a true center which is what the Nuggets really need. If over the summer the Nuggets strike out in their attempt at grabbing a true center but can get somehow acquire Wilcox instead, he'd make one heck of a consolation prize.

ANDREW BOGUT

The Good: Also suggested by "CB" (he gets extra credit), Bogut is one of the few true centers on the Denver Stiffs reader wish list. Not only is Bogut a legit seven-footer, but he's not afraid to mix it up inside, can finish around the rim, is a decent rebounder and shot blocker and will be 25 this November.

The Bad: Bogut appeared in just 36 total games due to an assortment of injuries, notably back problems which never seem to go away. Secondarily, while his contract isn't unreasonable for the next two seasons, he's due to be paid $14.2 million in 2013-14. If he can't stay healthy, that could be a hurtful salary number.

The How: I hate to keep throwing his name out here on these, but again, Nene would be the best trade bait for Bogut. Concerned with Bogut's health and contract, the Bucks might be motivated to jettison their young center for Nene, whose contract ends two full seasons before Bogut's does. And with the exception of last season, Nene hasn't exactly been a hallmark of good health, either.

The Verdict: Of all the names thrown into the hat by the great readers of this blog, acquiring Bogut might make the most sense. A Nene-for-Bogut swap enables the Nuggets to keep their other plans in-tact, such as re-signing Birdman, securing Kleiza for the qualifying offer and plucking another "scrap heap" guy over the summer a la Dahntay from last summer, while giving them an upgrade at center. After all that Nene has been through and all that he's done for the Nuggets recently and vice versa, you hate to see him go. But sometimes winning a championship means parting with those you love and this deal - while certainly not a slam dunk - would have to be seriously considered.

In summary, after thoroughly reviewing your wish list above, it makes me even angrier that the Lakers were able to fleece the Grizzlies for Pau Gasol last year. By handing over the elder Gasol to the Lakers for as little as possible, the Grizzlies turned an almost 60-win team into a perennial 60+ win team. Simply put, there's not much the Nuggets can prudently do in the offseason to overtake the Lakers without gouging themselves with the luxury tax. That said, as noted above there are several possible moves the Nuggets could make to secure their position as the second best team in the conference. And as we just witnessed in both conference finals, if you can get that far, anything can happen.

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