Nuggets fans, management and all the scribes who follow the team universally agree on one thing: the Nuggets need a legitimate big man anchoring the center position. Good luck finding one.
In his latest in-depth column at HoopsWorld chronicling the Nuggets myriad offseason issues ranging from their free-agent-to-be general managers to the complications of acquiring new talent due to the Nuggets financial situation, my friend Travis Heath wrote: "...it's very tempting for people to write a piece listing the names of potential acquisitions via trade for any given team during the summer months. There is one inherent flaw in this approach, though: context is often lost." Maybe our egos are getting too big around here (considering that this site is now read monthly by almost five Pepsi Centers worth of readers, can you blame us?), but I felt like this line was targeted directly at the writers and readers of this very site.
Regardless of whom Heath had in mind, as usual he's right. His macro point is that the NBA offseason is a fluid process and teams like the Nuggets, who are cash-strapped and already at the luxury tax line, must wait in line to see how things shake out with the draft and big free agent signings before deploying their limited assets.
This doesn't mean, however, that we as fans can't start speculating on possible acquisitions - however unlikely they may be - even now. And just a few weeks ago you could already see the possible trades being bandied about in the game thread comments as it became evident that the Jazz were going to beat the Nuggets in Round 1.
This need for a bigger big man in a powder blue and gold Nuggets jersey has been around ever since Marcus Camby was shipped out to the Los Angeles Clippers for a trade exception two summers ago. And as I said during my recent interview with 104.3 The Fan's Sandy Clough, the time to acquire such a big man was probably during that same summer. At that time, Marc Gasol was only known for being Pau's younger brother and the Grizzlies were saddled with some ugly contracts they were desperate to move, potentially along with Gasol. And that same offseason Joakim Noah was still in the Bulls' doghouse and being labeled by many as a possible draft bust (after Noah got busted for marijuana possession in 2008, I suggested that the Nuggets go after him knowing Mark Warkentien's penchant for overlooking character in favor of talent).
Of course, deals for those guys never materialized (although The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla reported the Nuggets almost pulled the trigger on a deal for Gasol in 2008) and we've been left to watch the undersized Nene, a natural power forward, do yeoman's work anchoring the center position, even if he's not as tough as we all wish he'd be.
I have a bigger concern than Nene's toughness and what trades might be available, however. Like scouting hot girls at an Ivy League school, when it comes to acquiring a big man there's not a lot of selection. So before we make proposals to ship Nene, J.R. Smith and/or Kenyon Martin out of Denver for a big man, I'd like to comprise a short list of "acquire-able" candidates without getting into the specifics of a deal. Because as Heath points out, until we see how free agency and the draft shake out, it's hard to speculate on how a precise deal might get done.
By "acquire-able", I'm referring to big men whose contracts the Nuggets could swallow (even if the deal makes no sense for other reasons) and big men who could be expendable in the eyes of their current franchise. For example, I don't believe the younger Gasol nor Noah to be available anymore. Gasol is in the last year of a contract that will pay him "just" $3.5 million and Noah is still operating under his rookie contract. So unless the Nuggets are willing to part with Carmelo Anthony - something, to be clear, they should not do - in a deal for several players on the other end, grabbing big men bargains like Gasol or Noah will be virtually impossible. Oh, and neither Lopez brother is walking through the Pepsi Center doors, either.
That said, here is a fairly short and fairly ugly list of "acquire-able" big men that the Nuggets could target and be ready to pounce on as the summer transaction season unfolds (in no particular order)...
Turning 34 this August, Miller still has some life in him and, as an unrestricted free agent, will be sought after by a number of teams for the mid-level exception (or more). The only way the Nuggets will get their hands on Miller will be if they can somehow dump K-Mart's salary, take back lesser salary but a longer-term deal and have some mid-level money to play with leftover.
I'd love to see Haywood in a Nuggets uniform next season but can't foresee a scenario in which this unrestricted-free-agent-to-be comes to Denver. Turning 31 this fall, Haywood is a much more attractive commodity than Miller and will likely be re-signed by the Mavericks whose owner, Mark Cuban, has no fear of the luxury tax line.
Hear me out on this one. I guarantee you that the Nuggets could land Okafor - who's having a "Benjamin Button" NBA career a la Joe Smith (i.e. he has gotten worse every year since his rookie year) - along with James Posey for K-Mart. New Orleans is hurting big-time financially and I bet they'd likely be amenable to this salary dump. The flip side, of course, is that the Nuggets would be on the hook to pay Okafor $14.5 million in 2013-14. Among Okafor's many problems is that he's not much bigger than Nene and has suddenly gotten tentative offensively (also like Nene). But could George Karl get to him somehow? It's an intriguing idea.
Biedrins' contract is ugly because of it's length (runs through 2013-14), but not necessarily because of the amount ($9 million per season). Biedrins - a legit seven-footer - had a horrible, injury-riddled 2009-10 campaign, but was a very serviceable center for two seasons before that. Likely wanting to get out from that contract, I believe the Warriors would deal Biedrins plus a contract throw-in like Anthony Morrow (whom I love) for Nene. But the Nuggets would be gambling big time on Biedrins' future health.
A unrestricted free agent, I can't imagine a scenario in which the Nuggets could score someone of Scola's caliber, but he's worth looking at. In the absence of Yao Ming, Scola had a breakout season in 2009-10 (I should know, he was my fantasy steal of the draft) and routinely put up double-doubles. Unfortunately, Scola is best suited for power forward and isn't the true center the Nuggets really need.
O'Neal continuously gets written off, but once the youngest player ever drafted, O'Neal will turn 32 this fall and had a halfway-decent regular season. Unfortunately, O'Neal had one of the worst post-seasons in recent memory for a big man, making just nine of his 44 shot attempts for the entire series against the Celtics. If he can be had cheap enough, O'Neal is worth a look as a free agent acquisition.
Another oft-injured Warrior, Turiaf could be made available to the Nuggets - also along with Morrow - for J.R. Smith straight up. I'd do that deal tomorrow if I could. A bruising 6'9" (even though he's erroneously listed at 6'10"), Turiaf brings the type of character, hustle and gamesmanship the Nuggets desperately need and the Warriors may be the only franchise in the NBA willing to take on J.R.'s baggage.
According to Kiszla, the Nuggets allegedly almost got their hands on Foster last season before Foster shut things down with season-ending back surgery. Never a good thing. That said, readers here know I've been banging the Foster drum for some time. Given that he has one year left on his deal for $6.7 million, and considering the financial dire-straits that the Pacers find themselves in, a deal could still get done. I wouldn't send away J.R. for Foster, however, and doubt that the Pacers want anything to do with J.R. in the post-Ron Artest, post-Stephen Jackson era in Hoosier country.
This is admittedly a real far-fetched stretch. But even though they make six times as much revenue as the Nuggets, the Lakers can be fiscally prudent sometimes. Having just re-upped Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant through 2013-14 (a deal that pays Bryant - gulp - $30 million in that final season), Lamar Odom through 2012-13 and overpaid for Ron Artest through 2013-14, as well, Bynum - who doesn't get any action at the end of games and is always hurt - might be available...even to a conference rival. It might sound crazy, but would the Lakers consider trading Bynum for Nene to shore up their power forward position and save a few bucks? Or even crazier, would they consider trading Bynum for K-Mart to save a few bucks sooner than later? It's at least worth a phone call to Mitch Kupchak. But I doubt that Warkentien and Rex Chapman even have Kupchak's number as they've likely never called him.
Jefferson's name has popped up on numerous reader wish lists here, but as stupid as he is, I can't imagine Timberwolves' GM David Kahn parting with Jefferson for another power forward a la Nene or K-Mart. Like the crazy Bynum idea, it's at least worth a phone call. For example, would Kahn take K-Mart in exchange for Jefferson and a bad contract like Ryan Gomes? That would leave the Wolves with another year of pain while giving them flexibility into the future. Just a thought.
Since a number of fans and writers have mentioned the remote possibility of Bosh coming to Denver in a sign-and-trade, I'll entertain the idea here briefly. As I've said a number of times, I have to believe that Toronto could get something better than Nene and J.R. Smith in exchange for Bosh. But if the Nuggets could somehow, miraculously get that done, it's a no-brainer. With Bosh and Melo together, you'd only need a big stiff center like Foster and you'd be all set. We must remember, however, that Bosh will dictate the terms of where he's going this summer and I doubt Denver is on his list.
I saved the best for last and will repeat what I said on the radio last week about O'Neal: he's 7'1", 330 pounds, he's an unrestricted free agent and he hates the Lakers. Other than the fact that he's the NBA's oldest player (hard to believe, I know) and would ruin George Karl's high-possession "system" as he did in Phoenix last season...why not?
Photos courtesy of AP: Duane Burleson, Bill Kostroun, Mark J. Terrell, Nell Redmond