I wish I could take credit for coining that phrase, but alas. Though I was beaten to the punch it is still fun.
So what direction is the wind blowing this week? It appears towards the Nugs not dealing Melo and trying to get him to sign the extension. Reading between the lines of everybody’s quotes (Karl’s, Ujiri’s, etc.) all point towards getting Melo to sign the extension; but none specifically state to keep Melo for the long term.
Until the day Melo is gone I’ll keep holding hope towards the Kronk’s growing up, become real NBA owners, dedicate towards a title and keep Melo through their action and not rhetoric.
This will require a fundamental change in the Kronk’s thinking… decide to make a move proactively to improve the team rather than reactively because you have no choice in the matter. And the Kronks need to commit to spending money; not necessarily more money this year; but more money in the longer term.
Translation being if the deal is there to make and make the Nugs a title contender the Kronks need to be willing to trade expiring money for a skilled player who has a longer contract that will help the Nugs win a title. That’s the commitment Melo is looking for before he commits… if the Good Ship Melo hasn't already set sail.
Truth be told the Nugs are no longer a title contender. In 2009 they were a legit contender for 2 to 3 months. In the 2008-09 season the 2nd seed Nugs were in fact in a 3way tie for 54 wins (Nugs, Blazers, Spurs) and got the 2nd seed by way of a tie breaker. Last year the Nugs finished the year in a 2way tie with 53 wins (Nugs, Jazz) and got the 4th seed by way of a tie breaker. That's benefitting by circumstance and not being a run away silver medalist in the "Class of the Conference" derby.
The Nugs going into this season are still a team with holes very similar to Nuggets teams in the last several years. The Nugs lack a 2nd legit starting Big, need another legit shooter, the team’s depth is thin and their trading options are limited by a cap structure missing a middle class… nearly everyone is either part of the top heavy have’s or the bottom dwelling have not’s (young player contracts included in that group).
Here is the proposed 2010/11 Denver Nuggets as it is currently constructed. At the moment Harrington should be the 6th man if the Nugs find another big; because Harrington is one of the best 6th men in the NBA for the last several years. I do regard JR & Kmart more as trade pawns rather than actual rotation players. If the Nugs regard either of those as rotation players (especially Kmart) then frankly kiss Melo and the Nugs being a contending team good bye.
SF – Melo
PF – Ideally another big (either PF or C)
C – Nene or another Center & Nene moves to PF
PG – AAA
SG – Billups
6th Man – Harrington
Swing – Open (was JR in the past)
PG – Ty
C – Birdman
PF – Williams (is that really good enough)
So, how to fill the holes? Scour the other teams and see what’s available. I look at Detroit, Cleveland, Charlotte and potential partners. If Indiana changes their direction they could be a partner. A longshot could be Phoenix if their team falls apart and ownership decides to go a different direction. Toronto, Philly could be options plus maybe Milwaukee if they fall backwards rather than forward. The 3 Pacific bottom feeders (Clips, GS, Sac-town) keep getting mentioned but I don’t see much potential with them; GS because they do not have much value to offer (no Biedrins & Ellis are not value acquisitions) and the Clips & Sac-town may not be interested partners if a Denver trade does not include Melo. I rule out the Northwest because division competitors aren’t going to help each other and the Southwest all have playoff contenders except for NO and the Hornets have committed to CP3 so they won’t be doing any housecleaning in the near term. Amazingly Memphis has decided to be a money player for I don't see them dealing at least for a year or so.
Detroit for example I could envision a package deal where the Nugs could get the shooter (Rip Hamilton) they need but would have to take back players they would either need to roll over to a 3rd team such as Prince or take on a big who I would not like on my team (Villanueva). I just don't see Prince as a PF, even in the Western Conference. And playing Melo out of position simply to make room for Prince is bad judgement. Rule of thumb, you don't play your best player out of position; you build the team around him.
I still wouldn’t rule out the Cavs as partners. The Nugs aren’t going to get Hickson or Varejao from the Cavs (because the Nugs aren’t going to offer value for them); but the Nugs could come away with Antawn Jamison which would give the Nugs 3 very skilled SF/PF types to rotate. You could get Jamison straight up for Kmart, actually save a little money get a player more reliable throughout his career than KMart and only have to eat one more year of salary. Regarding the Offense/Defense argument... Jamison may not play strong D; but, KMart can't play defense from the training table and Jamison's overall basketball skills makes KMart's skills look sad.
All deals out there will have some risk. Will career workhorses like Rip or Jamison continue to deliver or will they break down like Kmart and become Training Room All-Stars? It is Ujiri’s job to sift through find what makes sense and identify a deal that will deliver a legitimate NBA player to the Nugs rather than a Roster Sheet Superstar (like DJ Mbenga) and convince the Kronks to Step Up or Shut Up.
In other words... Welcome back to Denver Masai Ujiri and good luck!!!