With many Western Conference teams in a state of flux and confusion, the Nuggets will field a 2011-12 roster featuring many holdovers from last season plus new faces in place of some big egos. Get ready for a ninth-consecutive playoff appearance.
Thanks to the re-signing of Nene Hilario, the Nuggets now possess one of the Western Conference's most formidable front lines with the 6'11" Nene slotted to start at power forward alongside the 6'10" Danilo Gallinari at small forward and the 7'1" Timofey Mozgov at center. Backed up by Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried and (possibly) DeMarre Carroll, this is probably the biggest Nuggets team in franchise history.
And with Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer joining Ty Lawson and Andre Miller in the Nuggets' back court, the Nuggets added much needed speed and length at shooting guard to compensate for Lawson's diminutive size and Miller's slowness at point guard. A third point guard might still be needed, and it's likely rookie Jordan Hamilton will spend some time in the D-League with the Nuggets' roster filling out quickly.
Longtime Denver Stiffs readers know I've always been a fan of Fernandez. He's an athletic gunslinger who's not afraid to take a big shot. Fernandez's exceptional performance against the "Redeem Team" in the 2008 Summer Olympics is how I'll always think of Rudy. 22 points on 7-13 shooting, 5-9 from three-point range and no fear going up against Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Unfortunately, his NBA career numbers have been nothing to cheer about, notably his field goal and three-point shooting that plummeted to 37% and 32.1% last season, respectively. Questions have also surfaced in the past about Fernandez's attitude, but he's a competitor who wants to win and be on the floor in clutch situations. Kind of like J.R. Smith, oddly, who the Spaniard is essentially replacing.
Conversely, I've never liked Brewer's game. A lanky 6'8" guard/small forward, Brewer doesn't seem to have one discernible skill to cling to and for the 7th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (two slots ahead of his Florida teammate Joakim Noah), he has essentially been a bust. Brewer's game reminds me of DerMarr Johnson's, another lanky guard/small forward drafted too high (6th overall in 2000) and just never panned out. But for a backup-to-a-backup small forward/shooting guard, having Brewer on the roster doesn't hurt.
In regards to re-signing Nene for what could-be upwards of $67 million over five years, I'm thrilled from a basketball perspective and skeptical from a business perspective. Should Nene stay healthy and thrive at power forward, this will look like a good deal until the fourth and fifth seasons when my fellow Stiffs are griping about how we're grossly overpaying a 34 and then 35 year-old player. But committing $13ish million per season to Nene, plus another $8 or $9 million per season to Afflalo (which could very likely happen) will hamstring the Nuggets' ability to bring in big free agents next summer.
But with this recent spate of moves it's a fair question to ask whether or not the Nuggets really need Afflalo back. I say "yes" (for the right price, as always) as you can't trust Fernandez and his shaky shooting to start at two-guard, Brewer has no business starting, Hamilton isn't ready and I cringe to think of a Miller/Lawson two point guard back court. For all those reasons, we need Afflalo back but his return isn't essential for a postseason return.
Surveying the rest of the Western Conference, I foresee the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks - as presently constructed - being the class of the conference with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs just behind them. The Lakers in particular appear to be on the verge of total disarray with a new coach having to deal with Kobe's disgust over the Lamar Odom loss, Pau Gasol's (you know they're coming) emotional issues, Ron Artest's nuttiness, Derek Fisher's age and never-ending Dwight Howard talk. I almost feel bad for Mike Brown already, but I'm sure he knows what he signed up for.
Those remaining three Western Conference playoff spots (in no particular order) will go to our Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers, who just acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. For the Nuggets to vault themselves into the Western Conference's upper tier, Gallo, Moz and Lawson must become substantially better players this season.
(As an aside, what a joke this Paul deal is for the NBA. I'm still recovering from the shock of the NBA screwing the Lakers on trying to obtain Paul last week and now Paul gets to join Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye on a point guard-jammed Clippers team. Although a starting five of Paul, Billups, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan should find itself into the postseason.)
The Nuggets did themselves good by re-signing Nene and pulling a heist job by snaring Fernandez and Brewer for a second round draft pick (and trade exemption). Let's see if they can swing an Afflalo re-signing next to round out a very exciting 2011-12 roster.