Nuggets' free agent soap opera continues...

Like sands through the hourglass ... so are the days of our Nuggets lives. Last season we put up with the (do I even need to say it?) And now, the Nuggets are again a hot topic team because free agents Arron Afflalo (restricted) and Nene (unrestricted) are making other NBA general managers salivate. Like any good soap opera, the twists and turns will be aplenty and I'd like to introduce a couple new characters to the Nuggets' landscape: Thaddeus Young (restricted) and DeAndre Jordan (restricted) dun, dun, duuuunnnnnn!

Did I recall the "Like sand though the hourglass ... so are the days of our lives" quote by memory? Of course I did! When I was a wee-lad I used to stay with my grandparents quite a bit and my mom's dad, my grandpa, used to watch Days of Our Lives like clockwork or sand in the hourglass-work. The interesting part, my grandma didn't watch that soap. So, the two of them were both hooked on cheesy daytime dramas, but they'd watch different ones. It wasn't long until I knew the cast, including Marlena, Roman and Bo Brady, and Victor Kiriakis aka John Aniston, yep Jennifer Aniston's father.

The other day I was watching some daytime television and low-and-behold Days of Our Lives was on. Roman was talking to Marlena and a few other scenes came on and I knew about 90% of the cast. Things hadn't changed one bit, my soap opera family was still intact with a couple new players to boot.

Well, our Nuggets family in Afflalo (two seasons in Denver) and Nene (nine seasons in Denver) is being threatened, as we all know. Rumors of Afflalo being coveted by the hated Los Angeles Lakers (where AAA is from) and Chicago Bulls are leaking out, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. And Nene, old news, has a list of suitors as long as his career rebounding numbers, seven.

Should the Nuggets bring back Afflalo and Nene?

This is the question that everyone in Nuggets Nation is asking. The vibe I'm picking up is that everyone wants to see AAA back, from the fans to the front office. Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri addressed Afflalo and Nene in his press conference this week and said the team wants both guys back. But while Ujiri wants both guys back, the fans seem torn on whether or not the team should bring Nene back.

The 29 year-old Brazilian has had his ups-and-downs in Denver and with the team being younger; it's time to ask if the Nuggets should bring him back for another four to five seasons (which would make Nene 34 years-old at the end of a max-contract.) Does committing to Nene make sense? Let's get the take from your fellow Denver Stiffs writers ...

Andrew Feinstein: It's hard to take Nene's comments about being "disrespected" seriously when a guy who has averaged 12.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg for his career and still cannot be counted on in the fourth quarter (on either end of the floor) just turned down a four-year, $50 million contract extension from our Nuggets. But while $50 million might be considered overpaid by some or just-about-right by others, it doesn't change the fact that losing Nene presents an assortment of issues that I don't believe the Nuggets want to face. And therefore, Nene should be re-signed if the price can be kept reasonable (whatever that means anymore).

First off, regardless of the hard numbers and Nene's fourth-quarter disappearing act, he remains one of the most efficient players in the NBA and a possession-generator thanks to his superb shooting percentage and defensive prowess. Secondly, there isn't a decent power forward option on the free agent market (David West? No, thanks. Carl Landry? Hardly in Nene's league) with which to replace Nene. Thirdly, the Nuggets will be forced to fill Nene's $10-12 million cap void with veterans we probably don't really want thanks to the NBA's new mandate for teams to spend 85% of the salary cap no matter what.

And finally, Nuggets fans should be drooling over the prospect of a Nene, Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari front line. Those three could present one of the biggest and most dynamic front lines in the Western Conference, with Nene moving to his natural position of power forward.

So here's hoping that Nene remains a Denver Nugget. But I'm not delusional enough to think that we'll see vast improvement in his game entering his 10th season, but rather more of the same (which isn't bad) if he moves to power forward.

Jeff Morton: It's a bit unfortunate that the Nuggets future direction is so heavily dependent on a player who seems to disappoint so frequently. Whatever mental block Nene has with being aggressive is perplexing. He could dominate most centers and power forwards in the league because his skill set is at such a high level. Yet, Nene rarely comes through. His 14 pts and 7 rebs is ok, and his usage rate and efficiency are quite high, but when you are screaming at the TV for a player of his size to just "DUNK THE BALL" you understand that maybe his problem is between the ears.


That being said, if George Karl had committed to playing Nene at the power forward slot earlier we may not be having this discussion. Nene has been playing out of position for the past three seasons. Count me among the many people who think that Nene has been misused through most of the latter part of his Nuggets career. While I would have loved to see Nene play alongside a "proper" center I'm not 100% convinced that Karl would actually play him there.

So, since Nene is most likely going to be quite expensive to retain - and the fact that he's most likely be put back at the center spot - I'd say that maybe it's best for the organization that Nene move on. This will force Karl to actually play Mozgov at center and we will try to develop our young players as best we can.

So long Nene.

Nate (me!): This entire situation is now up to Nene. He's an unrestricted free agent and Denver can't do much that hasn't been done already to retain him. The grass is going to look Celtics green when Nene visits other teams. Nene maintaining the "disrespected" angle is going to make things easy for opposing GMs. Wooing Nene wont be difficult and the Nuggets have reached the end of the road with the big man.

Nene has been a steady force in the middle for Denver, only missing 12 games the past three seasons. Reports have stated he has been working out with Tim Duncan and others in the off-season; and I think he could teach the young bigs on the team a ton about playing in the post both offensively and defensively. Nene has three or four more big years ahead of him, but I think his desire to leave is real and I believe it's time for the Nuggets to go ahead and move in a different direction. If Nene was stating that he wanted to come back, would my feelings be different? I don't know anymore. As much as I want things to stay the same, I need to realize it might be best for the franchise to seek a new beginning.

For those of you scoring at home:

Timmons and Morton think, begrudgingly, that Nene should go. Feinstein would like to see Nene stay.

What to do if Nene leaves?

As David Aldridge reported on Nov. 29th, teams have been allowed to contact player agents as of two days ago. The Nuggets will know if things with Nene are not going to work out sooner rather than later.

Option 1: Go sign Thaddeus Young away from the Philadelphia 76ers to play small forward. Click here for his stats.

Small forward? But that's Danilo Gallinari's position! Yes, it was. With Young, the Nuggets get a young (23 years-old) kid who loves to get up-and-down the floor - George Karl's style. The NFL is known as a copy-cat league, and the NBA should be as well. Following the Mavericks championship path, the Nuggets could:

  • Start a quick point guard in Ty Lawson (J.J. Barea) and have the veteran come off the bench in Andre Miller (Jason Kidd). An opposite plan of Dallas, but perhaps better.
  • Have a deadly shooter and defensive minded shooting guard in Arron Afflalo (DeShawn Stevenson).
  • Start Thaddeus Young at small forward, a do it all Shawn Marion type.
  • Move Gallo to power forward to create speed and stretch the floor for match-up issues.
  • Start Mozgov as a defensive minded center who can rebound, a la Tyson Chandler.
  • The bench would feature very high energy players in Kenneth Faried and Chris Andersen and hopefully scoring threats in Al Harrington, Jordan Hamilton, and perhaps Gary Forbes.

How to pry Young away from the Sixers:

I reached out to Sixers expert and Liberty Ballers writer Michael Levin for his impressions on Young and here is what he had to say:

Michael Levin: We of Philadelphia are quite worried about Thaddeus Young. Though there are two camps in which the worriers find themselves. One camp is of the mind that Thad, at 23, is extremely talented for his age, coming off the best season of his career, and is beloved by coach Doug Collins. They're hoping to lock him up long-term because it would hurt the team too badly to lose him and, with the way he improved under Collins, the sky is the limit for a kid with great work ethic and improving game.

Unfortunately, I'm in the other group. We in the as yet unnamed Group #2 are extremely worried that Thaddeus, who reportedly asked for $11 million per this past summer, will get a mammoth contract for a player that, according to the stats that matter, hasn't gotten markedly better since his rookie season. He never developed a jump shot and last year only took 22 three-pointers. He has mediocre handles for a small forward and is undersized for the 4. While his offensive rebounding is some of the best in the game for his size, he's way below average for a power forward on the interior on defense. He's not a guy you run plays for, as Mo Cheeks said a few years back, and you don't sign an offensive-minded player to a 5 year, 50 million dollar deal if you're not going to run plays for him.

He's a very nice player and could blossom into a #3 on a contending team. But he's a tweener that's really good in the open floor and pretty mediocre in the half-court. If we sign him to a 4 year, $30 million deal, I'd be ... okay with it. The likelihood is they'll overpay. And if Denver wants him, they'll also have to overpay because both Thad and the Sixers front office want Thad to stay in Philly. It remains to be seen what the new ownership's stance will be, but if I had to bet, I'm guessing Thad will be in Philly for a while, making a ton of money to be a good 6th man on a decidedly mediocre basketball team.

Nate's Verdict: Levin thinks the Nuggets would have to overpay Young, almost to the tune of what Nene was offered at 4 years and $50 million. Would Nuggets Nation be comfortable with the team giving Young $10M+ per season when more traditional options might be available? Probably not. I would like to see Denver sneak in with the promise of a starting role and perhaps $8 million per season and if Philly matches (as Young is a restricted free agent) then they match it. Teams will have just three days to match contracts to RFAs, down from seven days under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Option 2: Sign DeAndre Jordan away from the Los Angeles Clippers to play power forward in Denver.

Power forward? Nate, did you slip-and-fall on the ice last night ... you're talking crazy. I realize that Jordan isn't a polished player by any means and the Nuggets need a reliable scorer. But if the team is going young, why not let Gallo, Lawson, and Afflalo try to develop as scorers and let Jordan and Moz concentrate on the dirty work in the starting lineup together. Two towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol has worked for the Lakers (yes, Pau is very polished), so why not gamble on the 23 year-old Jordan here?

  • The front-court of Gallo (6'10''), Jordan (6'11''), and Moz (7'1'') would be the most intimidating front line in the league.
How to pry Jordan away from the Clippers:
I reached out to Clippers writer extraordinaire of Clips Nation Steve Perrin for his thoughts on Jordan, here is what he had to say:

Steve Perrin: Clippers GM Neil Olshey has been incredibly consistent in his conviction that the Clippers intend to keep DeAndre Jordan. Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are obviously the two main building blocks; but DeAndre is a third guy more or less the same age who plays a different position, and Olshey often refers to the three of them as the "young core." DeAndre is worth a lot to the Clippers, not just for his basketball potential, but also because he's very close to Griffin and he's also a fan favorite.

Having said all that, it remains to be seen how high the Clippers will go to match on DJ. If another team was willing to wildly overpay for him, it might be a tough decision. But any reasonable offer is going to be matched, I'm fairly certain of that. So you have to ask yourself if it makes sense for the Nuggets to make an unreasonable offer.

I don't think the Dwight Howard rumors change that - if anything, those rumors might make it more likely that the Clippers match on Jordan. Why? In any of these mega star scenarios (Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams) the Clippers don't want it to get to free agency. If those guys make it onto the open market, New York is too big a threat. So the Clippers would rather get them in trade, which is what their teams want as well in order to avoid losing them for nothing. Jordan becomes a potentially valuable trade chip in the Howard situation, as a poor man's replacement for the Magic. Base year compensation rules (which are changing under the new CBA and which I understood only poorly even before) would complicate that of course, but the new more lenient salary matching rules would help.

Nate's Verdict: Damn these restricted free agents! The one off-season when the Nuggets have an abundance in salary cap room, is the one where many of the intriguing players are RFAs. Rats. Again, the Nuggets would likely have to spend $10M+ to get Jordan. Like Perrin said, Jordan and Griffin are great friends so it'd be crazy for the Clips to let him go. But, this is a business right? So, the Nuggets should chase Jordan over the undersized Carl Landry and coming back from injury David West.

What direction do you think the Nuggets should take?

Nate_Timmons on Twitter, https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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