I think this trade has worked out better for the Nuggets than anyone has yet realized. The Nuggets accomplished nearly all of their goals in one fell swoop - they got nearly equal value in a superstar trade (an impossibility in most cases), they cleared a ton of cap space, they gained picks and more than adequate replacement for what Melo brought to the team. This sudden embarrassment of riches is a nice problem to have, but at the same time, Ujiri and Kroenke are going to have to make some tough decisions about this team going forward.
More after the jump...
1. Afflalo, Chandler, JR: each of these guys is going to get paid this offseason, no doubt about it. Chandler and Afflalo are due qualifying offers of ~3m each, and you bet your ass teams like Chicago, in dire need of an upgrade at SG/SF are going to make serious runs at each of them. JR is also set to be an UFA. Let's assume that the Nuggets are going to try and re-up Nene and sign at least one of these three and not more than two.
So, of Afflalo, Chandler, and JR, who do you keep? This is an extremely tough decision because they all have ridiculous upside, but I don't know how you can keep all three and still maintain a reasonable cap space going forward.
My personal vote, as tough as it is to say, is Afflalo and Chandler. Afflalo and Chandler simply have better basketball IQ and are better team and individual defenders. JR's scoring punch will be missed, but I believe Chandler and Afflalo could make up for 90% of his contributions.
2. Kenyon Martin will be a FA, and Nene has a player option.
I think the Nuggets have to seriously look hard at extending Nene for the next few seasons for as long as he wants to be here. He's a great talent at C and although he'll never be the bruising aggressive 5 the Nuggets have always coveted, he is still the league's most efficient scorer and can run the floor perfectly in the Nugget's system.
Kenyon has stepped up in Chauncey and Melo's absence to become defacto team captain after already being the "defensive QB". I think he wants to finish his career in Denver, but if we lowball him too hard, he's gonna sign elsewhere. He is still a valuable defender and can have some great nights on both ends of the floor, like last night vs. the Celtics. I would say 3 years/12 million is fair at this point in his career and production. The question is - will Kenyon stay for that and go for one last run with the Nuggets, or try to ply his way with a "real" contender?
3. Do the Nuggets keep both Lawson and Felton, or try to package Felton and Anderson/Harrington/Koufos/Forbes for picks and a serviceable big?
I like Felton, he seems like he's a great young guard, but his game is too similar to Lawson's to really warrant keeping both of them. At the same time, the Nuggets have to get rid of either Harrington or Anderson, because at this point they are just clogging up the PF and severely hurting the team when better options like Gallinari and Mozgov could be played. Depending on what Felton shows me over the next 23 games I may change my mind on this, but I will not change my mind on needing to ship out either Harrington or Bird.
I thought Harrington might have been a decent PF backup when we acquired him but I just can't abide the guy on the Nuggets anymore. He is a black hole on offense and jacks up terrible shots, without providing much in terms of rebounding, especially for his size. He commits some really atrocious fouls and turnovers too. I do like his post defense but we can do better than Al at 7 million a year for post defense.
4. Who do the Nuggets target in the offseason? What position do the Nuggets have the biggest need for at the current time?
I have to say that while the Nuggets are currently 2 deep at all positions, I think they need to go after a proven PF/C. Someone who can start alongside Nene and really provide a solid defensive effort. I would like to target Javale McGee but I'm sure Washington is super high on him. I might also point the Nuggets towards Ibaka, Okafor, Noah, or Josh Smith (my personal preference). I like the thoughts of this lineup, though it assumes we are able to keep Afflalo, JR AND Chandler (unlikely, though we will probably have the cap space to do if we REALLY want to):
PG: Lawson/draft pick PG or low-salary scrub
SG: Afflalo/JR (assuming we can keep him and Chandler)
PF: Josh Smith/Kenyon
5. What do we do with our picks?
The Nuggets have never been great drafters, this we know. So do we try and use them to make a run at an upgrade, or roll the dice this draft with an admittedly extremely weak class? I think we're going to have to wait till the new CBA to determine our next steps with our draft picks we acquired.
In any case, this is an exciting Nuggets squad going forward and I can't wait to see how our team is transformed.