While there are those who envision the Nuggets recent acquisition of talented but ... umm ... basketball IQ challenged JaVale McGee as a long term move, there's another angle to the trade that needs to be discussed.
Money money money money ... monnnnnnnnnnnney!
In the summer of 2008 the Denver Nuggets traded Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers for a giant trade exception (which the Nuggets never used) and a pile of hair. At the time, it was looked upon as the first step to a long and painful rebuilding process. Instead the Nuggets (led by former Vice President of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien) wore down the Detroit Pistons to trade for Denver native Chauncey Billups (for Allen Iverson). The Nuggets never looked back that season and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
Fast forward to the trade deadline of 2012. Nene Hilario, long-time Nuggets power forward/center, is traded in a three-team deal to the Washington Wizards for JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf (who will be waived) while the Los Angeles Clippers sent a second-round pick and Brian Cook to the Wizards for Nick Young. It was a bizarre trade that was reported right as the trade deadline expired. The deal took everyone by surprise. It took me by surprise as well, but only because of what the Nuggets got in return ... not that they traded Nene.
Background of a surprising trade
In early January I was informed by some people I know who work in the business of basketball (NOT in the Nuggets front office) that the Nuggets were shopping Nene. I dismissed this because it didn't seem to make sense, particularly since just few weeks had passed since the Nuggets signed Nene to a five-year deal worth roughly $67 million, and had made a big production out of signing him (if you watch Episode One of "The Association" you will see what I mean). So, I didn't think much of it and continued on (the NBA is a rumor cesspool, people will tell you things you can't repeat, and 90% of the time the rumors tend to be untrue).
Sometime in mid-February I was again told the Nuggets were shopping Nene, and they were absolutely serious about moving him. This is when talk show hosts and columnists (such as Sandy Clough and Mark Kiszla) began writing columns and talking on the radio about how if Nene didn't watch out he was expendable. That Nene's contract wasn't prohibitive and he could be moved at any time. Clearly the message was not so secret anymore. This acted as a quasi-confirmation of what I had been told a month prior.
It became clear to me, based on the timing of the rumors I was hearing (and how it's been recently revealed that DeMarcus Cousins was a target of early Nuggets trade talks in January) that the Nuggets may have been treating Nene as a marketable commodity to gain assets from, rather than a building block of the future. An interesting move considering, again, the big dramatic production the Nuggets made in signing him late in training camp.
The anatomy of spin
If you watched, listened, or read the reaction to the Nuggets trade yesterday you would think that Nene was a bum who never got in shape, didn't play through injuries, and was ancient. None of this is true and it's insulting to Nene. While he may not be the hardest worker in the world, it's a bit disingenuous to say those things about him. Otherwise the Nuggets brass wouldn't have been able to move his contract. It's a simple deduction to say that Nene was signed to be traded, that is it. Nene was who he always was and he had the misfortune of missing most of camp and coming in out of basketball shape. If that was a prerequisite for trading someone Arron Afflalo would be traded by now. The spin just doesn't make sense.
Watching the Altitude pregame show last night you'd think that McGee had the most potential since a young Dwight Howard. Particularly jarring comments coming from Scott Hastings, who was always less than positive about McGee ... and that's putting it lightly. It was amusing to watch the spin.
McGee could pan out as a low-cost little-risk move for the Nuggets. My surprise with the signing of JaVale McGee (expressed yesterday) was he is not an upgrade over Nene, and with a history of knucklehead syndrome and, at times, hilariously low basketball IQ it didn't seem to make sense. Yet, if you look at it closely ... I firmly believe that the trade for McGee is more about this next off-season than it is about the player. Adding an asset that can be either kept or used in a sign-and-trade. Add to that the large amount of cap space the Nuggets cleared with Nene and Andre Miller (presumably) coming off the books ($20 million) and the low-cost signing of Wilson Chandler (5 years and in excess of $30 million - with a team option on the fifth season) and you have a veritable pu pu platter of trade-able assets that can be moved for something even bigger.
The big picture
Look at it this way Nuggets fans - the Nuggets have positioned themselves to be prime time players this off-season and into next season. Building around a core that featured young players and movable talent, the Nuggets have made it known they will do what it takes to make their roster better, if not younger. Make no mistake, this trade that was executed yesterday was more about moving an asset than it was about gaining one in return. The Nuggets actions spoke louder than their (spin controlled) words. Why they wouldn't emphasize that is a bit puzzling though.
What if, for instance, the Nuggets make a run a Deron Williams after the season when he's set to become a free agent? What if the team bundles together assets to bring in another young player with tremendous upside? While it's sad to see Nene go (particularly to the armpit of the NBA, the Wizards) the Nuggets have positioned themselves to get better in the off season through a series of crafty moves.
Let me be blunt. The Nuggets never had any long term intentions with Nene. He was signed to be traded, to not lose an asset for nothing in return. It makes you wonder who else on the roster has that same designation? Is there no seat safe with the Nuggets going forward? Do the Nuggets actually have a "core"?
Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, the Nuggets have made things a heck of a lot more interesting.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78