As a fan base, are we okay with waiting until 2014 to try and become a first tier team? This seemed to be the case when we started 1-4 and were crying "Tank for Wiggins!" (Looking at you TyL, even if I completely agreed with you). However, we won 7 games in a row and were looking pretty good at 14-9 going into the OKC game. Golden State was near .500, the New York Knicks were imploding, and we found ourselves with an opportunity to prove that we belonged with a big win at home against a difficult opponent.
Then the game happened...
OKC decided they didn't care if we were having a good season or not. They trampled us. Ty played pretty well. He would have had about 25 assists had half of the teams missed bunnies at the rim went in and we made a couple of threes. Hickson played the role of Kevin Love to a tee. He filled up the stat sheet without making meaningful contributions, especially on the Defensive end. The only four players I truly enjoyed watching were Ty, Jordan Hamilton (who Anre and Nate seemingly forgot was on the floor), Wilson Chandler (who I would have no problem shooting a 3-18 Statline if he continues taking the types of shots he does), and Tinafey Mozgov (who provided needed defense but was defeated by the floptastic Nick Collison). Everyone played hard, but no one stepped up to assume leadership. Anre Miller was benched in the second half...this is not how a playoff team is supposed to operate, there was good individual defense, but no anchor unless Mozgov was in. People were clamor into for Javale McGee and Danilo Gallinari, but good teams find a way to win without complimentary pieces.
Which leads me to the fork in the road. On one hand, we wait and see on the injuries to Gallo and McGee which could lead to either playoff success or busted chemistry and maybe not seeing the playoffs at all. Or we shake things up with a trade of some sort this year to acquire the pieces we need to be successful.
Option 1 - Wait and See
To me, this is the much more likely scenario. There are too many variables when shaking up a team when two of the main pieces of the puzzle haven't fit into the team. Gallinari is key, the Robin to Lawson's Batman (or is it the other way around?). With a healthy Gallo, the minutes of the incumbent Randy Foye will likely decrease, and hopefully Wilson Chandler will shift to the SG position. The wing position gains a lot of defense with this move; however, Jordan Hamilton's minutes will likely go down if Foye is still in the rotation, which is a problem, since Jham is most definitely better at pretty much everything.
Then there's McGee. I don't think anyone can honestly tell me what McGee will be when he returns. Does he return to pre-season form, when he was making good post moves, shooting free throws well, and playing with more mental poise? Or does he return to the McGee we have always known? A kid who just didn't have the mental focus to learn and live the fundamentals of Basketball? My guess is he will show flashes like he always does and continue to need help with his mentality, his positioning and fundamentals. This would almost certainly guarantee to me that we will not go past the second round, because an elite rim protector is vital as we all know, and that comes not just in the form of blocked shots, but altering shots due to understanding the play in front of you which I'm not sure McGee has grasped. He needs another year to develop.
The minutes would go something like this IMO:
Lawson 32/Anre 14/Nate 2
Chandler 20/Foye 15/Nate 13
Gallo 20/Chandler 10/Jham 12/Foye 6
Faried 18/Arthur 12/Hickson 10/Gallo 8
McGee 18/Mozgov 18/Hickson 8/Faried 4
Small ball galore...Gallo certainly has the ability to play the 4 and when he does, it will probably be Chandler/Foye at the 3 since Foye isn't starting. It doesn't make sense. There are 12 guys (13 with Fours) who all deserve some playing time. All have contracts for next year too except Jham (who I would rather have back than Anre or Foye) who is getting his minutes largely cut which is sad. This is how I would rather the rotation go.
Lawson 32/ Nate 16
Chandler 25/ Evan 13/ Foye 10
Gallo 23/ Jham 18/ Chandler 7
Faried 20/ Arthur 20/ Gallo 8
McGee 22/ Moz 20/ Faried 6
This obviously isn't perfect. Anre and Hickson aren't included because I like guys that play good individual and team defense first before thinking about themselves or their stats. This also puts more shooters on the floor and gives Evan and Jham a good opportunity to solidify their rotation spots.
But is it enough?
The West is difficult. If we matched up with any of San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City, Houston or Los Angeles, I would not like our current chances in the playoffs. Duncan and Parker, Lillard and Aldridge, Durant and Westbrook, Harden and Howard, Paul and Griffen, Lawson and Gallinari...one of these things is not like the others. The single fact that those duos outweigh ours is logic enough that we cannot win two playoff series' as currently constructed. Last year, and the year before that, and all the years before that, there was at least one star on each Finals squad unless it was a great defensive squad. Are the Nuggets either of those things? Lawson would be an all star in the East, but in the West? He may not be a top five PG as much as we hate to say it. CP3, Parker, Westbrook, Lillard, Curry, heck even Eric Bledose deserves an HM. My point is that the star power in the NBA is extremely important, and NBA championships follow stars around like lost puppies. We could take a chance that the 2014 1st turns into a star, but for the sake of the argument, let's move on to option 2.
Option 2 - Make a trade
There aren't many stars up for trade discussions at the moment. There never usually are if those players are any good. However, there are some interesting names to think about in a Nuggets Uni. So what does our shopping list look like?
PG - Check. We have a good one in Ty Lawson. Put him in place of some of the other PGs like Tony Parker or Damien Lillard and he would be putting up the same or even better numbers.
SG - Available. While there aren't many good SGs out there at the moment,there are many better than Fffffffoye. He's a bench guy, and even if we think Fournier could be the SG of the future, he just isn't seasoned enough yet to put us over the edge. Chandler could definitely be here, but could also be used as trade bait to acquire someone even better.
SF - Check. Gallo is our glue, and Chandler is starting there now with Jham backing up. Next.
PF - Possibly. Faried is a gggggreat bench guy with energy and valuable rebounding capability, but that's it. He hasn't improved his offensive game, and there are only baby step improvements as a defender. 29 other teams want him, but the best teams want his bench presence and the others who want to start him are young teams that want to acquire and develop young talent. If we can get someone at PF without trading Faried, that would be best case scenario, but a star trade likely includes Faried.
C - Available. McGee so far has been a disappointment. Not just because of his injury, but his lack of development before it.championship teams don't have guys like McGee who make those boneheaded mistakes near routinely. He either needs to get his butt in gear or he will be traded. I am perfectly content with starting Moz if he is traded and we don't get a C back, but not Hickson. He is not the starting Center for a second round playoff team. The top four teams in the west right now have either an elite PF or C. Aldridge, Duncan, Ibaka, Griffen. No matter how good we think any of those guys are, they are better than what is currently starting at the 4/5 for the Nuggets. That needs to change.
Now who should be available to trade?
In order to acquire an elite player, the team in question will first and foremost ask for two things, the 2014 1st from NYK and Kenneth Faried. Those are our most valuable assets.We should only be forced to part with one or the other, and I am of the opinion we should keep the pick, even if it will be hard to see Faried go. The next part is salary fill, since most stars cost a metric ton, we will need to supplement with salary. Going down the list, Lawson and Gallo are untouchable, so the biggest pieces of salary are McGee, Chandler (hopefully don't have to include him), Anre, Hickson, Mozgov and Arthur. A combination of those pieces plus Faried will be what it takes to acquire a star. Jham and Fournier should also be showcased due to their attractive potential and youth.
Now, onto the stars.
My rules for picking a trade partner were that the team wasn't contending, the star wasn't deemed untouchable (Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins), and they had to be (or at least have a reasonable ability to play) a SG, PF, or C. These are the possibilities I came up with:
Milwaukee Bucks - OJ Mayo, SG
Toronto Raptors - Demar Derozan, SG
Minnesota Timberwolves - Kevin Love, PF
New Orleans Pelicans - Eric Gordan/Ryan Andersen, SG/PF
It's weird to think of most of these players in a Nuggets uniform. Some of them I don't want. Paul Millsap and OJ Mayo don't give us that extra boost, especially at the expense of some of our talent. Those Centers from Cleveland sound good on paper, but are made of glass. It is very unlikely that Marc Gasol and Kevin Love are allowed to lead their teams this year, as Gasol was just a DPOY (yet Karl and Ujiri won exec and coach of year...) and Love is just having a fantastic statistical season. So the list goes like this:
Orlando Magic - Arron Afflalo, SG
Toronto Raptors - Demar Derozan, SG
Los Angeles Lakers - Pau Gasol, PF/C
New Orleans Pelicans - Eric Gordan/Ryan Andersen, SG/PF
Each of those players could either play an alpha role or form a solid trio with Lawson and Gallo. So let's run through possible trades with each team:
*DISCLAIMER: When going for a star, it is easy to hate the possible deal when giving up so many valuable pieces. However, it is necessary. Just ask the New York Knicks*
The Magic have many solid, young pieces in place that will eventually help them out of the basement and into contender status very soon. With Oladipo, Harris,Harkless, Nicholsen and Vucevic, old man Afflalo is seen as almost expendable since he really isn't seen as a part of the future. He will be put on the block in the coming weeks because of his breakout season, reasonable contract, and ability to garner players and picks.
As much as I would like to see Afflalo back in a Nuggets uni, this doesn't seem like much of a fit unless we are willing to give up our second 2014 1st rounder to the Magic. They need a PG, and even with Oladipo playing it now, he really is a SG. The Nuggets aren't dishing out Lawson...
Oh, Masai...your fire sale is almost complete. Only Demar Derozan remains on a roster largely devoid of true building blocks outside of Jonas Valanciunas. He is selling hard, and it may be our opportunity to get a guy willing to shoot the rock a lot if it helps the team win. Not an efficient guy, but he was trying to get his shots while prying the ball away from Rudy Gay. If he is willing to take 15 shots a game with Denver and attack the paint hard as usual, he could be a great guy to play off ball here.
Masai is going to ask for the pick, but if he can settle for Faried, this deal has a shot. Derozan has a salary at 9.5 mil, so a deal may be difficult. They want to build around JV, so Chandler would be a probable piece in the deal and not McGee. He would have to take Anre Miller for the deal to be reasonable unless he wants NateRob/Foye instead, which wouldn't have much bearing. If it is Anre, then the deal would look like
Denver gets: Demar Derozan, Tyler Hansbrough (12.6 mil)
Toronto gets: Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller (12.7 mil)
This is hard, giving up our 3rd and 4th best player for someone else, but possibly necessary. We also keep the pick, and can use it on a 4/5 in this case. Derozan has star power, and Hansbrough plays defense.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are in a peculiar situation. They aren't good enough to make the playoffs and they don't want to tank. Kobe will not allow it. Almost every player comes off the books in 2014 in their hope to acquire Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony in Free Agency, so they may want to let the season play out or trade for other expiring contracts.
This is Mitch Kupchak, however, so you never know. Combined with the continued rumors of a Pau Gasol trade makes the avenue worth exploring. Gasol is old. His contract is huge. His defense has suffered. His contract is huge. He is a cry baby. His contract is...you get the point. Those are all negatives, but people forget to mention that that 19 mil contract is expiring. He has a masterful post game. He has championship experience. And he won't cost us Kenneth Faried. There are positives that only a Gasol can fill. He is a skilled big man capable of playing PF or C, and has an automatic elbow jumper as all of you Nuggets fans know.
So what do we trade? Not Kenneth Faried, nor the pick. Javale McGee can be the centerpiece of this deal. Chris Kaman hasn't provided any answers in the stead of Dwight Howard, and they need a shot-blocking presence. If they are willing to take on a few contracts outside of a year or two, this is a possibility. Maybe not my first choice, but definitely a player we can slow the game down for.
Nuggets get: Pau Gasol, Wesley Johnson (20.1 mil)
Lakers get: Javale McGee, Andre Miller, Randy Foye, Anthony Randolph (20.5 mil)
I would be very surprised if LA did this trade, but stranger things have happened. If they are serious about contending, they will go after some veterans and a rim protector. They already inquired about Shumpert and Chandler from NYK which would be a better package for them, but if Dolan does the sensible thing (ugh) he will turn that offer down. This is a plan B or C trade if the initial one(s) don't happen, but it would make the team better for Brian Shaw IMO, and if it doesn't work, we can push reset and don't have to resign him while clearing McGee and Miller from the books.
Verdict: Meh, but worth a thought.
New Orleans Pelicans
Oh, the scenarios here are endless.
Eric Gordan and Ryan Andersen are both extremely talented at what they do. Gordan is a ball handler, clutch shot making player who was the centerpiece of the CP3 trade. He shoots the ball well from outside with a 3pt percentage of 39.1% this year. He averages over 17 pts over his career on over 45% from the field. He is going to score and score efficiently, taking the pressure off of Ty and Gallo to score all the time.
Ryan Andersen is a 3pt assasin at the PF position. We all know that. However, we won't really appreciate his ability until we see the lane open up and Ty drive in for an easy layup at least twice a game because the PF defending Andersen can't leave him to help against the drive.
Both players would be extremely helpful, so let's do three trades, one with Gordan, one with Andersen, and the unthinkable, one with both:
Nuggets get: Eric Gordan, Al-Farouq Aminu (18.0 mil)
Pelicans get: Javale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton (18.2 mil)
For the Pelicans, this trade gives them a starting Center and Small Forward. Chandler is a great player to play off ball of Holiday and Evans. He can spot up from the corner, play the PnR and be a good defender like Aminu is. McGee is alittle more difficult to fit in ith Andersen and Davis at the 4/5. However, Davis is best at the PF position in my opinion because he stretches the floor and doesn't have to bang with Centers all the time. Yet, this trade would just create a logjam. If however, they agree with this trade, the Nuggets starters look like Lawson, Gordan, Gallinari, Faried, Hickson/Mozgov, which looks pretty good on paper but needs a little something more.
Nuggets get: Ryan Andersen (8.3 mil)
Pelicans get: Wilson Chandler, JJ Hickson (11.4 mil)
To me, this is an even trade, but the Pelicans might balk, looking for Faried and Chandler. They settle for JJ Hickson, who would come off the bench for Anthony Davis or Greg Stiesma/Jason Smith probably. Or they could start him next to Davis. They get a starting SF in Chandler and a guy who could start at the 4/5, especially if Davis is still injured. However, the Pelicans don't open more playing time for Evans in this scenario which they should be looking to do. The Nuggets more Faried to the bench while McGee/Mozgov starts next to Andersen. The Nuggets should be drooling over this trade if they see it as a possibility. Ty would benefit greatly, and so would the Nuggets 4/5 defense with more time for Andersen and no Hickson/less Faried. But this isn't the best deal either.
Nuggets get: Eric Gordan, Ryan Andersen, Greg Stiesma (25.2 mil)
Pelicans get: Javale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, Anthony Randolph, Kenneth Faried (25.2 mil)
Looking to stir the pot a little bit? This may look crazy at first, but here me out.
Back in the 2013 draft, the Pelicans were looking to make a splash and traded their pick (Nerlens Noel) to the Sixers for Jrue Holiday. They then promptly sign and traded for Tyreke Evans in free agency, which was odd. They had two great PFs in Davis and Andersen, and now two PGs in Evans and Holiday. If they wanted both of those guys, they were going to have to start both of them, but Eric Gordan was still at SG. Andersen was still forcing Davis out of position to C. Why not help New Orleans out a bit?
We have a starting SF in Wilson Chandler. He doesn't need the ball all the time, is taking more and more efficient shots, and can continue to space the floor for the guards. We have a potentially starting quality C in a Javale McGee. Pairing him with Davis would create a block party and super athletic, defensive frontcourt with those two and Chandler. Throw in Faried off the bench and that's the fastest frontcourt in the league and it's not even close. Faried would be in his element because Evans, Holiday and Davis will take their shots and miss them occasionally, and Faried's job would be to ferociously attack the glass and get putback baskets. That's his MO already! There's also Andre Miller, who would round out a great backcourt grouping of Holiday, Evans, Rivers and Miller. Very diverse, effective group. This trade puts NOP over the top in my opinion, and they will start contending immediately when Davis returns from injury.
On the flip side. The Nuggets get the best two players in the deal in Eric Gordan and Ryan Andersen. A starting group of Lawson, Gordan, Gallinari, Andersen, and Hickson/Moz (hopefully Moz) would be legit. Lawson will be able to get into the paint now that there is some range in that starting lineup. Gordan and Andersen make their shots consistently, which will help in games like OKC where it seemed like no one could drop a pea in the ocean. The bench becomes more definitive with Robinson, Foye/Fournier, Jham, Arthur/Hickson, Moz/Stiesma (depending on if Moz or Hickson start). There are 12 deserving players, so another trade seems imminent in this scenario, but I'm all in on a trade with the Pelicans.
Prediction: The Nuggets stay put on their top players and move a guy like Arthur/Randolph
This is always the most likely scenario. We will never know what we have in Gallinari and McGee on this team until they return. I highlighted some pretty interesting deals, especially the Raptors and Pelicans deals, that I believe would put us two or three steps closer to a championship. However, management will probably be content with waiting it out and seeing who develops and what the NYK pick looks like. I think we should grab the bull by the horns however, because the opportunities like this are few and far between.