While we have a talented group residing in Pepsi Center that can be as good as the high ceiling of the arena, I'm starting to get the feeling that the ceiling of Pepsi Center is just a tad too low to get a Chamipionhip into the building. Specifically, the history of the Nuggets, the allure of the franchise and the city, but most importantly, the players.
The Nuggets have had their moments dating back to that fateful Game 5 in 1994. I was not even alive at the time (I am 17) but the picture of Mutombo holding the ball on the ground crying tells me more than any summary could. He was an elite physical talent combined with leadership and cognitive skills we as a franchise have not seen since. When he left, apart of me wants to say that the heart of the franchise was taken as well. The drought occurred until Carmelo came to town and appeared to be a savior in his first years. Sadly, his tenure of 8 years brought back a single visit to the Western Conference Finals, leaving many fans disappointed in him as a player and leader, myself included.
The deal that changed basketball landscape brought back Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov, Jan Vesely (eventually), Aaron Brooks (eventually) and a potential rotation player in this year's draft. While that's a pretty good haul, it hasn't changed the fact that there have been no playoff series wins since the Western Conference Finals in 08-09 (5 seasons ago) and no playoffs at all this year. While I believe we needed this hard season to figure out a direction, it is still hard for me to see the team down like this, which is why I enjoy concocting completely fake (and occassionally completely unrealistic) scenarios in which the Nuggets turn things around. Will it happen? I would like to think so. I also wish that Javale McGee would realize his potential and average 2.5 blocks per game and anchor the defense like a real pro. I don't think that it will happen but it's a possibility.
So this, in short, is a quick stab at different things Tim Connelly should look into if he wants to take a chance and remind us that the Nuggets are only taking a short hiatus from postseason contention as opposed to exile to the cellar. Here's a few scenarios I would be pleased with if they occurred:
Sign and Trade for Lance Stephenson
Stephenson and Evan Turner had a fight before Game 1 which has possibly led to a 2-1 series deficit to the 8th seeded Hawks. Both are expiring contracts but Lance is a restricted free agent so any team can bid on him even though Indiana has the final say. However, with their cap situation, it is possible that if we offer something just out of their reach, they might want to negotiate a deal with us to get something in return. We have something that the Pacers desperately need, a firecracker at guard. Yes I AM talking about Nate Robinson.
Pacers trade: Lance Stephenson, Chris Copland
In this scenario, we sign Lance Stephenson to a 4 year, 42 million deal (sound familiar?) that is backloaded. 9.5 in year 1, 10.5 in year 2, 11 in years 3 and 4. This way we can sign Faried while still under the tax line. This is the kind of move that screams James Harden to me. As much as I don't like Harden anymore and his propensity to flop for free throws, the situation between Harden and OKC is nearly identical to that of Indiana. When Houston traded for Harden, they traded on the hope and prayer that he was better than a sixth man. Stephenson cracked the starting lineup but his Usage Rate is still at 19.1%, meaning that his 13 points per game average might be a tad deceiving. Combined with the fact that he plays for Frank Vogel and the offensively inept Pacers and you get a completely misleading stat line. In a freeflowing pick and roll based offense, I believe he would increase his averages by a ton due to a similar if no slightly better usage rate and more possessions in general. Randy Foye put up a similar amount of points (13.2) on a similar usage rate (18.8) but was not nearly as effective on defense, rebounding, or even playmaking. Overall, if given more opportunity within the offense, he could be a great running mate with Lawson, Gallo, Faried and probably Mozgov (potentially McGee) in the starting 5.
The only two real downsides to this move that I see are losing Wilson Chandler and a couple effective guys off the bench as well as going all in with this group even if it is not ready, especially in the frontcourt. We would need to get 30 effective minutes a game from Faried and a combined 40 minutes between Moz and McGee. The best move after this would be to turn Hickson into a defensive PF/C who only plays major minutes in special situations. We would still potentially have Foye, Quincy, Arthur, McGee, Copeland, a draft pick (potentially a PG if we trade Nate away and Tyler Ennis looks juicy) and potentially Erick Green and/or King Joffrey. This leaves us with a solid bench but not spectacular. I like this idea a lot right now and feel that a deal can be struck for relatively cheap with Indiana.
2. Move up in the draft if Lady Luck doesn't visit the lottery
This move can be attributed to the front office liking a certain player in this draft and thinking that by trading to a certain pick they can get said player. The guys they would obviously be looking at would be Wiggins, Parker, Exum, Embiid, Smart, and posibly Vonleh and Randle at the 4 if they trade Faried (doubtful but still posible). If I was running the Nuggets and this was the situation, here's what I would do if the lottery teams stay in exactly the same order:
Millaukee - Embiid
Philly - Wiggins
Orlando - Exum
Utah - Parker
Boston - Smart
LAL - Vonleh
Sacramento - Randle
Detroit - Harris
Cleveland - Gordon
Philly - Stauskas
Denver - Options of Tyler Ennis, James Young, Doug McDermott, Kyle Anderson. I would pick McDermott simply because he can shoot the basketball extremely well and would be a role player off the bench in the role of a Mike Dunleavy. Ennis could be a pick but would probably only back up Ty Lawson. If I'm looking to try and hit a home run, I want to find a way to trade up and grab one of those top seven guys mentioned above. Lets look at a couple trade candidates:
Millaukee, Philly and Orlando are not candidates for trades as all three are building entirely through the draft right now and need the top pick to establish core players.
Utah is tricky because they have Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as their young core. Gordon Hayward is probably their best player but may leave for better money somewhere else. If Millaukee takes Wiggins, then Parker and Exum are likely the next two picks leaving Embiid, Vonleh, Randle and Smart as the next choices. If Utah is looking to trade down because of its loyalty to Favors and Kanter, then I come in with a proposal for them:
Utah trades: Rights to Gordon Hayward in a Sign and Trade for 4 years 42 mil (numbers ranged from 36 mil to 50 mil) + 4th pick
Denver trades: Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried + 11th pick
This is extreme. I understand that. However, we need a solid wing player to pair with Gallo and Hayward is an established playmaker and shooter who plays much better as the 2nd or 3rd option as well as playmaker than the 1st option. His percentages went down across the board this season, but remember, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap left, leaving him to be the 1st and sometimes only option on a Jazz Roster devoid of offensive playmakers. Sandwiched in between Ty and Gallo on the court, Hayward can relax a take better shots which he will make more consistently.
With the 4th pick, the Nuggets go with fundamentals and upside by selecting Noah Vonleh. As a player at Indiana, he made the most of his limited reps and grabbed every board he could find while making fundamental plays in the post offensively and defensively. He even stepped out and made a few 3 pointers. This is a guy made to be developed by Brian Shaw. Long, athletic, already fundamental, Shaw can show him the nuances and bring out the flare in his game along with countermoves.
Utah does this because not only are uncomfortable with paying Gordon Hayward too much money, they are uncomfortable with Joel Embiid's back and feel like he could become the next bust Center in the league.That may or may not actually happen but instead they try and create a three headed rebounding monster of Faried, Favors and Kanter. They get Chandler to spread the floor and be a third/fourth option behind Burke, Favors and Faried and should still have money to grab a Shooting Guard or draft one like Gary Harris or James Young with our pick.
Back to the draft board:
I seriously doubt that Boston or LA trades its pick because both need to bring excitement of high profile rookies to their towns for obvious reasons.
In Sacramento, our own Pete D'Alessandro was quoted saying that he would trade the pick he has if the right deal came across. It is a tad difficult however to figure out how to do this deal because Faried and our pick is more valuable than moving up four slots from 11 to 7. Because of this, I propose that Sacramento gives up its vaunted young player in exchange:
Sacramento trades: Ben McLemore, 7th pick
Denver trades: Kenneth Faried, 11th pick
On the surface, this deal looks like crap for the Nuggets. Kenneth Faried for Ben McLemore...really? He didn't even average 9 points this season for the Kings! Yes, his shooting percentages were pretty bad, but over the last 30 days of the season he maintained a 35% 3pt percentage next to Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and Demarcus Cousins who scored 90 combined points against the Nuggets, so lets just say McLemore didn't get a ton of plays run for him...
Then of course there's who we are trading up to get. Utah drafts Joel Embiid if they think his back is good, Boston drafts Marcus Smart as Rondo insurance and because he can play the 2 as needed. LA picks Julius Randle to replace Pau. Look what falls into the Nuggets lap? A choice between Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh! For the sake of the argument, I'm picking Vonleh because that's who I picked earlier, but Gordon isn't a bad choice in the slightest and has all the physical tools to succeed. Again, these are ballsy trades but something like this could actually happen, and it really depends on who you would want more, Kenneth Faried and a guy like Gary Harris, or McLemore and Noah Vonleh? I like the athleticism of McLemore and Vonleh as two guys who can really develop under Shaw if given proper instruction. A lineup of Lawson, McLemore, Gallo, Vonleh, Mozgov is much longer and more defensively sound than Lawson, Foye, Chandler, Faried, Hickson. Combine that first lineup with a potential bench of Robinson, Fournier, Foye, Chandler, Q Miller, Arthur, Hickson, and McGee, and the only thing I see missing is a solid distribution PG which we could grab in a deadline deal or something of that ilk.
While I like Faried a ton, he obviously is our best trade chip other than Lawson, but I can't bring myself to throw him around just yet. My goal was to upgrade the SG position and potentially PF if Faried is the main player being dealt. How did I do? Are these trades crazy realistic? Or just plain crazy? Let me know in the comments what you think. My personal favorite is the Stephenson trade because we would keep everything in place around him, add a good distributor in Ennis and let the magic take care of itself like Harden in Houston. I want to know if I missed any big ideas and I can't wait til the draft lottery when the Nuggets turn this article to trash and grab a top three pick anyway!