Alonzo Gee, we hardly knew ye.
After weeks of speculation, Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly tinkered further with a roster going nowhere by dealing starting two-guard Arron Afflalo, journeyman backup guard Alonzo Gee and the tantalizingly-talented-yet-woefully-underperforming center JaVale McGee just before Thursday's NBA trade deadline.
In the first of two separate trade deadline day deals, Afflalo and Gee were shipped to the division rival Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for a lottery-protected 2016 first round pick and future journeymen Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and Victor Claver. Assuming Robinson, Barton and/or Claver are just a 29-game rental, they have the opportunity to join Jan Vesely, Aaron Brooks, Donnell Harvey and Chris Gatling in the pantheon of forgettable interim Nugget players.
The second trade of the day involved the beloved (by the fans, not his teammates allegedly) but forever frustrating JaVale McGee. McGee, McGee's $23-plus million salary, McGee's never-ending rash of injuries, the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum and the Oklahoma City Thunder's overly protected 2015 first round pick (acquired from Cleveland in the Timofey Mozgov trade a few months ago) were sent to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers for a trade exception and the rights to Turkish guard Cenk Akyol. I have no fucking clue who Akyol is, but based on a limited Google search it appears as though he was drafted 59th in 2005 by the Atlanta Hawks and his rights were traded thrice since then: in 2014 to the Los Angeles Clippers for Antawn Jamison, in 2015 to the Philadelphia 76ers and again today to our Denver Nuggets. Given that he was drafted in 2005 and has never seen an NBA floor, I'm assuming Akyol will never once walk inside the Pepsi Center.
Looking back at both trades, the Nuggets neither overhauled nor took in a haul on "trade day." In the wake of all this activity, the Nuggets are left with a slightly less talented roster than the one that just lost 13 of 15 games entering the All-Star break. Connelly will use the word "flexibility" (and already has) to sell these trades to the fans. But the word he should be using is "incremental", because that's really what these moves are all about: incremental progress towards a full roster rebuild.
Sure, the first round pick for Afflalo is nice but it won't arrive until 2016 and will probably land somewhere between 24th and 30th assuming Portland remains among the Western Conference's top-six teams. And while I'm reasonably confident that Connelly got the most that he could for Afflalo, it's pretty sad when considering the Nuggets gave up the raw but improving Evan Fournier last off-season for Afflalo in the first place and then could only fetch a low end first rounder for a 29 year old starting guard who averaged over 18 ppg just a season ago and was recently among the NBA's best shooters from three-point range.
In regards to the McGee trade, the big guy's contract was certainly onerous and since signing it he has certainly been worthless but, a) are the Nuggets really going to use that trade exception received from Philadelphia and, b) was it really worth giving up a future first round pick - albeit overly protected - in lieu of just hanging onto McGee for another season-and-a-half before his contract expires? If that's all true, then McGee's health is worse than we thought and thus he wasn't even worth showcasing for a few games this season for a better trade before next season.
Beyond the Afflalo and McGee departures, the most puzzling move of the day was the one that didn't happen: moving starting point guard Ty Lawson somewhere. Anywhere. As Uncle Marty - aka "The Nuggets Curmudgeon" - pointed out to me today when finding out that Lawson was staying put: "Ty Lawson will never be more valuable than he was this morning." If you can look beyond the boozing and suspect Instagram'ing, Lawson is still a starting NBA point guard who's good for 17 ppg and 10 apg nightly - nothing to sneer at. My gut feel on why Lawson is still a Nugget tonight is that with the point guard position being as deep today as it has ever been in NBA history, the market for Lawson (who probably falls outside of the league's top-15 point guards despite that nightly 17/10) was tepid at best and Connelly wasn't going to get duped into a bad trade. But I'd be surprised if Lawson is a Nugget in 2015-16.
So there you have it: incremental.
Randy Foye is still a Nugget. So is J.J. Hickson. And Darrell Arthur. And Jameer Nelson.
Simply put, by not moving the aforementioned four players - plus Lawson - I'm afraid the Nuggets will win just enough games to stay out of the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery's top-three selections. Making matters potentially worse, by keeping all five the growth of rookies Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and the incoming Joffrey Lauvergne (a signing I'm very excited about, by the way!), plus the needed rehabbing of the oft-injured Danilo Gallinari, will likely be stifled by head coach Brian Shaw's insistence on playing mediocre veterans in losing efforts over promising youngsters in losing efforts.
But if there's a silver lining to all of this, it could be that Shaw himself appears to be secure until season's end - despite losing 13 of 15 games before the All-Star break and 33 of the team's first 53 games this season. Because for those fans in the "blow it up and tank" camp, who better to guide your team to the lottery promised land than Shaw?