Somewhere, some time, I'm going to write an article about the various benefits and drawbacks that come with trading Kenneth Faried, our best trade chip that may actually be available to teams at the deadline or in the offseason. This is not that article.
Because after reading several articles about how the Nuggets should offer this or trade that, or maximize their value on Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried or Jusuf Nurkic by moving them now instead of waiting, it seems someone should take the other side of the coin: is doing nothing right now simply the best option?
Don't get me wrong, I think firing up the trade machine in a losing season is fun too, even if it might cost a person a little hard-won sanity. Who doesn't want to swap J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye for an All-Star? In a more realistic sense, however, the question is simply whether the Denver Nuggets are better off with growth from their current players or a transition into different players. Sometimes when playing the stock market you want to vault from stock to stock to get ahead of the bubble, and other times it's better to stick with what's in your portfolio for a while and grow wealth that way. Which mode are the Nuggets in?
The two player stocks at the heart of this conundrum are Gallinari and Faried. There is no imperative to trade any of the players on rookie deals yet, this version of Will Barton is on perhaps the biggest veteran value contract in the league, and Wilson Chandler's bionic hips are not especially valuable on the trade market. Players like Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson can certainly be moved but for extremely limited returns, and the same is true of Jameer Nelson even though he's on a multi-year deal.
The Rooster and the Manimal are the two Nuggets who can be exchanged for quality additions without any needed extras. The argument for a trade is not the same for both, though.
In Faried's case, it's a question of fit and upside. Kenneth is not a defensive stalwart, and his statline is essentially unchanged over his career.
Faried, career: 16.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, .154 WS/48, 55.6 TS%
Faried, 2015-16: 16.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, .142 WS/48, 56.0 TS%
At 26, he is what he is: a shorter energy guy and amazing offensive rebounder (6th in the league in ORB%) who sometimes struggles to hold up his end defensively and can't space the floor with his shot. His rebounding skills give him some gravity on the court anyway, but in a league that continues to devalue offensive rebounds in favor of defensive cohesion the Nuggets will have to be creative with Faried's skills in order to swim against that current. Can we get the most out of him, or should we move him for a better fit next to our center combo of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic?
Gallinari is a different case. The Rooster is Denver's best performer, on pace for a career-best in Winshares (in which he's currently top-20 in the league) as well as points, rebounds, trips to the free-throw line and angry gesticulations at the opposition. He's in his prime at 27 years old and is finally healthy - although how long that will last is anyone's guess. Who trades a 10 WAR player in his prime that wants to play for his middle-market franchise? The case for trading him is essentially that he'll be too old by the time these baby Nuggets get good, and that he can leave after next season with no return coming back to the Nuggets.
That would have been the argument for trading Michael Finley from the Mavericks, I suppose, back during Dirk's first couple of years. Instead they kept Finley and became contenders in very short order. If they'd kept Nash they might have won more than the single title, too. The Celtics could have traded Paul Pierce any time, but he wanted to be in Boston and they kept him around even while they failed him for years as far as building a competitive team.
Any really good vet will bring back something in trade, but will it replace what you've lost? Very few trades go as well as the Carmelo Anthony one did for the Nuggets. The normal rule of thumb is that you want the best player back in a trade, and if you're not getting that it's because you would like great young prospects and salary cap relief to figure out how to add your next star. Talent consolidation is important in the NBA; depth might get a team to the playoffs but the best talent tends to win there.
Can the Nuggets wind up with the best talent without moving any of their major pieces? Obviously that depends on the kids. If Nikola Jokic keeps playing like a Dirk/Pau combo, then it's certainly possible. The youth has to grow into their talent, as youth often does, but the same is true of trading either Faried or Gallo for picks that will age "more appropriately" with the current young core.
The added drawback to a bunch more young players is that their salaries will all skyrocket around the same time. Having Mudiay, Nurkic, Jokic, Harris and whomever we add in this draft all reach the various stages of free agency around the same time creates the same sort of talent cluster that detonated the Oklahoma City Thunder just as they were peaking. OKC's management decided they could not afford Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden, so they traded Harden. What they got in return was exactly nothing worthwhile and what they gave up was a championship run. I'm not against finding a James Harden in the draft, but spacing out the talent frees up money. Having a 31-year-old Gallo to trade when players are hitting RFA also makes it easier to get back the kinds of draftpicks necessary to continue the run while freeing up cash to sign the then-current core.
Just lucking into several top-40 talents isn't enough - the Nuggets will also have to figure out how to keep them and make them fit together. Every time Emmanuel Mudiay makes a no-look pass into the sure hands of Jokic or the cutting Gary Harris, the future is visible here and now. Can Gallinari do what Dirk and Pau and Pierce did and help anchor a championship lineup in his thirties? Can Faried take a limited-but-valuable skillset and deploy it like a Ben Wallace managed to in Detroit? Fit is a matter of scheme and other personnel. Faried and Gallinari can help SOMEONE win a championship. Hell, Memphis probably wins one last year if they have Gallo as a scorer against Golden State and then Cleveland.
So the question is not whether they are championship-caliber players, but whether they can help this squad reach championship-level heights over the next 4 or 5 years. Newer and younger is not necessarily better. Andre Iguodala's best days are behind him but he did just win a ring and a Finals MVP in his early 30s because being at your peak and being what your team needs in order to win are different things. Ray Allen was a downside player when he got his hardware, but I don't think anyone minded.
Neither Gallinari nor Faried can be the best player on a championship squad, but that does not make them automatically replaceable. The odds that any non-Simmons player in this draft is even as good as Gallinari are low, because right now he would be an All-Star if he played for a contender. Sometimes you ride with players who want to wear your jersey and are willing to be patient as you build around them.
In the end, it's possible that neither Faried nor Gallinari goes anywhere - and that it's exactly the right move for Denver's future as a contender.