Ap-kleiza_mediumWhen the news broke that Linas Kleiza would be taking an extended Greek vacation, that deep and talented Nuggets bench we’ve come to know and love just got a little less deep and a lot less talented.

I used to think that Kenyon Martin and Marco Jaric had the best agents in the world, but perhaps Kleiza does.  $12.2 million for two seasons in this worldwide recession?  Maybe Kleiza's agent had incriminating photos of Olympiakos' owner handy.  My only advice to Kleiza is that if he ever finds himself on the island of Mykonos this summer or next, he should hit the Scandinavian Bar as often as possible.  It's full of attractive, easy, impressionable, broke and young female travelers looking to shack up with a guy with a decent hotel room.  Or so I've heard… 

But to quote Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien: "The simple thing is we move on, we'll replace him." Move on, yes. Replace? Not so easy.

Like him or hate him, Linas Kleiza was capable of going for 20 points on any given night for the (relatively) low cost of about $2 million a season.  You might find someone who can go for 20 off the bench.  And you might find a decent veteran who will only cost $2 million a season.  But I defy you to find both in the same guy.  

For his $72 million in payroll, Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke is on the hook to pay just 10 active players – Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen, Ty Lawson, Renaldo Balkman, Arron Afflalo and Malik Allen – and one inactive player, Antonio McDyess.  So if you're keeping score at home, the Nuggets must add three more players to meet the NBA's required minimum of a 13-man roster.  Warkentien is already on record saying that the Nuggets are "definitely trying" to re-sign Anthony Carter.  In other words, the Nuggets are capped out while the hunt is on for two new Stiffs.

Two names for one of those two slots have already been brought up.  Several readers of this blog are pushing for Steve Novak (a restricted free agent with the Clippers) and I agree with this choice wholeheartedly.  As someone who splits his time between Denver and Los Angeles, I watched Novak play a lot last season – both in person and on TV.  Novak is the "drop dead shooter" that K-Mart has been advocating for.  Not only does Novak hit almost 42% of his three's, but he makes big shots when the clock is winding down.  I was actually at the Clippers/Nets game when Novak nailed seven of 11 three-point shot attempts, including the game-ending buzzer beater.  It was an incredible performance.  And for what it's worth, I've heard from a number of people in LA that are close to Novak that he couldn't be a better guy.

The second name that has come up, according to The Denver Post's Chris Dempsey, is Wally Szczerbiak.  Szczerbiak is a career 40.6% three-point shooter but unlike Novak, I haven't seen Szczerbiak make a meaningful or clutch shot in ages.  Watching plenty of Cavaliers games in recent seasons (you can't avoid them, the Cavs are always on national TV) it seemed like there were countless times when Szczerbiak was called upon to hit a big shot but was unable to do so.  If I wanted an unreliable shooter who just stands outside the three-point arc while not contributing elsewhere, I'd bring back Voshon Lenard.

Salaries being equal and assuming the Clippers wouldn't match an offer to Novak – a bold assumption, by the way – you have to go with Novak over Szczerbiak.  Novak is younger, taller and a better clutch shooter.  This is a no-brainer.  The Nuggets still have about $2 million from the mid-level exception to spend on a free agent and it's possible that Novak could be had at that price in this market.  If Novak commanded more than $2 million annually, the Nuggets could use one of their trade multiple exceptions to acquire them in a sign-and-trade. 

Regardless of who takes the Nuggets 12th roster spot, the final (i.e. 13th) roster spot will likely go to a league minimum type player.  Perhaps someone who impresses during training camp like Coby Karl did during Summer League play.  I just don't see the Nuggets overextending themselves financially for their final roster spot and nor should they.  And frankly, don't be surprised if the Nuggets go for two "scrap heap" guys, fill out both the 12th and 13th roster spots with minimum salaried players and go with what they have entering the 2009-10 season.

Of course, none of these scenarios account for possibly bringing in the legitimate big man that the Nuggets (well, that Nuggets fans including this one) so badly covet.  And signing Mikki Moore doesn't count.  

Moving forward, the key date to keep an eye on is November 3rd, 2009.  A full year after the Allen Iverson-for-Chauncey Billups deal was consummated, that's the day that the Nuggets $8.7 million trade exception (which would give the Nuggets the most flexibility to acquire a true center) expires.  If November 3rd passes and the Nuggets don't make a move for a big man, the best they can do is use the $3.7 million trade exception received in the recent Steven Hunter trade.

Congrats to Kleiza on scoring a big overseas contract.  He's leaving the Nuggets more financially sound, but in dire need of an off-the-bench scorer who spreads the floor in his wake.

(Photo courtesy of Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)


On a very random side note (and pardon the shameless plug), I want to give a shout out thanks to Denver Stiffs reader "stiffy" for mentioning that The Denver Post is doing a comics poll and my comic strip – "Girls & Sports" – can be written in at the bottom.  If readers of this blog would like to see "Girls & Sports" published in the Post, please take a few minutes to fill out the survey and write it in on our behalf.  I'd be most grateful!