How many teams would love to have an athletic 6’ 11” 270 pound power forward/center with good hands who is only 25 years old, has proven that he can perform in the postseason, shows signs of having a strong back to the basket game, can step out and hit the 16 or 17 footer, has the ability to defend almost any big man in the league, is a good passer and is locked up at a somewhat reasonable $43 million over the next four years?

There would be 30 teams lining up to get a player like that if he were available.

However, there is a catch. This player has missed more than two seasons worth of games over the past three years.

That is a pretty big monkey wrench to throw into the gears.

I am sure you have figured out that I am talking about Nene and the question at hand is how much value, whether it be for the Nuggets or someone else, does a player with a resume like that have? The problem is I do not think anyone can truly produce an answer at this point, but that is not going to stop me from trying.

The primary question is how can you justify hanging on to a player who has proven to be such an injury risk?

On the other hand, how can you possibly trade him to another team knowing what he can do when he is healthy? We have seen impressive things from Nene, but he still has not reached his vast potential.

Just looking at the resources the Nuggets have poured into Nene, I do not think there is any way they can part with him at this point in his career. Not only have the Nuggets spent around $30 million in salary (by my calculations) on Nene, but he was a high draft pick, the Nuggets passed on players like Caron Butler and Amare Stoudemire, and they have poured countless hours of time developing his game. So far the payoff has been relatively small, but you never know when Nene is going to make that time and money seem like a bargain.

Just look at what he did after the All-Star break in the 2006-07 season. He averaged almost 14 points and over eight rebounds a game on 62.4% shooting. He also played very well in the playoffs that season frustrating Tim Duncan at both ends of the floor and finishing the five game series with averages of 15.2 points, 7.4 boards and 2.4 assists.

We all saw how well Nene played and expected even better things form him this season or at the very least at least more of the same. However, Nene apparently went on the John Goodman 10,000 calorie a day diet and let himself go a bit in the offseason all the while planning on using the Tournament of the Americas to help play his way into shape in preparation for the NBA season. It was a good plan until he was injured early in the tournament. His strained calf kept him from working out until shortly before the season started.

Because of the calf injury Nene was overweight, but did produce a couple of decent games early in the season, but then he fractured his thumb during the fifth game of the season in Boston. Nene returned a month and a half later in much better shape and played seven games, again looking to be rounding into form after a 12 point nine rebound effort at Phoenix, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Miraculously after surgery and chemotherapy Nene was back before the end of the regular season and making a difference though in very limited minutes. Again, just as it looked like he was doing well his nightmare season continued as a groin injury derailed him for the remainder of the regular season.

He did play thirty minutes over the last three games of the series against the Lakers, but it was nothing other than a sad prologue on a lost season.

I fully expect Nene to show up in camp in shape and ready to perform next season. He has made impressive strides on offense and as a rebounder despite dealing with a plethora of maladies over the previous three seasons. He is the only Nugget willing to score with his back to the basket (sorry Melo, but letting your defender push you ten feet off the block and forcing you to turn and face from 18 feet does not count as scoring with your back to the basket) and the only Nugget with the height and strength to handle the bigger centers of the league.

The flip side to that is the Nuggets are facing some difficult financial realities. At this point it sounds like Stan Kronke is willing to foot the bill for this bunch again next season, but if he realizes that this team is not worth the $100 million in salary and luxury tax payments and decides that some salary needs to be cut it may be Nene and not Camby who gets shopped around.

Camby’s deal is two seasons shorter than Nene’s and, in one of Kiki Vandeweghe’s more savvy moves as GM of the Nuggets, his salary is set to decrease the last two years instead of increase as 90% of the other contracts in the league do. Nene is not the rebounder or shot blocker that Camby is, but he may be a better all around defender with his bulk and willingness to jump the pick and roll. Add in the massive difference as a scorer in the paint, remember how Camby would not even venture down to the block when he had Mickael Pietrus guarding him earlier in the season, and the eight and a half year age difference and even with the injury concerns I believe Nene would bring more interest from other teams than Marcus would.

I really believe the Nuggets are going to be tempted to deal Nene over the next three or four months and I hope they resist that temptation. He may be an injury risk, but really what else is left to go wrong? He has blown out a knee, injured his calf, his groin, his thumb and had cancer. He is running out of body parts to injure. Most importantly, none of the afflictions he has endured appear to have created any kind of debilitating effect.

Even though I said that it is impossible to truly discern Nene’s value I am going to go out on a limb, because after all, isn’t that what the Internet is for, and state that I believe 2008-09 will be the year Nene finally plays a full season and truly shows the NBA what he is capable of.

He just better still be a Nugget.

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