After five consecutive first round playoff exits many of us wanted to see changes on the Nuggets roster heading into next season. However, all we heard from the Nuggets front office was that they seemed happy with the team and they were going to take a shot next season with roughly the same group.

We all knew money was going to be a major factor in the team’s decision making and it was no surprise when they let Eduardo Najera walk and sign with the New Jersey Nets. Najera’s departure saved some money and certainly weakened the team, but it appeared that Stan Kronke was willing to foot a big bill again next season for a team that had little hope of providing any payoff for that investment.

Apparently Kronke saw the light and realized that keeping this team together at a cost of around $100 million dollars made little sense. I happen to agree with that decision. I do not care if it is my money or someone else’s money, spending that kind of dough for a merely good team, not a contending team, just a good team, was silly.

When faced with a situation where they could not afford to pay a key performer like Najera $3 million per season the only rational move the Nuggets could have made was to cut salary. The thing to keep in mind is reducing your team payroll in the NBA is almost as difficult as watching Single White Female. You cannot simply cut a player and get out of his contract like you can in the NFL. Some players have non-guaanteed contracts, but those deals are typically for the league minimum. The Nuggets could dump a Bobby Jones or Taurean Green, but there are little savings in that, especially when compared to the cost of losing a cheap, young and talented player. You can reduce payroll through trades, but if you make a trade with a team over the cap, you have to bring back at least 75% of the salary that you send out. The one way you can drop salary in a hurry is to make a trade with a team under the salary cap.

That is exactly what the Nuggets did as they traded Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Nuggets acquired two assets in this deal. First of all, they can swap second round picks with the Clippers in the 2010 draft. That part of the deal is not so good, but we will get to that later. The real prize in this trade is the Nuggets have received a trade exception of $10.1 million dollars that they can use anytime between now and July 14, 2009 to acquire a player, or players, whose salary will fit into that exception.

Basically this trade is Marcus Camby for a swap of 2010 second round picks and a player to be named later.

You will hear a lot of bellyaching about how the Nuggets gave Camby away for nothing, but in all seriousness you cannot judge this deal until you see what they do with the trade exception.

Some people who believe Camby is the heart of the Nuggets defense will panic, and there is no doubt that this trade makes the Nuggets a worse team for the 2008-2009 season. On the other hand there has been a growing movement to trade Marcus Camby amongst Nugget fans for at least two seasons. I have been a strong proponent of trading Camby because I believe he is a vastly overrated defender and he is the only center in the NBA who cannot go down on the block and make a jump hook.

I do find it frustrating that Denver, aside from the trade exception, could not get more out of the Clippers than the swap of second round picks in 2010. The only way the Nuggets even get to swap picks is if they finish with a better record than the Clippers. I believe they still have a better team that Los Angeles does, but that is certainly up for debate. It shocks me that they could not at least get a protected first round pick or a player like Shaun Livingston thrown in instead of the second round pick swap two years from now.

Both teams were desperate to make a deal, but the Clippers are at a serious crossroad. They had lost the face of the franchise when Elton Brand signed with Philadelphia and they were stuck trying to decide which restricted free agent they would have a chance at acquiring. Most likely, any player out of the Andrea Igoudala/Josh Smith/Emeka Okafor group would have been nearly impossible to steal away from their current team. Without this deal the Clippers offseason is an unmitigated disaster. It baffles me that Denver could not use that leverage to twist their panties and get more than a swap of second rounders. If there is one thing we know about the Clippers it is that Elgin Baylor is not the shrewdest operator in the NBA.

Obviously I have no idea what kind of negotiating went into this transaction, but had the Nuggets held firm I am sure they could have cajoled the Clippers into sweetening the deal a little bit.

Even so, I like this trade for three reasons.

First of all, it shows that the front office realized that this team was broken and needed to be adjusted if not blown up. There was no way that this roster was going to compete with the elite teams of the NBA next season as constructed. I had written just a couple of days ago that I was ready to fast forward to the offseason of 2009 because I did not want to watch this team flounder in the playoffs again.

Well, even though the team is worse today than it was when I wrote that post, I have a sense of excitement about what might transpire over the next 12 months, but we will have plenty of time to speculate about the possibilities.

Secondly, as I have argued previously, the time was right to trade Marcus Camby. He had set career highs in minutes the past two seasons and in games played last season. He was the Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago and is always at the top of the list as a rebounder and a shot blocker. However, he is also 34 and clearly wore down during the course of the 2007-2008 season. How much longer can he stay healthy? My answer now is who cares? As of today that is the Clippers problem.

Thirdly, the Nuggets have taken a big step toward creating some flexibility and hope for the future. As we already discussed, the Nuggets have a $10.1 million trade exception that they can use at any time over the next 365 days. As much as I hated the trade the made to opt out of the 2008 draft, they have a future first round pick from Charlotte that they can utilize in a trade as well. Also, the roster just got much younger. The only players over the age of 25 that are under contract beyond next season are Kenyon Martin and Chucky Atkins. The Nuggets are a mature team, but they also have a nice young core to build the next iteration of the team around in Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Nene and Linas Kleiza. Look for them to add more talented young players in any of the trades they make over the next year.

Also keep in mind the Nuggets have the massive expiring contract of Allen Iverson to play around with and that is another major bargaining chip that they are holding. They may very well be trying to position themselves to structure the team in a way that they can retain Iverson into the future, but at this point I believe it is more likely that they have realized that as talented as Allen Iverson is, it is nearly impossible to win big with him on your team. Sorry AI, I love you, but it is true.

I am sure the Nuggets are going to get crucified over this deal by fans and the local media alike and no matter how limited the Nuggets potential was heading into next season, they certainly are a less talented team now than they were yesterday and that can certainly be frustrating. It is natural to want an immediate payoff to any trade your team makes and the payoff for this deal may be a year away.

I believe the Nuggets will be major players at the trade deadline in February of 2009 with Iverson’s expiring contract and major players heading into the 2009 draft with the $10.1 million trade exception. That means there should be a lot to argue about and a season that should be much more volatile than it appeared it was going to be just 24 hours ago.

What is this I am feeling? I feel weird. My tummy is acting like I just had a girl agree to go to homecoming with me. Of course, I have no idea what that actually feels like though. Wait a second. I think I know what it is. Could it be optimism? It has been so long since I have had this sensation about the future of the Nuggets I am not quite sure what to do with myself.

Click here to see what Clippers fans over at the tremendous Clips Nation blog have to say about the trade.

In his analysis of the trade John Hollinger on makes some of the same points as I did regarding the Nuggets young core.

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