I have yet to really put anything together about the trade deadline and that sucks because, well, it has passed. The consensus amongst fans, commentators and the Nuggets front office was that Denver is playing well and should stand pat. That is exactly what they did.
I only have two questions. First, is this team a true contender right now? Secondly, will they be a true contender next season?
There have been an increasing number of stories out there trumpeting the Nuggets’ virtues. Fans are starting to expect great things and are throwing around the term contender. In my mind a contender is a team who has a reasonable chance at defeating every other team in the league in a seven game playoff series. How far the Nuggets go in the playoffs depends completely on matchups. I do not like their chances against the Spurs or the Hornets (especially now that Tyson Chandler is back in the Big Easy) and I would not be very confident should the Nuggets face off against the Jazz. Even if you think Denver could defeat all three of those teams, we still have not mentioned the Lakers. I would love to be forced to eat my words in May and June, but I just do not think it is reasonable to expect a team that has not advanced past the first round in 15 years to suddenly surge into the finals.
As I have pointed out in the past, building a championship team is a process. Denver has taken a big step forward in that process this season. Ideally if the Nuggets do not win it all this season, it will be a campaign where they grow closer to that goal and hopefully find themselves as a legitimate finals contender next season. Well, if you look at their salary structure I do not think we can count on them being in a position to capitalize on their progress next season.
With the economy floundering we have seen many teams seeking to unload contracts and no one really interested in taking on any additional salary obligations. David Stern claimed during the all-star break that teams should expect the salary cap and luxury tax level to drop next season for the first time since its inception. The luxury tax limit was $71.15 million this season and might drop down to around $68 or $69 million next season. Denver has cut a lot of salary over the previous ten months or so, but looking ahead at next season, they are going to have to slash more payroll in order to avoid the tax.
Right now the Nuggets are over $68 million with only Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Renaldo Balkman and the money they owe Antonio McDyess. That is only seven players. Chris Andersen has been a Godsend playing as well as he has for the minimum. He is going to get a significant raise next season and I doubt the Nuggets will be able to afford to bring him back. It is also highly unlikely that they can bring in a player who will play anywhere near Birdman’s level for such a pittance. They will need to add a backup point guard and even they bring Anthony Carter back it will cost them roughly another million against the cap. The qualifying offers for Linas Kleiza and Johan Petro add up to over $5.5 million combined. Needless to say the Nuggets are likely to be in some financial straits again next season. They have done a masterful job of dropping payroll while improving the quality of the team. Pulling that off over two consecutive seasons would be a pipe dream.
You are free to disagree and make your case in the comments, but I think the evidence points to the Nuggets not being a legitimate contender this season and they will most likely not be one next season either. I believe the Nuggets needed to put a strong emphasis on winning right now and that they should have pulled the trigger on a trade to try to push them over the top.
What should that trade have been? They should have acquired whatever they could have in exchange for Linas Kleiza and Charlotte’s future first round draft pick. Steven Hunter and Dahntay Jones’ contracts should have been fair game as well.
The one problem with trying to improve the team by trading Kleiza is that most teams around the league may have a better grasp of Kleiza’s value than the Nuggets do. The Nuggets have placed far too much value on Kleiza and I think it is due to his rapid development between his second and third seasons. Kleiza has already reached his ceiling as a player, but the Nuggets front office are expecting even better things because of how quickly he has improved. The truth is he is a poor defending gunner with no passing ability. If his shot is not falling he is a complete liability.
The Nuggets have had the opportunity to trade him last season, but perhaps they hung onto him for too long. With each passing game he is exposed further and further to be a one dimensional player. He will most certainly not be back next season so why would they not look to unload to make a push right now when the Nuggets have what is arguably their best team since they joined the NBA?
If I am wrong and Stan Kronke is willing to do next year what he was not willing to do this season, and by that I mean foot the bill for an $80 million payroll, then I am fine with the Nuggets sticking with the current roster and hoping to further augment the roster next season. I seriously doubt that will be the case though.
Chris Tomasson is thinking along the same lines as I am, although he was smart enough to publish his post before the trade deadline passed.
What was Oklahoma City Thinking?
I am baffled by the Thunder’s decision to stamp return to sender on Tyson Chandler’s forehead. I thought that trade was going to push them into playoff contention next season. To decide that his old turf toe injury was too much of an issue going forward blew my mind. There were first hand reports of actual fan excitement about the Thunder. It made them a hot topic around town, but now they may have to deal with a fan backlash, especially if Chandler’s tow does not explode like the Hindenburg on the court at some point over the next few months.
The kicker is that the team physician that flunked Chandler’s physical was the same doctor that performed the surgery on his toe in the first place when New Orleans was playing in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina. The doctor basically said, “I did a bad enough job on repairing his toe that I think it will crumble like a two day old bran muffin.” Nice work Dr. Mengele.
I never understood why New Orleans wanted to trade Chandler during the season anyway. The deal was not going to save them any money this season and they could pull the trigger on a Camby like salary dump over the summer without sabotaging the current campaign. I thought that deal was bungled on both ends.
Oklahoma City did manage to add a nice piece in Thabo Sefolosha. He is a defensive oriented swingman with great size and solid potential. If they only had hung onto Chandler they might have had the foundation in place for a 50 win team in Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green and Chandler.
Thank you Portland
I was worried that the Trail Blazers might pull off a deal for Richard Jefferson or some other small forward who just might propel them past the Nuggets in the Northwest Division. Thankfully they chose to stick with their current roster and I think lost a chance to vastly improve their team. They will have some cap space to play with this offseason and it will be interesting to see what they turn that into.
Memphis no longer has a glut of point guards
Remember when Memphis had Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton? Well, now they just have Conley. Crittenton was shipped off to Washington and Lowry is now a Houston Rocket. I found the three way deal that also sent Rafer Alston to Orlando interesting because I think Lowry is a better player than Alston. Skip to My Lou is a much better shooter, but Orlando is a secretly good defensive team and Lowry is much superior to Alston on that end. Neither player is a perfect fit, although Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith both agreed that this deal pushed the Magic ahead of the Cavs somehow. Personally I think Lowry would be better for the Magic as he can defend and play the drive and kick game they love so much.
John Paxson gets active two years too late
John Paxson finally pulled his balls out of wherever he had them stored and finally pulled the trigger on a big trade and a couple of smaller ones. The sad thing is it is too late to transform the once promising Bulls into a contender. The acquisition of John Salmons has apparently paved the way for the departure of Ben Gordon this summer. If Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah can build on their play over the past month or so Chicago has a decent core of Derrick Rose, Salmons, Luol Deng and the aforementioned bigs.
New York actually making trades for basketball reasons
I did not understand the reasoning behind the Knicks acquisitions of Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox. There was no monetary benefit from what I could tell. Then it donned on me. It was actually about trying to improve on the court. With so many deals being discussed for purely financial reasons I was caught off guard by the attempt to actually use trades to improve a team. There is no impetus to tank in New York as they do not have the rights to their 2010 draft pick so they might as well try to win while ensuring they do not take on any obligations beyond the summer of 2010.
The NBA on TNT
A big thanks to Detroit and Boston for blowing games against the Spurs and Jazz tonight. Way to go bozos. I will forgive the Celtics as long as they lose to the Nuggets next Monday.