Big or Bigger?

Before we get to the promised big man post I need to pass on a HoopsHype report that the Denver Nuggets hosted Rashad McCants today. I have no idea how on earth he fits with this team, but hopefully it was just a ploy to motivate another, more roster appropriate player to sign. I know I would take Coby Karl over McCants any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays.

With that out of the way we can now move on to bigger, and hopefully better, things.

At this point there is some significant fodder for the Nuggets to sift through in the big man bin. I still believe there are a couple of decent players who could help the Nuggets.

The first player I will focus on is Joe Smith. Smith, who was briefly a Nugget three years ago, never lived up to his status as the first overall pick, but he is a decently skilled big man who has the reputation of being able to consistently hit the midrange jumper. He averaged just below 20 minutes a game last season and with the Nuggets would fill the important role of keeping Malik Allen on the bench.

Smith can rebound and is a decent enough defender. He is getting old, but would still be a very solid contributor as the fourth big off the bench. Cleveland is reportedly interested in bringing Smith back, Both Cleveland and Denver would have three bigs in the rotation ahead of Smith, but the Cavs also have a bevy of other players who could steal minutes from Smith in J.J. Hickson, Darnell Jackson and a theoretically healthy Leon Powe. Denver has no one other than Rolando Balkman as a potential minute stealer. Still, the money will be equal and it is possible Smith will prefer to stay in Cleveland, but if the Cavs go in another direction, Denver would be the next logical destination.

The bad news about Smith is in 2008-09 he shot midrange jumpers about as well as Kenyon Martin (check the HotSpots data for yourself) and I know none of us where jumping for joy when Kenyon lined one of his catapult jumpers up. However, in previous seasons Smith did indeed knock the midrange shot down very consistently. Should the Nuggets call on him, it is possible he could bounce back and return to form, but there is also the possibility he could be washed up at the age of 34.

There is no way to know which it is until he steps on the court next season.

The other potential direction the Nuggets could go is a true center. A big body to match up with the Andrew Bynum’s and Yao Ming’s Chris Kaman’s of the world. There has been some interest in Marc Gasol amongst Nuggets fans, but I think there is a similar player to be had for much cheaper. You are going to scoff at first, but hear me out. I think at this point in the summer the Nuggets should pursue Aaron Gray.

Gray is a restricted free agent who played his first two seasons with Chicago. He is a middle class version of Gasol the Younger. They are both basically the same size, both have good hands and neither is particularly fleet of foot. Gray has good hands and nice touch around the rim, he sets good screens and provides a big target in the lane on the roll, he is a very good rebounder and can pass out of double teams just fine. Gray is not going to blow anyone away, but he could be had for cheap and would provide a true seven footer for George Karl to call on.

As I mentioned above Gray is a restricted free agent and that complicates things. The minimum the Nuggets could sign Gray for as a third year player is $855,189 and that is significant. According to the ESPN NBA Trade Machine (as good a resource as any for current salaries) the Chicago Bulls are $858,926 away from the luxury tax line. Should the Nuggets sign Gray to the minimum allowable deal the Bulls could match it and still be $3,736 short of paying the tax. Of course there is a chance that an incentive could push the Bulls over the line and there is the chance the ESPN numbers are not entirely accurate. Still, no team wants to flirt with the tax line in this economy. Not only do they have to pay the tax, but they lose out on the tax disbursement payment that is sent out to non taxpaying teams.

The Nuggets should take advantage of the Bulls proximity to the tax limit and sign Gray to an offer sheet. However, the Nuggets can sign him to more than the minimum without digging into any of their mid level exception. They can do so by utilizing their biannual exception. The biannual exception can be split up into smaller amounts just like the mid level exception can. I am sure the Nuggets have accurate salary information on the Bulls and would know just how much to sign Gray for to push them over the top. Whether that number is $862,622 or $950,000 the Nuggets can potentially make things very frightening for the Bulls.

Once again Gray would not be an exciting signing, but he has a solid feel for the game and is a legit seven footer, which is good thing. You do not want Gray playing 20 or heaven forbid, 25 minutes a game, but as a filler and big body to toss out against the other big bodies the Nuggets struggle with he is not a bad option.

I have no idea if the Nuggets are going to sign another big man, I sure as heck hope they do, but as much as the Nuggets could use a power forward who can rebound and hit open jumpers like Smith, I think they could use a true center in order to give them some flexibility even more. Right now the only players on the roster who could be considered centers are Nene and Chris Andersen and Nene is the only one who has any kind of back to the basket game.

If Gray cannot be brought to town then Johan Petro is probably next on the list of true centers to bring to town. Petro would have the advantage over Gray in defending a player like Dwight Howard, but he has no post game and is not as good of a rebounder as Gray is.

It is probably not a great sign when two weeks into August I am forced to blog about a player that no one has thought of as a player to target in free agency, but when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, you can do worse than Aaron Gray.

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  • Baldbonsaiguy

    Joe Smith, say it ain’t so! there is a reason Joe has been with 12 teams in 13 years. He is only slightly less disappointing than Rick Robey! Mark W has definitely decided to not be the Exec of the Year two years running! Very, very disappointing.

  • pookeyguru

    Interesting stuff Jeremy. So, I thought I would share this with you regarding the salary via the Bulls. The link is to my favorite salary site (well that isn’t Wyn of Hoopus’ stuff), but I love it because there is calculated salary before and after options. It’s also pretty user friendly and simple to understand for most fans. Do with it what you will.

    It’s interesting that the Nuggets might consider Petro or Gray. I think Gray or Smith would be ideal for a variety of reasons, and I think the best one is that either guy can play with Nene, Martin or Andersen on the front line. You always need a player who can either play with a guy who can play 2 positions, or a player who can, of course, play those 2 positions. The Nuggets really have that in Nene and Andersen already. They need a guy (or two) who can play the PF/C hybrid. The NBA is not chock full of those ugys, and if you can find one, especially cheaply, it’s always wise to do so.

    It’s funny, but I think Aaron Gray is the kind of player who can have a 10 year career getting 10-15 mins a night receiving small contracts year after year. Be interesting to see what happens from here on out though.

  • skiCB

    Joe Smith signed by Atlanta.

  • LACK

    Interesting fact: Joe Smith briefly played for us a few years ago. Not so interesting fact: Aaron Gray was 12th man of the Bulls. He does have the POTENTIAL for an NBA career lasting in the double-digit number of years, but I’m not sold on him yet.