Yesterday I recommended that the Denver Nuggets send the current roster out with a bang. The question then is how exactly can they do such a thing?
Denver has some assets which would have been tasty in the past in the form of Kenyon Martin’s expiring contract as well as J.R. Smith’s expiring deal. In the past expiring contracts have been used to acquire players like Antawn Jamison, Kevin Martin and Marcus Camby exchanged teams last season at the trade deadline for expiring contracts and I bet everyone remembers the deal where the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol for expiring contracts and his younger brother.
The bad news for Denver is with all the teams that have cleared cap space for this summer and the handful of teams who are poised to have cap space next summer, the demand for a big expiring deal like Kenyon’s is very low.
Denver has dangled Kenyon in front of Golden State in an attempt to acquire Andris Biedrins and so far the Warriors, a team which is being sold this summer and teams on the block usually love to shed long term salary, basically told Denver they were barking up the wrong tree.
The biggest problem with trading Kenyon is the Nuggets desperately need him. He is the only big man who can bang down low and switch out onto a guard and keep him from driving to the lane. Martin is also a solid rebounder and while he lacks a classic post game and smooth face up jumper can contribute on the offensive end. The other problem with trading Kenyon is even though you might add another big man, you are losing one in the transaction as well. If Denver does trade Kenyon they would need some assurance that he would be bought out. The problem is that is kind of frowned upon by the NBA.
Maybe something that makes sense comes about towards the trade deadline, but I do not think Denver can count on it.
That leaves them with two exceptions to play with. Denver will have the mid level exception (MLE) and the biannual veterans minimum exception (BAVME?). The exact value of the MLE will not be known until the NBA announces the salary cap figures on July 8. Last season it was around $5.8 million and will likely be around that amount, if not lower, next season. The MLE can be divvied up amongst several players and the biannual veteran exception must all go to one individual.
Denver has been linked to players such as Brad Miller, Ty Thomas and Lou Amundson. There are serious problems with all three of those players. Miller is a legit center size wise, but saw his rebound rate and shooting percentage fall off a cliff last season. For a team in need of a defensive presence Miller just does not make sense.
Thomas is a tremendous athlete, but is wildly inconsistent and is not a quality low post defender. Thomas might be a nice piece to have for the future, but Denver is in win now mode. Plus Thomas is a restricted free agent which would require Denver to acquire him through a sign and trade. The only player that makes any sense for the deal salary wise would be J.R. Smith and Smith is not a player Charlotte has any need for. That does not alleviate the possibility of a three way trade, but it does complicate things.
Amundson is a great energy player. He moves well and is a beast on the offensive glass. The problem is he is not quite so good on the defensive boards and that is the area where the Nuggets need the most help.
Denver does desperately need another big man and sadly the pickings are slim. There are a lot of Kwame Browns, Jamaal Magloires and Primoz Brezecs. The bottom line is quality bigs usually do not hit the free agent market very often. Still, there are options out there.
Denver is in the position to pick one center and recruit them heavily. Everyone knows Denver needs help in that area as Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen have all suffered knee injuries late last season and Kenyon and Birdman have undergone surgical procedures on one of their knees this summer. Denver obviously needs help and whoever comes in could play a crucial role on a playoff contending team. Even if all three returning bigs are healthy it would be very good if they all saw reduced minutes during the regular season.
I am not the first Nugget booster to mention this player’s name, and when I first thought about the match I was not interested. However, when you look at the quality of players that are available he quickly rises to the top.
That man is Jermaine O’Neal.
O’Neal has certainly seen his level of play diminish over the previous couple of seasons. However, he is still an effective player. Statistically he is very solid in almost every area. He is a decent rebounder, solid defender and a capable midrange shooter. In fact according to Synergy Sports Technology O’Neal was very effective in defending the post giving up only 0.76 points per possession in such a situation. As a reference that number is better than both Nene, 0.77, and Kenyon, 0.91.
Offensively O’Neal can contribute as well. He relies a little too much on his turn around jumper to be effective on the block, but he has a solid midrange jumper. I imagine the Nuggets have been interested in Brad Miller is because of his ability to open up the floor with his shooting ability. Last season Miller converted 60 of his 160 attempts between 15 and 24 feet. That is a percentage of 37.5%. O’Neal cashed in on 69 of his 142 attempts from that same distance good for 48.5%. In my mind O’Neal is a better alternative than Miller on both ends of the floor (in case you were wondering Miller coughed up a respectable 0.82 points per possession on post up situations).
The big question with O’Neal is money and opportunity. Other quality teams might be able to offer him more opportunity to play, see Miami and possibly New York, but neither team would be able to offer him the money Denver can (Miami has not yet renounced O’Neal’s rights, but if they are going to hang onto Wade and acquire Bosh without a sign and trade, they will have to. Even so he is an unrestricted free agent and Miami has no right of first refusal with any contract he is offered).
Denver would have to offer O’Neal a significant salary for next season in addition to avoiding making a long term commitment to him. If Carmelo avoids signing the extension he has been offered it will be vital for Denver to maintain financial flexibility for next summer. In my mind a one year $5.0 million contract should be enough to outbid any other suitors while making it worth O’Neal’s while to sign a one year contract. If need be perhaps the Nuggets could tack on a partially guaranteed second season.
Not only would O’Neal bring help on the floor, he would also be another veteran hungry for a championship on the roster. That hunger will be important to keep the team focused with so many members of the team facing free agency after the season.
O’Neal is not perfect, but he is a center who can significantly boost the Nuggets defensive presence in the lane. A foursome of Nene, Kenyon, Birdman and O’Neal would be a step up from last season’s rotation. Would it bring Denver’s front line to the level of the Lakers’? No, but it would put them in a solid position to compete and that is a step in the right direction for next season.