My post about how Denver was one of only two teams yet to add a player to their roster since the end of the 2009-10 season (Cleveland is the other) was interrupted by the announcement that they had come to terms with Al Harrington on a five year, $34 million contract which appears to be a full midlevel exception deal (which has been confirmed by Marc Stein in a new edition of the article).
My response is taking action for the sake of taking action is not always the right thing to do.
This move reeks of a panic signing by Denver. With no teams coveting large expiring contracts like Kenyon Martin’s, Denver’s biggest asset was their midlevel exception. They used it entirely on Harrington who is the wrong player with the wrong contract. Denver is going to regret this contract possibly even as early as the 2011-12 season.
The Nuggets certainly made the most of their limited assets over the previous two summers. They have done a great job of signing players to reasonable contracts who fit a need and contributed to the team. Instead of sticking to their guns and working to acquire a reasonably priced big man who could help fill a need they have signed Carmelo Anthony-lite in Harrington.
For those of you not familiar with Harrington, he can play small forward or power forward, does not rebound particularly well, does not defend and is a high usage rate player who like to shoot jumpers. Over the next few days we will look closer at his strengths and weaknesses, but he has one major shortcoming. He is not a center.
The name of the game in the Western Conference is size. We have seen how the long and talented frontline of the Lakers has dominated on the way to back to back championships. Dallas has retained Brendan Haywood and added Tyson Chandler (plus they added Alexis Ajinca in the Chandler trade and also reportedly have signed Ian Mahinmi). Portland who added Marcus Camby last season is hoping for the chance of getting a full season out of Greg Oden with Houston, who added Patrick Patterson, is hoping for the same with Yao Ming. San Antonio has finally brought over Tiago Splitter to play alongside Tim Duncan. Utah has swapped a 6’8” Carlos Boozer for a 6’11” Al Jefferson. Golden State brought in David Lee. Sacramento acquired a mountain by the name of Derrick DeMarcus Cousins in addition to Samuel Dalmebert. The Thunder came out of the draft with Cole Aldrich. Even the Clippers have brought Sofoklis Schortsanitis over from Greece (I swear to God I got his first name and the first six letters of his last name right without looking).
Conversely, Denver has gotten much smaller with Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen dealing with surgical procedures which may cause them to miss time in the regular season, seeing Johan Petro sign with the Nets and now adding Harrington.
Denver did attempt to add some size as they tried to trade into the draft to select Derrick Caracter and they made midlevel exception offers to Jermaine O’Neal and Udonis Haslem. O’Neal chose to sign with the Boston Celtics, who you may recall were just a few minutes away from an NBA championship last month and Haslem took less money to remain with the only NBA team he has played with who just happened to sign the top three free agents on the market. As frustrating as it is to lose out on these two big men, you cannot blame the Nuggets for losing out on players to two championship caliber teams.
With the addition of Harrington Denver has basically given up on acquiring a quality center and committed to playing small ball. Harrington can score; we have seen him do that for years, especially when he plays power forward. He is quick enough to drive by most fours and has a good enough outside shot that he can make them pay if they play off of him.
We also know he will struggle to defend and with Carmelo playing 35 to 40 minutes a night at small forward Denver is going to be playing Harrington at power forward quite a bit, especially early on if Martin and Birdman are not healthy enough to play. I shudder to think of watching the Nuggets’ defense when Harrington and Melo are on the floor at the same time. I fear this trade signals the end of any hope that Denver might be able to return to the solid team defense they displayed two seasons ago.
Denver can win some regular season games with Al Harrington playing 20 or 25 minutes a night at power forward, but barring a midseason trade miracle come playoff time Denver will once again be one and done. In fact, with teams like Houston, New Orleans and possibly even the Clippers and Kings improving next season Denver might find themselves fighting for a playoff spot.
Even if I am wrong about how Harrington fails to fill a need for Denver, the contract he has signed makes this deal a nightmare. Harrington is 30 years old and as a preps to pros player has 12 full NBA seasons on his legs. By the time this contract ends he will be 36 making $7.6 million. Denver is locked into all five seasons as Chris Tomasson is reporting there are no option years in the contract. I have been preaching fiscal responsibility with the NBA on the eve of a new, more financially stringent collective bargaining agreement. Denver was in the position of having a clean slate entering the new CBA, but should Carmelo agree to the extension that is currently on the table, with this contract Denver is going to be locked into a mediocre team with little room to maneuver.
I never thought I would say this, but now knowing this is the alternative, I wish the Nuggets would have just matched the offer sheet to Linas Kleiza. He could provide some mediocre outside shooting and rebounding at a much lower cost.
I also think this move signals the end of the Mark Warkentien era in Denver. I may be wrong, and this is pure speculation based on his track record in Denver, but the way he has functioned under the financial constraints that were placed on him and how he found values from Chris Andersen to Dahntay Jones and Arron Afflalo I do not think Warkentien is the man who pushed this deal up the chain. His contract is up in a matter of weeks and Denver has given him permission to seek employment from other teams. We knew he was on his way out, but I have to think if he was still heavily involved Harrington would not have been offered this contract. (I do not mean to diminish the contributions of the other members of the Nuggets’ front office in their ability to find affordable rotation players, but it seems to be more than a coincidence that as Warkentien is seemingly on his way out Denver agrees to their first truly horrible contract in years).
The first memory most Nuggets fans have of Warkentien was when he claimed that he was not playing checkers, but chess when Denver traded Marcus Camby to the Clippers and he proved to be correct. Denver might have more tricks up their sleeve, but sadly the addition of Harrington cannot be characterized as anything other than a checkers move.