The Denver Nuggets have a lot of decisions to make this summer. They sport one of the deepest rosters in the league, but many players have uncertain futures due to expiring contracts or the potential to clear up positional logjams via trades. Over the next few days we will be looking at certain players to determine who must stay, and who must go. We began the series looking at J.R. Smith. Today we turn to Wilson Chandler…
Chandler is too young and talented to let go
For those who haven’t already, I strongly urge you to read my recent “Dirty Laundry” article detailing the Nuggets off-season priorities, specifically No. 3, which just so happens to be re-signing Wilson Chandler. You see, when it comes to the 6-foot-8 wing-man out of DePaul, it’s in the Nuggets best interest to make sure he is on the team for at least another year. Why? Because under the current restrictions laid forth by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, restricted free agents can only be (A) re-signed by their incumbent teams on their own accord, (B) re-signed by their incumbent teams via a matching offer or (C) signed by a whole new team through the free agent market; restricted free agents cannot however star as the main feature in a sign-and-trade deal. Eventually these players can be traded, but under the current CBA teams must retain restricted free agents for exactly one year following the date in which they sign a contract offer. In essence, this prevents one team (in our case its the Nuggets) who has a restricted free agent (Wilson Chandler) from holding another team that desires that player (lets just say the Kings) hostage, while begging for assets in return. In a regular sign-and-trade deal you have two teams and a player who wants one thing from each: the contract offer from his incumbent team (since they have his Bird Rights and can offer a more lucrative deal), and the experience of playing for the other. In this scenario, no one party assumes an overwhelming amount of leverage, where as if sign-and-trades with restricted free-agents were allowed, the team who holds the players rights would also hold a lopsided amount of leverage. I’m going to take a wild guess and suggest that when establishing the “restricted” clause of NBA contracts, the goal was to give player’s incumbent teams an upper hand on keeping their rosters intact, not provide them with the ability to hold their players hostage should they wish to continue their careers in a different destination. Though this is something that could change in the upcoming revision of the CBA this summer, it’s not something Nuggets fans should bank on, as its a condition that seems to work fairly well; therefore, we are faced with two options when it comes to Wilson Chandler: let him walk for nothing, or re-sign him for at least one year… and maybe much longer.
To me, the first part of this decision is obvious: We must re-sign Chandler no matter what. Letting such a young, talented player walk for nothing — especially when we have the right to match anything he’s offered — is simply illogical and goes against every framework there is for building a successful franchise. Even if we have no intention of keeping Chandler on the Nuggets roster long term, and instead elect to go with Gallinari as our primary workhorse at the small forward position, it’s imperative that we re-sign him to ensure that whenever we do decide to go our separate ways, we’ll at least have something to show for losing such a promising prospect. But that type of thinking — that it’s inevitable Chandler leaves the Nuggets to pursue a starting gig on a different squad — is something Nuggets fans shouldn’t get too acquainted with in my estimation. Though many of us see Gallinari as the future small forward of the Nuggets, there’s a chance management might feel differently. What if for example, Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke saw just as much potential in Chandler as they did Gallinari? Though unlikely, it shouldn’t sound as far-fetched as it does, because neither has definitively separated himself from the other on the court thus far as a member of the Nuggets. Expanding on this notion, what if they decide it’s really Gallinari who holds the most amount of trade value and figure we’d be better off with a defensive minded small forward to pair with offensive guys like Nene, Ty and J.R.? Why not at least explore this option? Why not bring Chandler back, tell him and Gallinari (and Al just to see the look on his face) that the starting small forward spot is open for grabs and then see what happens? It’s a win-win situation for Nuggets fans as the team will benefit from the increased competitiveness and both guys will simultaneously be driving up their trade value as well.
The real question buried beneath all the glamorous trade talk is this: Why even trade Chandler in the first place? I mean, when you have a guy as gifted and youthful as he is, who cares if you also have another one who’s better than him (though I still am not sold on Gallinari being that guy) playing his same position? In the NBA, depth is huge. If you can’t score off the bench, they you probably can’t contend come playoff time unless you’re called the Miami Heat, and even it brings some high profile guys off the pine. Really, by trading Chandler for draft picks, you’re taking a huge risk. In this potential scenario you’re gambling on an unproven prospect over an established commodity. Why even take that chance, especially when we already know Chandler is likely an 18 points per game scorer as a starter anyways? By trading him, can we really expect to land a draft pick high enough to even give us the chance of getting a better player than Chandler already is? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s hard to imagine any lottery team giving up an unprotected first rounder for Chandler anytime soon. If this is the case, why not just keep him long term? In the event that Chandler does however become disenchanted with the backup role he’d likely assume, then we should absolutely explore all trade options and hope for the best results; but in the meantime, re-signing Chandler offers no disadvantages that I can see.
Fiscal responsibility is paramount
Wilson Chandler had a wildly inconsistent two-month stint with the Denver Nuggets. When he first arrived, Chandler looked like a poised marksman who played exceptional defense. Just a few weeks later his poise was much less charming, his marksmanship disappeared and his defense — though still solid — was far from being considered “lockdown.” Chandler fell from being a key cog in the offense, who was not afraid to take big shots, to a player whose shots were barely more effective than a turnover.
Over his final 14 games Chandler scored four or fewer points two more times than he scored in double digits (five to three). Furthermore, his 3-point shooting was abysmal, as he made only six of 36 attempts. Though Chandler is a good player and still remains young enough to overcome his inconsistencies, the Nuggets do not have time to wait and find out if he can do so, as he is a restricted free agent now! Basically, we have to make a long-term decision based on one month of very good play, and one month of much less inspiring results.
There is no doubt that players like Chandler will make less under the new CBA, but the danger of overpaying limited players remains precarious for NBA franchises alike. Recent cases such as Sacramento overpaying Francisco Garcia and Atlanta overpaying Marvin Williams (on one hand he was the second pick in the draft, on the other they compounded their mistake by overvaluing him twice) are fresh reminders of this crippling situation. I would also include James Posey — although he is older — and Trevor Ariza in this group as well. To be fair to Chandler, I believe he is as good or better than all of the previously mentioned players, except for James Posey in his prime. Hopefully Chandler can be that type of player, but at least Posey and Ariza have had some big playoff moments before they got paid.
Fiscal responsibility will be even more vital under a more restrictive CBA and Denver cannot start off by spending too much money on a good, but not great player in Chandler. If the Nuggets can hang onto Chandler at a good price, they should do it; however, all it will take is one team to plop a big offer on the table and the Nuggets will be in danger of hamstringing their financial future to prevent another team from overpaying their player.
Chandler was an important part of the Carmelo trade, but not an indispensable part. NBA teams — especially small market ones — cannot get caught up in overvaluing their players. I do hope Chandler is back next season, but not at a price that could harm our future financial flexibility.
What say the faithful readers of Roundball Mining Company on this issue?