If Denver is going to run, Felton is an important cog
The case for keeping Raymond Felton does not require pitting Felton against Ty Lawson for who will be the starting point guard as most Nuggets fans might think. Obviously the Nuggets need two point guards and with Felton and Lawson Denver would have the best lead guard rotation in the NBA. The real key to the duo is how well they play together. George Karl has long been a proponent of having two ball handlers on the floor at once.
The Nuggets blew several games wide open late in the season with Lawson and Felton on the floor together at the same time. With Lawson and Felton available, willing and able to push the ball in transition Denver maintained their standing as the most efficient offense in the league even after parting with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
The benefit is also not only in transition, but with two players capable of getting into the lane on the court together it opens up the floor for others to take advantage of. Whether it be through passes at the rim, driving lanes or open jumpers Felton and Lawson were adept at finding open looks for their teammates.
The other aspect of Felton’s game is he was the one Nugget who was not afraid to have the ball in his hands and take a shot late in the game against the Thunder in the playoffs. Sure, he failed, but most players fail before they succeed. He has the cojones and that is something you are born with. He did have a couple of impressive games in the regular season such as his 22 point second half explosion against the Lakers that proved to be the beginning of the end of the Lakers’ dynasty.
There is another factor at play in the debate as to whether or not to hang onto Raymond. Great teams have symmetry between the coach and front office. They agree on philosophy and management does their best to bring in players who fit that shared philosophy. The Nuggets have always been a running team and Karl is all about pushing the pace. If the Nuggets are committed to playing fast then they need to put a team on the floor that is capable of fulfilling that vision. As mentioned above, Denver was a dominant running team with Lawson and Felton.
Felton and Lawson are both under contract, let them continue to play together, blow people off the court and give Felton a chance to continue to grow as a player in Denver. Plus with Lawson and Felton on board hopefully we can avoid a return of Anthony Carter.
Dealing Felton is mandatory
For me, the situation surrounding Raymond Felton is pretty cut-and-dry: We need to trade him. The real conundrum is figuring out when we’re going to deal him, what we’re going to receive in return and who else we might need to package with him in order to maximize his optimal value. Earlier this week I petitioned, somewhat softly, for the trading of Felton as soon as this upcoming draft in order to squash a potential locker room distraction (Felton being upset over not starting) before it ever had the chance to materialize. I figured with the amount of point guards slated to go in the early part of the second round it would be a great opportunity to send Felton packing, then select a replacement for him with a draft pick or two we’d receive in return. Though I still believe this is a viable option for the Nuggets to consider, I’ve since re-evaluated how firm my stance should be on this issue thanks to the enlightening commentary of Roundball reader, Aussie Nugs Fan, who bluntly stated recently, “We have to get more for Felton than the 31st pick in the next draft.” You know Aussie Nugs Fan, you could be right.
Here’s the situational breakdown of Felton’s contractual status, my perception of his current street value and how they both tie together to ensure we get the most out of the talented, young point guard entering the “prime” of his career…
With only a year left on his current contract scheduled land him $7.5 million, Felton will once again become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in three years, and with that, he’ll be looking for what will undoubtedly be the biggest payday of his career. As with any player in this situation, it’s vital to showcase that you’ve reached apex of your abilities to ensure that all offers thrown your way will be everything you deserve and more. This situation is known as a “contract year” and throughout history has led to surprisingly different attitude changes and numbers outputs for nearly every type of player imaginable in the NBA. Felton should be no exception. He deserves to prove what type of player he can ultimately be and he just can’t do that while playing second-fiddle minutes behind Ty Lawson. Similar to how things unfold in Hollywood, in the NBA, the most lucrative contracts aren’t awarded to the best supporting actor.
But if you thought the Nuggets would jettison Felton out of the kindness of its heart, for the sole purpose of seeing him prosper in another location, you’ve got it all wrong. You see, the NBA is a business, and just like in any well run buisness, people use other people to get where they want to go. In our case, Felton is nothing more than an asset. He’s a 26-year-old starting point guard, who put up career numbers in New York to the tune of 17 points, nine assists and two steals per game before finding himself on the wrong end of Carmelo Anthony’s best impression of a spoiled rotten heir-to-a-throne, begging for more dessert after a nice, steak dinner — or in this case, a bevy of 50-win seasons and playoff appearances topped with trip to the Western Conference Finals (seriously, what more could you want?). By my estimation Felton should have never found his way to Denver in the first place, but management spoke loud and clear with the seeing-off of Chauncey Billups, and their messages was: “We have so much faith in our young, lightening-quick backup point guard that we’re willing to trade away a local icon and one of the most cherished fathers of Denver sports, in order to give him unrivaled control over his specific position.” Bottom line: If they were willing to get rid of Chauncey for the sake of Ty, then there’s absolutely no way a temporary vagabond like Felton should interrupt his progression — none.
Determining Felton no longer belongs in Denver is the easy part; deciding who might join him on his way out is much more difficult. Though Felton is a solid young player, his value alone won’t make NBA franchises salivate. By adding an additional item to the menu — say Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari or Al Harrington — the appetizer becomes much more of a entree. But the Nuggets don’t have much to offer at this juncture without sacrificing our own aspirations of success in the process. The only players on the roster currently under contract until next year are Felton, Harrington, Andersen, Gallinari, Mozgov, Lawson and Koufos. Guys like Nene, Chandler and Afflalo could be on the team at the start of the 2011-12 season, but are in limbo for now as their contracts have expired. Still, Afflalo and Chandler are restricted free agents while Nene has a player option that’s looking more and more enticing with the rumors of players salaries taking a significant hit in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, so the likelihood of these guys returning and thus becoming trade-able seems somewhat high.
Of the assets — or players — Denver possess, only a select few could we afford to lose (notice how I say “afford”), who would simultaneously increase the value of a Felton-based package: Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari. Afflalo and Ty are obviously not options for nearly every reason imaginable, while Mozgov, Koufos and Birdman simply don’t carry much value on the market, which renders their inclusion with Felton virtually useless. Though we’d all love to see Big Al (aka the Hamburgler) packaged with Felton, his contract and level of play this past year will be more off-putting than inviting. At only 31 years of age, Al played more like a miniature version of the Shaq in his final year as a pro, than he did just one year prior to joining the Nuggets when he put up career numbers across the board. In this aspect, he’s more similar to Mozgov, Bird and Koufos, in that he just can’t offer much value at the moment, but unlike the vanilla trio, he’s proven that he’s capable of scoring up to 20 points per game for an entire season in the NBA and because of this fact alone, he is somewhat intriguing… and valuable… even if his contract isn’t. But again, if we’re gonna include other players with Felton, we need to go all out and include the ones that carry the most value so that we get an equal amount of value in return. There’s really no point of throwing in people just for the hell of it. It’s because of this that we narrow our candidates down to two: Gallinari and Chandler.
I’m just going to be blunt since it seems like it’s taking me forever to say something very simple: If anybody is to be included with Felton, it should be Chandler. Though I’d love to see Chandler re-signed, and still maintain that it’s in our best interest given the uncertainty surrounding J.R. Smith and our bench scoring, he’s the one guy that offers up a lot of value and who — as mentioned above — we can simultaneously afford to lose. With Gallinari all but guaranteed the starting small forward duties for the foreseeable future and Al Harrington — a more than serviceable backup — under contract for years, Chandler’s position is seemingly occupied here in Denver. Bundle this with the rumors that he’s wanted out of Denver since Day 1 and that he’d make a great (and I mean great) combination/package when amalgamated with Felton and you have the the makings of a potential blockbuster trade that could land Denver some serious, big-time assets. Ultimately, players are much more loyal to their franchises when comfortable, happy and satisfied. If Chandlertruly wants out of Denver and won’t settle for a backup role, then it’s in our absolute best interest to deal him with Felton to prevent him from taking the one-year qualifying offer on his contract, playing out next season, then becoming a totally unrestricted free agent in 2012 and leaving for nothing. Management should discuss this at great detail with Chandler this summer and my guess is that whether he goes or stays will depend upon his satisfaction coming off the bench. So if you see Chandler in a Nuggets uniform next season, there’s about a 90 percent chance he’s still with us for at least a few more years after that. If not, then he made it clear he’s unhappy coming off the bench and won’t stick around to see this trend carry on into the future.
So… basically through this discourse we’ve figured out what hinges on whether Felton will be dealt alone or with company, and that’s Wilson Chandler’s level of satisfaction coming off the bench. I guess there could be a scenario where he is still happy as a bench player, yet management sees his value and knows that when combined with Felton there’s a pretty tantalizing package up for grabs. Just off the top of my head, I’d say the duo of these two could fetch us package in return that includes any combination of multiple first-round draft picks, role players (though it’s hard to see us trading role players for… more role players) or an All-Star caliber player (someone along the lines of Zach Randolph, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, etc.). But again, I’m going to come back to my original thesis, that once you obtain good players you should do your best to retain them. If Chandler is dead-set on leaving it’s one thing, but if he’s willing to stay, I don’t necessarily see his inclusion with Felton as that advantageous to the Nuggets. I firmly believe that Masai Ujiri can nail his draft picks, even if they are towards the latter part of the first round, and put us in a position to consistantly be competitve in the Western Conference. If one day, the opportunity arises to obtain a franchise player and perennial All-Star, then we should no doubt jump on it, but right now I feel compiling as much talent as we can, riding the coattails of Lawson (who I feel has the ability to take us to the next level), hitting our draft picks and courting free agents should be our top priorities. I think a common misconception about the NBA is that you must first obtain a franchise player or two by slumming in the doldrums of the lottery for years before you can contend, but how many countless number of teams do this endlessly and never improve? I think establishing a solid infrastructure and culture of winning should be a franchise’s top priority, first and foremost, then as the success perpetuates the “franchise players” should naturally fall in line one way or another.
So what say you faithful RMC readers? Should Felton stay or should he go?