Thursday, the deadline for Nene to re-sign with the Denver Nuggets officially expired and no deal was reached. Though Masai Ujiri and the rest of Nuggets’ management feverishly attempted to cajole Nene into guaranteeing his services to the Nuggets organization for another handful of years similar to the deal he struck back in 2006, apparently Nene was not moved. Many believe this places the Nuggets in a somewhat precarious trench sandwiched between the grounds of stability and a total rebuilding of the franchise — at least until a new collective bargaining agreement is realized — but is it possible that this maxim is nothing more than an ostensible notion? Could the Nuggets be just fine without Nene’s services? Or will losing Nene force the Nuggets to officially re-build? Most importantly, by forgoing the opportunity to extend his career with the Nuggets, what exactly did Nene say?
First and foremost, lets answer the final question of the previous paragraph so that we may go forward with a better understanding of where the Nuggets stand in the Nene debacle.
As things stand (or stood up until Thursday), Nene had the choice to accept an $11.6 million player option for the 2011-12 season in addition to structuring a contract extension that likely would have seen him receive about the same amount of money he had been (roughly $11 million). For whatever reason, Nene decided not only to decline the enticing $11.6 player option, but also to reach a reasonable deal with the Nuggets that would allow him to continue his career in Denver. This likely means two scenarios played out when leading up to Thursday morning: Either Nene wanted more money, in which the Nuggets simply would not budge in giving up, or he wanted to play in another location for a different NBA franchise.
It’s reasonable to believe that Nuggets’ management, seeing the importance of the role Nene plays with the team, would have been willing to award Nene a fairly decent pay check similar to the six-year $60 million he received in 2006. Taking into account age, production, position and all the other elements that factor into a multi-million dollar decision, $10 million per year is roughly the price a player like Nene should be inked for. However, according to ESPN, Nene was demanding upwards of $13 million per season, which is just flat-out steep. Nene knows this, Nene’s agent knows this and clearly Masai Ujiri and the rest of Nuggets management know this as well. One other crucial factor of the negotiating process that all parties vehemently understand, is likelihood that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is almost guaranteed to drastically slash player salaries, thus rendering Nene’s chance to sign for more than $13 million per season almost nonexistent. Knowing this, why would Nene and his agent continue to rebuff the Nuggets organization whilst strictly demanding an asking price nearly laughable for someone who has career averages of 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game? The obvious answer: It’s a clever and polite way to disguise the fact that you no longer wish to carry out your career with your current employer.
Whether this is truly the case has yet to be determined. Of course there’s always the possibility that Nene simply would like to explore his options, or that he really does believe he’s worth $13 million per year and won’t settle for less; regardless, it’s imperative that the Nuggets concoct a back-up plan as we speak so that in the event Nene does jettison himself to another location, we’re fully prepared.
If the Nuggets really still are on Nene’s radar, what he probably hasn’t realized yet, is how advantageous he’s inadvertently made them by opting out of his contract. You see, by the Nuggets not shelling out a cumbersome contract prior to this year’s free agency period, they now have some of the deepest pockets in which to spend on this year’s crops of free agents as any tea in the NBA. Unfortunately this is not exactly the historic class of 2010, but like any summer, there is talent to be had.
No. 1 on the Nugget’s list of players to court, should be Marc Gasol. At only 26 years of age and standing 7-foot-1, Gasol is younger and taller than Nene. Though both players have similar career averages, Gasol already averages more points, rebounds, blocks and assists per game in just three seasons in the league than Nene has over his nine-year career. Furthermore, when talking career playoff averages, Gasol has Nene beat in every category except field goal percentage, and in both players’ best single postseason run (Nene in 2009 and Gasol in 2011) Gasol thoroughly outperformed Nene to the tune of 15 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks per game to Nene’s measly 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and .6 blocks per game. The point being: Gasol is already better than Nene in nearly every aspect of the game, and with Nene seemingly unwilling to budge on his demand for a near max-contract which would force the Nuggets to drastically overpay for a big man, why not overpay for the better player in Gasol?
If the Nuggets were able to obtain “Baby Gasol” it would then allow them to shell out a few extra dollars to keep K-Mart (who’s been entirely undervalued, and in my opinion is more important to the Nuggets’ success than Nene), and if that plan fell through, some guy named “Faried” (you might have heard of him) would likely serve as a near perfectly fit at the power forward spot next to the 7-foot center. The only caveat of this master plan is the fact that Gasol is a restricted free agent, but with Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay on the books for a combined $199 million over the next five years (about $40 million per year) and Grizzlies owner Mike Heisley already admitting he won’t pay a ridiculous amount to keep Gasol, it seems somewhat realistic.
The bottom line is this: The Nuggets want Nene and are likely more than willing to work with him if he wants to continue his career in Denver. If Nene did however chose to move on, I don’t think it would be near as bad as many might perceive. In no way am I advocating for Nene to leave, but people need to realize that $13 million per season is a lot of dough to spend on one player alone. If we were able to distribute five of this to K-Mart and seven to an impact player like Samuel Dalmbert, Jamal Crawford or Jason Richardson — or just the entire sum to someone like Marc Gasol — I don’t see how that could be viewed as spending in vain. But even if we don’t manage to re-sign Nene, J.R. or K-Mart, fans should remain optimistic as there is no better time to have a down season considering the lockout would eliminate many painful games and in the process put us in line to get an early draft pick in the already historic 2012 NBA Draft.
Nevertheless, the prospect of Nene possibly ending his tenure with the Nuggets presents a poignant nostalgia as a shadow creeps over the Golden Era of basketball in Denver. Yes, J.R. could theoretically return — but it’s not likely. Yes, K-Mart could return — but it’s not likely. With Melo catching a severe (and deplorable) case of homesickness this past year, and Chauncey the victim of this unfortunate plight, Nene seemed to be the only long-term carryover of a sublime period that looked so promising just 14 months ago. Even with the brilliant job that rookie general manager, Masai Ujiri, has done, it’s difficult to see the Nuggets success being carried on perpetually without a solid cornerstone like Nene.
So… I wonder: Why is it that in the dead heat of such a glorious generation of Nuggets basketball, every member of this team suddenly seems so urgent to become an NBA vagabond? I’m intrigued by this dilemma, yet naturally, I have my suspicions.
Though Colorado is certainly not for everyone, by no means does it scare people away. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, evident by the large number of former athletes who have taken up permanent residence in Denver after ater their playing days have concluded. No matter where you’re from, general consensus is that Colorado is one of the most beautiful, fun, down-to-earth places in the world. So even if an inner city kid like Melo didn’t love the place, I still don’t see how it alone could possibly run them off, especially if the basketball was excellent.
But Melo was Melo. He was more bright lights, commercials, the occasional Stop Snitchin’ video (sorry, I had to) — where as Nene is quite the contrast. He’s from Brazil, he’s never been flashy, he’s seemed content and more than anything, his wife and her family are from Colorado! So what gives? Why would Nene even consider playing elsewhere?
The truth is, nobody knows at this point, but there is one other common denominator between this former championship caliber team and its desire to break up at the drop of a dime: George Karl. We know the current Nuggets’ coach has had a history of chippy relationships with his players which has led to his firing before, but is it fair to point to him as the main reason the most successful Nuggets team of all time is so eager to disband? We all know fan-favorite, J.R. Smith, is more than likely on his way out primarily because of this awkward player-coach relationship, but is it possible that others have simply grown tired of the George Karl schtick as well?
I don’t know the answer to this, and there’s a good chance nobody ever will. All I’m doing is trying to figure out why Denver is such an undesirable location for basketball players all of a sudden. The good thing is that nothing is written in stone, especially with the lockout now underway, but an ominous cloud has certainly flickered in the distance with the Nuggets’ inability to re-sign Nene. Whether this cloud simply disintegrates into the sky blue horizon, or snowballs into a dark nebulous billow of static instability is yet to be seen.