OK I’ll say it. China. Ugh, that word has slowly morphed into one of the most despised in my entire vocabulary. Every time I hear it, all I see is the Nuggets chances for success in the 2011-12 season dwindling right out the window, and for a die hard like me, that’s the last image I ever want flickering in my head.
Wednesday morning the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman reported that Kenyon Martin signed the biggest contract in Chinese Basketball Association history, outdoing fellow teammate, J.R. Smith, by a few hundred thousand. As you all know by now, this makes four former Nuggets free agents who have signed in China in the last month. Not long after the initial reports emerged, Martin took to Twitter to confirm the news:
Its been a great 7 years in Denver! Thanks to all the True Kenyon Martin Fans!!! Love you all! Time to move on
At this point in time, even though there were rumors of K-Mart being courted by various teams in the CBA, I’m… wow, what am I? Shocked? No, I’m not shocked. Baffled? No, we passed that landmark a while ago. Amused? Yeah, I guess I’m kind of amused. But more than anything, I’m fascinated. You know why? Because something has got to be up. I’m sure there’s some saying, some proverbial aphorism out there about how after something becomes repetitive, it’s not just coincidence any longer. I guess George Bush’s whole failed “fool me once” routine (or the point of it when said properly, rather) somewhat applies, because the point is, as Bush so eloquently puts it in his speech, after getting fooled roughly two times, one no longer falls for the same old trick again. Needless to say, I think we’ve reached this juncture.
The catch here is my new least favorite word: China. If three or four guys (or hell even the entire Nuggets team!) signed in Europe with an opt-out clause, there isn’t a story. Sticking to the theme of aphorisms, if this situation were to unfold before us, I’d probably just say, it is what it is. There isn’t anything significant in that storyline, because after all, they’d just be playing organized ball until the lockout is resolved. But China is different. That whole “no-opt out clause” deal kind of changes the game. When China came out and said no NBA player should sign there unless they intended to stay an entire year, we had no idea that (A) they were specifically talking directly to the Denver Nuggets, and (B) our most prized free agents outside of Nene would all end up being totally fine with this and in turn, signing there. In fact, if you told me the day I heard the news about China preventing opt-out clauses that four Denver Nuggets would end up signing there, I honestly would have laughed, loud and jolly. Because that, to me, would have equaled funniness.
Aaaaaaaaand, here we are. That whole laughing thing — yea, it’s a reality. And just like when these types of unthinkable situations actually come to fruition, I feel kind of played, kind of burned, kind of like, “Wait, I want my money back.”
But I’ve come to accept what’s passed. I’m done laughing, I’m done being shocked, or surprised or “baffled.” I’ve moved on, on to trying to figure out why in the world three of the best free agents on the entire NBA market — all of which played for the same team, mind you — are signing in China while nobody else is.
This is a story. It needs investigation. If nothing else, for the fan’s sake. They deserve to know why so many players who have been a vital part of this organization for so many years are doing everything they can to distance themselves from this team. Obviously, as a fan-writer (my way of avoiding the dreaded, “blogger” term) I don’t have the tools to accomplish this feat, but I’m going to try and stick my head around a few corners to see what’s there.
In the meantime, after some deliberation, I’ve come up with three different scenarios that I feel best explain this Great Wall of Obscurity. The sad thing is, they all sound completely crazy. But again, we’re past that, remember?. We’ve now realize that what’s happened with the Nuggets this summer is beyond what any of us could have ever dreamed up in our wildest Nuggets-related dreams that I know you all have because I CANNOT be the only Nuggets fan in the world who occasionally dreams of them at night!
Anyways, here’s my breakdown, complete with different doors, just like the whacky game show that this team has truly become…
Door 1: W”ego” where h”ego”
In this scenario we see Chandler act as the initial spark that ignites the flame. He signs in China, on what appears to be a record deal, and is scheduled to make more than any other player signing in Europe this summer. J.R. sees this, is immediately filled with envy and therefore decides he’s gonna do the exact same thing. J.R. doesn’t think about long-term consequences because all J.R. sees at this point is a chance to earn money while nobody else is — or at least the amount of money that nobody else is. After all, J.R.’s got tattoos to pay for and popcorn to buy, so in his eyes, the doldrums of the lockout is precious time wasted that could be spent earning money!!! But wait… Kenyon Martin has to find a way to pay for his damaged vehicle, and without a steady paycheck, panic sets in. Kenyon then realizes that if China is willing to pay J.R. a contract north of $3 million per season, it surely would do the same for him. Plus, he’s not gonna let that little punk who turned his white interior into a greasy mess get away with it that easily right? At this point, Kenyon’s ego gets the best of him, just like J.R.’s got the best of him a few weeks prior, and he too signs in China, intentionally out-doing his fellow teammate in the process.
(In real life, Kenyon’s ego really may have guided him to this decision, but also realize that there’s a good chance he will make more this season in China than he would have in the NBA. That is not the case for J.R. however.)
Door 2: Bro Love
This one is simple. Maybe J.R., Chandler and K-Mart all just have a good relationship, and after one signed in China, the others followed. Maybe Chandler convinced both J.R. and K-Mart to sign knowing what their contractual situations were like. Maybe they all got together and planned this out before anybody even imagined it possible. Either way, I suspect there could be a chance that communication between these three players (and even Melvin Ely) coalesced into an unforeseen domino effect that led to each guy signing in China due to their relationship.
Door 3: Call out the instigator, because there’s something in the air
This to me, is by far the most realistic of any of the doors. If I were a contestant on the Nuggets Game Show, this is the door I’d pick. Behind it, we have a growing sentiment, one that revolves around professional basketball players and their increasing desire to abandon Denver as the place they’d like to work. Just look at it this way: Since this past February, FOUR different Denver Nuggets have openly expressed, either verbally or physically (through their actions), that they no longer want to continue their careers in the Mile High City. Of course we’re all familiar with the Carmelo Anthony debacle, but what has happened this summer is just as captivating in my opinion. Instead of one guy at the end of his contract looking to bounce, it’s three! Instead of one guy turning down an extension, it’s three! That’s right, three different guys, all with the chance to re-sign in Denver, and each one elects to take the only option available that will restrict them from playing with the Nuggets for at least an entire year.
My question is: What does this say about our team? Is there something definitive, something tangible, that’s causing this mass exodus out of the capital of Colorado?
It’s hard to say, but the fact is, none of these guys have displayed even an inkling of interest to come back to Denver. And the worst part, we haven’t even mentioned our most prized possession who’s still in free-agent limbo and very well might not return either: Nene. When it’s all said and done, we could potentially be looking at FIVE Nuggets — all of whom are excellent basketball players — not having a single problem with leaving Denver. Four of those five guys played key roles in taking the Nuggets to the first conference championship series in over 20 years; three were starters.
So again, what has happened over the last few years that has repelled so many of the Denver Nuggets’ key players away from the organization? The way I see it, two things have remained constant in this time frame: Denver and Georg Karl. Could it be that basketball players simply don’t like living in Denver? Maybe. But I don’t see how Denver is any worse than Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Indianapolis or any other city for that matter, with a professional basketball team outside L.A. or New York City (which ball players seem to love), yet guys aren’t jumping at the first chance they get to leave those locations (see: Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, etc.). So that leaves Karl, and I’m not gonna sugar-coat it; there is a chance that the George Karl schtick could be wearing out the players, as it’s happened before. We all know how extremely hard-headed, unconventional and just flat-out difficult he can be at times. Add this to his long history of player-coach disputes that haven’t always ended in the most ideal fashion and suddenly, leaving Denver seems like the perfect remedy for this problem.
But look, the point of this “exercise” was to explore some different situations that might be able to explain what has happened this past month. These are not supposed to be taken too seriously; however, I wouldn’t totally write them off as implausible either. Sports are crazy. The things athletes do often leave me scratching my head on a daily basis. There’s a good chance nobody will ever figure out why J.R., K-Mart and Chandler all decided to do what they did and even if it was because they wanted to escape Denver or Karl’s wrath, it’s not like they’d ever say so publicly (even Melo wouldn’t). All I’m trying to do is pick up the pieces of this scattered puzzle and see where they might fit. Feel free to do the same, and be sure to leave your findings to the rest of the Nuggets community in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what mysterious theories you have hidden behind your game-show doors as well.