Kenyon Martin signs… do I even have to say it?

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.


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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.
  • popex_17

    Kalen, nice write-up! My personal belief is also that George Karl’s presence has something to do with all these departures and I am eager to see how he’ll perform with a really young squad, how he’ll again “reinvent” the team and develop the 2 rookies + the MozGod.
    At this point, I say we go “all in” for next year’s lottery (as in top 5 picks) + get rid of Harrington by all means possible + at least lock up Afflalo (5-6 million/year, don’t overpay for him, pleaseeeee)!
    Current Denver team:
    PG: Ty and Andre Miller – check
    SG: Afflalo (probable) and Hamilton
    SF: Gallo and Harrington (although Hamilton could play SF too)
    PF: Faried and Harrington (sometimes Bird)
    C: Mozgov/Koufos/Bird

    As it is, we are lottery bound for sure, however we have quite a few spots to fill.
    The immediate future looks bleak, but in perspective, I couldn’t be more optimistic. We have a formidable GM who has showed that he is a wizard of trades and drafts, tons of cap space and a super young and hungry team that will only grow from here together.
    As much as I loved the old Nuggets, we have to accept that their time passed in Denver and maybe it’s better this way than to grow complacent and not have the same hunger as they did a few seasons ago.
    It’s time to hit the restart button and hope for a top 5 pick in next year’s draft and maybe, another 1st round pick acquired via trade.

    • Kalen

      Yeah, you make a good point. Even up till about yesterday when K-Mart signed in China I still thought there was a possibility the old “Thuggets” squad could kind of remain in tact but just add a few new players. Now, it seems that’s never gonna happen. It’s weird, just like you said, the end of an era (and a great one at that) has finally arrived and I don’t know how to feel about it. On one hand I’m excited to move forth with our young squad and a great GM in Masai, but on the other, I’m sad because the last five years brought some of the best memories I’ll probably ever have about this team.

      As for the draft, I’m already on it. I’ve been studying most of the guys slated to go in the lottery and I’m super excited. If we’re a total mess this year, we’re gonna get our next Melo, but most likely in power forward or center form, which is even better. And even if we’re OK or bad (mid to late) lottery we’re still gonna get a great player. The fact that Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Austin Rivers are slated to go 10, 12 and 13 right now is just bogus! Those guys are each Top 5 picks in most draft classes.

      I’ll be writing a lot this year about the draft so stay tuned.

      • popex_17

        First of all, I think Masai is a really smart GM. I believe he calculates his every move, doesn’t take any decision without overly-analyzing it.
        I also believe he came to the conclusion that in order to be great you have to stink for a while, but most importantly, you have to know when to stink. Timing is great. Take the Spurs for example, the only season they were bad the last 25 years was when Tim Duncan was in the draft. Of course, you have got to be lucky to land the top pick, but you have nothing to lose.
        Considering this, I say this is a great year to stink and what’s even more appealing is the fact that by all accounts, it’s going to be a truncated season, so fewer games to stink.
        I’m not saying that the Nuggets should lose on purpose, but try to give as many minutes to the rookies, to Mozgov and the Greek, see what can they do in the NBA.
        As for filling out the roster, I would absolutely love to see Thad Young in a Nuggets uni (he’s a restricted free agent), Reggie Williams is pretty decent (also restricted), Mbah a Moute is an excellent defender (also restricted), so there are a few guys which are young and can potentially be cheap. Thus, we will not have a pretty competitive team, especially in the west and we could land a top prospect in the draft (Anthony Davis has some hands the size of China and if he adds some pounds, he could be a killer).
        Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing your draft prospect player cards, as being from Romania (Europe) I do not have that many sources to see them nor people talking about them. Take care!

  • Peter

    While I think you throw out some reasonable theories as to why J.R., Kenyon and Wilson have left, I think you are forgetting the main one. The players know a lot more than we do, and this just tells me that we are not going to have a season, and knuckleheads like Kenyon and J.R. are just trying to get as much money as possible and don’t really care where they play. Sure George Karl has something to do with it, but if the Nuggets offered a salary close to what he was making before, you can bet that he would be right back in Denver.
    On a positive note, I say we don’t re-ign Nene(it makes no sense to have him if we are re-building) try to re-sign Afflolo and go from there. This would be a 25 win team at best with Gallo and Lawson as the main scoring options. We can afford a bad year or 2 to rebuild as we have young exciting players. Last season was a complete mess and run around with the Melo situation.

    • Thugget

      I don’t see this at as a big deal at all. JR and K-Mart obviously weren’t going to resign, so the only real loss is Chandler. It’s not some giant epidemic. Chandler never seemed too found to play hereso it’s not a big surprise either. Let’s not pretend this is a bigger deal than it actually is.

    • Kalen

      Yeah you’re probably right Peter, especially when you consider the news that broke today about training camps being called off.

  • evan

    You guys are idiots. The nuggets are going to resign Nene, Hamilton will replace JR no problem, Kmart is old, Farid is young with amazing talent. We’re still incredibly deep and have the same team that went 18-7 with two buzzer beater losses. Blowing out teams left and right with only 2 months to mesh. The Nuggets will be the best team in the league just you watch.

  • evan

    Not to mention we have tons of cap room for free agents. Hopefully we can pick up marc gasol. =D

  • Max

    Kenyon did not hustle and still does not rebound. I hoped he would leave and I’m glad to see it happen. We paid him entirely too much for him to do so little. I really him and his knees do not return to Denver when the “China adventures” are over.

  • Bob

    Of course we don’t know how new CBA will affect the signability of these guys, but this COULD work out in the Nugs’ favor. Playing time for Hamilton and Faried, bigger role for Gallo, in addition to same for Mozgov, each of whom could raise his value in a very short time, could give Nugs a boatload of young, cheap, somewhat proven players who could be bundled in trade for a star, preferably at center, BEFORE Nugs decide whether to sign the Chinese expats. I think Afflalo and Nene should be re-signed. But here’s the unusual option Denver could possibly exercise: Trading away Gallo and Mozgov and possibly Hamilton and Faried, at the trade deadline to get at a Brook Lopez or even, dare I hope it, DHoward (examples chosen b/c Nugs could provide combo of cheap young talent and salary relief each might be looking for in a Dwight-tells-Otis-he-ain’t-comin’-back scenario). And here’s the kicker, we could be replacing the traded guys with our boys as they come back from China,shortly after trade deadline. WC for sure, JRS and KM if the price is right, need there and GK hasn’t freaked ‘em out (likely better to keep Faried and Hamilton, if possible). But here’s the kicker: IF the Nuggets were to sign all three after each has enjoyed a successful, happy run in China (not a terribly likely scenario), the Nuggets could instantly become the NBA team China watches on TV! There’s a monstrous marketing vacuum in the wake of Yao Ming’s retirement. This scenario would certainly justify minimum contracts to Yi Jianlian, Jeremy Lin (free agent?) and, just for fun, Joe Alexander (former lotto pick of Bucks, was doing well in D-League, speaks Mandarin, lived in China as a kid, iirc. Oodles of extra merch sales, etc… and an extremely competitive lineup, like

    Lawson/Afflalo/Chandler/Nene/BLopez

    backed up by

    Miller/JRS or JHam?/TOutlaw/Faried or KMart?/Bird
    and
    Lin/Forbes/Alexander/Yi/KKoufos

    or better yet:

    Lawson/JRS/Chandler/Nene/Superman
    Miller/Afflalo/Turkoglu/KMart/Birdman
    Lin/Forbes/Alexander/Yi/KKoufos

    Sure looks like about as tough a team as any Dwight might wanna sign with and as young as they all are, it would stay that way.

    Superman? Super market (China?) Super dream, eh?

    P.S. If the Nugs don’t go the sell-out-to-maximize-the Chinese-market route, I’d love to see them sign Ben Hansbrough for 3rd PG spot.

  • Michael (another aussie Nugz fan)

    I wouldn’t forget about Gary Forbes as a backup 2-3. He has played as good, if not better than any of the Nuggz going around this offseason and is likely to return to the team that gave him his ‘big break’.
    I’d like to say I’m confident Nene will return, but as this summer has shown, anything can happen. The bonus for Nene is that his wife and family are natives to the area which may help to keep him local, and the fact that he may get to play his natural PF this year as we develop Moz and Kosta (which I think should be a priority as they both seem to love the game and showed promise in Euro play).
    Farried and Hamilton should be given enough court time to show what they’ve got and hopefully develop. For this reason I’m not overly upset that K-mart and JR have turned to China.