In order to wrap my head around the trade that sent longtime Denver Nugget Maybyner “Nene” Hilario to the Washington Wizards I had to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings into several different categories. I will go through them one at a time in order to attempt to break down a trade that took everyone by surprise.
My initial reaction to hearing about the trade was utter disbelief. Nene was by far the longest tenured player on the team. While never a superstar, he had become somewhat of an institution. Nuggets fans had watched him arrive in Denver as a raw completely unknown quantity after a draft night trade that saw former franchise player Antonio McDyess go to the New York Knicks. I remember when Nene signed his contract in the bathroom during a summer league game after which he ran onto the court to take on one Amare’ Stoudemire.
We experienced his growth as a player, dealt with his injuries, winced at his shortcomings and ultimately became at peace with who he was. When he was an unrestricted free agent following the lockout many Nuggets fans recoiled at the thought of him signing elsewhere. When it was announced that the Nuggets committed to him with a five year, $67 million contract it was a sign the front office was determined to keep the core of the team together for the foreseeable future.
For better or worse, Nene was a Nugget and thinking of him in any other way was difficult, especially with no hint whatsoever that he could be gone. It was a punch to the stomach and honestly it was a few hours before I could clearly think about the trade on its merits.
There are a never ending number of statistics and it is usually easy to pick and choose numbers to make any case you want to make. In this case, looking at the numbers between JaVale McGee and Nene and it is a landslide. Nene tops McGee in True Shooting Percentage thanks to McGee’s horrible free throw shooting, assists/assist rate and usage rate. In nearly every other category McGee surpasses Nene. PER, field goal percentage, rebound rate, blocks, turnover rate, they all favor McGee.
Looking at the points per possession numbers from mySynergySports, McGee wins the offensive numbers while Nene has better points per possession allowed stats on defense. There is one big red flag and this is for those who think McGee is a major upgrade over Nene defensively because he is a better rebounder and shot blocker, mySynergySports has Nene is 98th in the league allowing 0.79 points per possession on defense. McGee is 388th credited with allowing 1.04 points per possession.
The two biggest stats that are in McGee’s favor are 24 and 2.46. The first is McGee’s age making him more than five years younger than Nene. The second is his salary this season in millions making him more than $10 million cheaper, but we will get into that a little later.
By many metrics, McGee is already the better player while being significantly younger and cheaper than Nene.
On the court
As I mentioned above, we all know Nene’s game. He can look like a dominant All-Star one quarter and like a ten day contract player the next. He is not explosive, but moves incredibly well. He has great hands is a very good passer and can handle the ball. He has the ability to be a very good defensive player, especially on the pick and roll. However, that extra effort that used to make him stand out is no longer there. He does not hustle to beat his man to the spot in the post. He sags back far too often on the pick and roll. Offensively, he plays too soft around the rim and has never been the rebounder he looks like he should be.
Still, Nene was a very good fit on the Nuggets. He could score on the block and even though he typically had an advantage over whoever was defending him, he was content to be a secondary or even tertiary weapon on offense. He could pass well making him a nice cog in the offense when everyone was moving. He runs the floor well and finishes effectively. Even when he made mistakes, you got the sense he knew what he should have done.
McGee’s game seems very highlight oriented. Sometimes the highlight is good in the form of a gravity defying dunk or an incredible rejection. Other times it is stunningly bad like running back on defense when his team gets an offensive rebound or trying to dunk from five feet to far from the basket. He is widely considered a player who has all the tools, but lacks the feel and focus to take advantage of them.
Even if McGee never gets any better, he still brings talents that Denver needs. We already mentioned his rebounding and shot blocking. He runs the floor more frequently than Nene does and will provide another option on the break along with Kenneth Faried and Corey Brewer.
Speaking of Faried as Charlie tweeted and wrote on this space earlier, removing Nene from the equation means the power forward spot in Denver now belongs to the Manimal. McGee and Faried could be the best rebounding duo Denver has had in years although at the peak of his powers in Denver Marcus Camby could be considered a rebounding duo all by himself.
If McGee can learn the nuances of team defense and not just snipe for blocked shots like some big men both past and present tend to do from time to time, Denver could have a stifling defensive team. McGee the long and athletic center, Faried the long, although admittedly undersized, power forward, Dainlo Gallinari has great size at small forward and has the potential to be a solid team defender, Arron Afflao has shown tremendous defensive abilities in the past with Ty Lawson providing quickness at the point. Add in players like the soon to be signed Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewe, nubile rookie Julyan Stone and big men Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos and Denver could be fantastic defensively.
On offense it is possible things could flow even more smoothly without Nene clogging up the middle of the court on the block and bogging things down when he would hold the ball deciding what to do. The addition of McGee also provides another solid offensive rebounder to pair with Faried’s exceptional offensive rebounding talent.
This is the real kicker. Nene’s contract was palatable at this point, not even a year into its five year term. After being faced with losing Nene, the fact the contract did not escalate into larger and large salaries year after year made it even easier to forget that paying Nene $13 million a year into his 30’s might be a hindrance to the team payroll.
To their credit, Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke apparently realized that from the start as they were reportedly shopping Nene all season long. This trade will clear over $6 million off the books this season, although the prorated savings is likely closer to $2 million. More importantly, if McGee does not pan out, it clears $13 million off the books over the next four seasons.
The short term savings have apparently allowed Denver to meet the financial requirements to sign Wilson Chandler. The long term savings will provide the room to keep Chandler and sign Lawson to an extension if they so choose.
The big question is does Denver resign McGee next summer? He will be a Restricted Free Agent following the season. I strongly believe the Nuggets are interested in McGee long term. If he is not retained then Denver will have basically dumped Nene’s salary for next to nothing. McGee is rumored to have some lofty expectations for his next contract. However, if he can be signed to a reasonable deal Denver can keep the current core of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallo, Faried, Chandler, McGee, Koufos, Harrington, Mozgov, Brewer, Hamilton, and Stone together for the next two seasons. At that point Birdman’s contract comes off the books and Harrington’s contract is only half guaranteed allowing room below the tax line for Faried to be extended.
Of course much can happen between now and then, but the Nuggets will go forward with virtually no bad contracts and a young core to watch grow for the foreseeable future.
Denver did not just acquire JaVale McGee, they also garnered Ronny Turiaf, a future second round pick from the Clippers and possibly a sizeable trade exception.
Turiaf has not played since New Year’s Day, due to an injured hand, but was active for Washington’s game in Dallas on Tuesday the 13th. Turiaf is a tough player, a good shot blocker and a very willing defender. I suspect he would endear himself quickly to George Karl. The question is how long will he be around. Denver now has the maximum 15 players on the roster. In order to sign Chandler, one of them will need to be disposed of. I suspect Turiaf is the most likely candidate to be bought our or waived, but it would not be surprising to see one of the youngsters let go. Turiaf would surely get picked up by the Heat or Celtics or other contending team so a buy out resulting in Denver saving a little more cash should be a possibility.
ESPN and NBATV are both reporting the second round pick from the Clippers is going to the Wizards. The Nuggets official press release claims that pick belongs to them. With all the confusion that has gone on in the last 12 hours, I am giving the two media giants a pass and believing the Nuggets. I am pretty sure they know what they received in the trade.
There has been no official confirmation on this, but as was mentioned in the initial post announcing the trade, John Hollinger who is one of the sharpest analysts out there, projected that Denver could have acquired a $13 million TPE or traded player exception from Washington for Nene. Denver has had several large exceptions over the years starting with the Marcus Camby trade. These exceptions last for one calendar year from the time they are received and cannot be combined with a player or another exception. The TPE is basically a hole in the cap that would allow the Nuggets to acquire a player or players via trade whose salary is less than $13 million without sending any salary back. Hollinger is speculating that Denver brought McGee and Turiaf onboard with the trade exception they acquired from trading Raymond Felton to Portland. It is a fantastic tool to have available and while the chances of Denver bringing in an eight figure salary are slim to none, it provides the additional flexibility when dealing with other trades.
The Front Office
Whether you agree with this trade or not, the Nuggets management has made another decisive move. They realized the risk that Nene’s contract posed to the future of the team and instead of hoping things would work out, they were active in making sure they received something in exchange for Nene before it was too late. The easy thing to do would have been to wait a year or two and see what their options were. They were decisive and reportedly began looking for a trade partner early in the season offering Nene to the Kings in exchange for DeMarcus Cousins when he was suspended by Paul Westphal.
I also give them credit for realizing this team for what it is, a good team capable of beating anyone anywhere that was not a serious contender. The most optimistic fans may have thought the Nuggets could make a playoff run, but it had become painfully apparent that was highly unlikely, even once the team was back at full strength. Kudos to Ujiri and Kroenke for being realistic about the state of the team, something many in their position fail to do.
While McGee is a good prospect and a true center I have to wonder if he was the best option for Denver. I am sure many teams were not interested in Nene for the same reasons Denver wanted to trade him. However, I have to wonder what other options were available. Could Denver have nabbed a high draft pick or two from a desperate team such as Charlotte or New Jersey? Could they have thought bigger and packaged Nene with Ty Lawson for Pau Gasol?
If Denver was indeed looking to move Nene for months since the start of the season, I am confident they did their due diligence and found the best deal for them.
Knowing Nene was going to be an Unrestricted Free Agent and likely command a larger annual salary than he was receiving previously ($10.5 million if memory serves), why wait to trade him until now when his value is lowered by his contract? What if the Wizards had realize they were rebuilding and had no need for a 30 year-old veteran center/power forward? I wonder why they did not explore this option at the last trade deadline? Maybe his upcoming UFA status might have hurt his value a little, but surely it would not have been as much as his current contract did.
There is also the McGee is a knucklehead angle. If Karl struggled to reach J.R. Smith, won’t he have the same issues with McGee?
As I consider all the various categories my ultimate conclusion is that this was a good, but certainly not great, trade for Denver. McGee will bring more energy and potential to the Nuggets while allowing them to fulfill their goal of keeping this team together and giving the young core plenty of time to grow together.
I am undoubtedly sad to see Nene go and I wish him well in D.C. I have been the one harping on how Denver needs to rebuild and this is certainly a small step in that direction. As you peruse Denver’s roster everyone is 26 or younger except for Andre Miller, Harrington, Birdman and the short timer Turiaf.
I am sad to see Nene go and I hope he does well in D.C. This is undoubtedly a good trade for the Nuggets and it will be exciting to see what McGee can become in the Mile High City.
In closing I will just send my condolences to Orlando Magic fans who after going through a year of rumors, speculation and innuendo are destined to go through all the same silliness all over again. I could not imagine going through what we did with Carmelo for two seasons. At least the team can feel unified for a playoff run.
I do not like the Trail Blazers. Not one bit. I remember a night where they beat the Nuggets probably more than 20 years ago and I was so frustrated I had to go outside and shoot baskets in my driveway despite the fact it was zero degrees and the driveway was covered with snow and ice. Even so, my heart goes out to their fans for what they have gone through the past year. Watching the Nuggets/Thunder game tonight on the day when Portland waived Greg Oden I had to wonder what thins would be like if Portland had selected Kevin Durant first and OKC was saddled with Oden.
Of course I snapped out of it and selfishly, I am bummed Denver does not get to play the Blazers again this season.