As it stands, I’m at my computer early Friday morning. Yesterday the Nuggets were involved in trade talks that included four teams, with Dwight Howard — most notably — going to the Lakers and Andre Iguodala being shipped to Denver. I hesitated to make anything of it, because let’s face it, we’ve been down this road before. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a Dwight Howard trade rumor this summer I’d have a lot of nickels. However, this time it appears to be for real. According to ESPN.com the Nuggets will receive Andre Iguodala in return for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a future first-round selection in the NBA Draft. If this is true — which it looks to be — here are five initial observations from the Nuggets point of view…
1. The Nuggets like Andre Iguodala’s defense
Let’s face it: Masai Ujiri didn’t call up Rod Thorn and the rest of the 76ers front office in search of an elite scorer. Although once a blossoming offensive threat, “Iggy” has now carved out a career as a versatile player with a wide-ranging skill set who specializes in defense. At this point in his career Iggy is known as one of the better perimeter defenders in the entire world; in fact, many see him as the very best. He recently placed seventh in 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year voting and is highly regarded by journalists and bloggers alike who cover the NBA on a daily basis. As one of the worst defensive teams in the entire league last year, the Nuggets will greatly benefit from Iggy’s presence on that side of the floor.
2.The Nuggets didn’t get a discount this time around
For the first time during Masai Ujiri’s tenure in Denver, I can actually look at a trade and say he paid a hefty price for what he received in return. This is by no means to say the trade was bad or ill-advised — just that what he gave up was costly. Al Harrington has erroneously become a scapegoat for the Nuggets downfalls by many fans, yet they so easily forget how well he played through the first half of the season in which many pundits had him pegged as an early favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year ahead of James Harden. Harrington laid his health and pride on the line, never once complaining about coming off the bench, playing out of position or having to battle through numerous injuries. In the end, he was a veteran presence who was reliable and could score at will most of the time. Additionally, the last two years of his contract were only partially guaranteed, making him that much less of a risk.
Meanwhile Afflalo — what can’t you say about Afflalo, other than: This one hurts. He had just signed a long-term deal to remain with the Nuggets — the team that first gave him an opportunity to be the player he eventually evolved into — and he’s already out the door. Masai Ujiri is doing his job damn well, but seeing players like Afflalo go is a harsh reminder of the ugly side of the business that is professional basketball. Not only did Afflalo improve every year in Denver, but he poured his heart and soul into the game to become the best teammate he could possibly be. All the “experts” continue to laugh at the haul Orlando received for Dwight Howard (which really wasn’t that bad, all things considered), but the simple fact they wanted Afflalo above all the potential players discussed, says everything you need to know about just how coveted he is around the league.
Throwing a future first-round pick into the deal is icing on the cake for Orlando, and a tough pill to swallow for Denver. Right now it’s just a trade piece, but a few years down the line it could end up being the next Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Jordan Hamilton or… Arron Afflalo — all late, first-round selections over the last handful of years who Denver fans have come to know as pillars of their favorite franchise. The pick is reportedly protected, however the exact stipulations are unknown at this time.
3. This was not a cost-cutting maneuver
Twitter was blowing up following the trade with prominent writers praising how Denver “shed” nearly $45 million in future salary. I cannot stress just how incorrect this notion really is. Denver didn’t shed anything besides two quality players and a first-round draft pick. Harrington is still a very productive NBA players who’s contract is only partially guaranteed over the the final two years of his deal. Afflalo is a young, ever-improving, hard-working, team-first, defensive-minded sharp shooter coming off the best year of his career in which he averaged 18 points per game post All-Star break. He’s getting paid roughly $7.5 million per year throughout the prime of his career. Meanwhile, Iguodala is owed close to $30 million over the next two years (he has a player option in 2013-14) and is in line for a hefty extension after that. Does anyone think Iggy is going to magically decide he wants to be underpaid after cashing in on such a lucrative deal with the 76ers? At this same time guys like Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton will be itching for a big payday, which should come just a year or two after Ty Lawson gets his. The point is: In order to possess a team in the NBA, you have to pay a fee. I know this might shatter the reality of many NBA purists, but sometimes long-term contracts are actually good deals. Afflalo was one of them; Iguodala currently is not.
4. The Nuggets wanted Quincy Miller all along
This is really no surprise. Letting perhaps the biggest steal of the 2012 NBA Draft walk for nothing would have been beyond idiotic, however the haste in which Masai Ujiri opened up a roster spot for him is interesting. NBA teams only have a finite amount of time to offer contracts to draft picks before they become free agents, yet the Nuggets seemed to have no interest in testing this deadline. Roundball Mining Company even had an article set to air this week that proposed which player our writers would drop in order to absorb Miller onto the 15-man roster because we were so confident in Ujiri’s insistence that the Nuggets wanted to move forth with their roster intact. So much for that idea. This move now opens up the final roster spot for Quincy Miller.
5. Denver is still starless
Another trade, another slight upgrade. At some point you have to wonder just how much the Nuggets are spinning their wheels. It is somewhat ironic that Denver helped facilitate the trade of a superstar to a big-market powerhouse knowing all along that’s the exact type of move they need to be making in order to compete for a title in today’s NBA. I love the addition of Iguodala. He’s a great fit for the Nuggets. I still think Ujiri gave up a lot and I absolutely hate seeing Afflalo go, but at the end of the day I’m more than comfortable with the trade. Here’s the problem: Iggy is a great step in the right direction but he’s not the solution. It’s time to start looking for the solution. The Nuggets have done an outstanding job (I cannot say enough, actually) collecting assets and placing themselves in a position to capitalize on a trade for someone like Howard, but each move like this leaves the team with one less inciting asset to include in a blockbuster deal should it present itself. I would have loved to see the Nuggets go after Pau Gasol even if it meant surrendering a large chuck of their assets. He’s someone the Lakers were willing to part with in order to obtain the larger goal of securing Dwight Howard. If parting with Danilo Gallinari and a few extra pieces would have been required to get it done, then so be it, because that’s the type of move the Nuggets absolutely must make at some point if they plan on contending for a title. What’s clear is that the Nuggets just engaged in one of the biggest trades of all time involving three of the best big men the game has seen in years as well as numerous other possibilities and they essentially just paid for an upgrade at shooting guard. Let’s hope these wheels kick into high gear soon.