The Denver Nuggets caught the NBA world by surprise Thursday when they traded their longest-tenured player Nene for center JaVale McGee.
It was a move that had to be done, but one that came as a surprise for not only the fans but also the Nuggets coaches and players.
‘“It was tough,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “That was like a shocker. The wow factor was crazy. We didn’t have a clue that was going down. It was crazy to come here and see (Nene’s) name not even there.”
The biggest question after the move is: Are the Nuggets still a playoffs team? Funny to think about because Nene was a solid core player but his loss shouldn’t impact the Nuggets that much. However, Denver is replacing a center who had played 44 playoff games with one that hasn’t even come close to the playoffs. And they are also adding a young, out-of-control personality to a young and fragile squad.
While talking about the trade, Masai Ujiri stated that the Nuggets felt like they wanted to go younger – which isn’t a bad idea. However, if you are a fringe playoff team you want an experienced veteran player to take that extra leap – not another project big man to play with fellow young players – who already are struggling with consistency and late-game decisions.
The move makes the Nuggets younger and a lot more fun to watch and on paper McGee is a better player. However, he is also a player that has been a headache for coaches and George Karl is a no-nonsense coach and isn’t afraid of benching players if they don’t buy into his system. In January, Karl stated his displeasure with McGee’s mother, Pam McGee and her opinion on her son’s playing time.
Let’s see. Do I trust Flip Saunders, or do I trust a player’s minutes to his mother’s comments?
There is speculation that Karl can develop McGee into another Shawn Kemp, but if Nuggets fans remember the JR Smith-era that more than likely will not be the case. The player has to want it and in the case with Smith and also with Tim Thomas (who was on Karl’s Buck squad), the heart never matched the talent. If McGee brings a similar attitude, Karl will not think twice about turning to Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, Chris Andersen, Al Harrington or Kenneth Faried.
HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW
- THE KNUGGETS ARE HERE TO STAY: The Nuggets are going to win or lose with the players they got from the Carmelo Anthony-trade. Koufos and Danilo Gallinari have already signed extensions, Wilson Chandler will sign a multi-year deal with Denver and Mozgov is also signed on through 2013.
- THE NUGGETS NEED A LOW-POST SCORER: Nene wasn’t a go-to big man, but he gave the Nuggets at least a solid low-post option. And now without him, Denver lacks a polished big man that can score in the paint. Harrington has a few array of moves in the paint, but he also spends part of the time floating on the perimeter. Faried is still raw on the offensive side of the ball. Koufos may be the Nuggets best scorer in the post, but his moves are still being refined. Mozgov has been too passive to show his ability in the paint and newly acquired McGee is much better in the fast break.
- THE NUGGETS GOT YOUNGER: Last season the Dallas Mavericks won the title with a group of veterans and that experience has paid off especially in their two wins against the Nuggets. Denver’s roster will soon have 12 players that are under the age of 26. The Nuggets three veterans, Andersen, Andre Miller and Harrington have played in a combined 121 playoff games. The rest of the team have only played in 71 playoff games, combined.
WHERE DO THE NUGGETS GO FROM HERE?
- MCGEE IS GOING TO GET PAID: It’s a Catch-22 with McGee. He plays well, you can expect him to want a deal close to $14 million a year. He doesn’t play well and the Nuggets miss the playoffs then Denver will have to make the tough decision if they want him the long run. Part of the reason why the Wizards made the deal is to rid themselves of that headache.
- GROWING PAINS: This has been a very inconsistent season for the Nuggets, with a lot highlights and a lot of lowlights to go with a lot of injuries and transitions. With such a young inexperienced squad, mistakes will happen and frustration will occur, but there also will be growth. The biggest fear right now is if Denver drops two or three games, does this young squad have a strong enough psyche to battle through it. That is when McGee can prove that he is ‘not a loser just because I was on a losing team’.
- IT WILL TAKE TIME: This is another adjustment for the squad as they need to adapt to – a new player and his style. No doubt Nene was a close teammates for a few of his colleagues. Danilo Gallinari was particularly close and no doubt Chris Andersen, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo (the trio were teammates with Nene the longest) are dealing with change – for better or worst. It will also take a few games for the Nuggets to get used to playing together and it may be at the worst time too. Denver is currently in seventh place in the Western Conference, half a game ahead of the Houston Rockets and only two games ahead of the Phoenix Suns. They have only three games left on their nine-game homestand and no doubt the expectation was to go at least 7-2. However, with another change to the lineup the Nuggets may be lucky to go 5-4. After that Denver plays 13 of the next 19 games on the road and with a younger squad getting road wins won’t be as easy.
- LOTTERY-BOUND?: No doubt one of the biggest reasons for the trade is the Nuggets brass felt Nene wasn’t worth the money they invested in him and didn’t like the direction the team was going. Now they have flexibility both financially and within the roster. There shouldn’t be any expectations for this team to win right now, especially with a team in transition. They may make a miraculous run like they did last year, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing to miss the playoffs this year – especially with the amount of talent in this year’s draft.
Topics: Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Chris Andersen, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, George Karl, Houston Rockets, J.R. Smith, JaVale McGee, JR Smith, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Masai Ujiri, Nene, Phoenix Suns, Timofey Mozgov, Ty Lawson