Rumor has it that the Nuggets maintain some interest in unrestricted free agent F Grant Hill. Hill is a seasoned veteran who has seen it all. He battled his way back from years of serious injuries and silenced his doubters by becoming an effective, dependable player over the past three seasons. That the 36-year-old played in all of Phoenix’s 82 games last season demonstrates the degree to which he takes care of his body, as well as his passion for the game. Hill cares about his teammates and, as George Karl so often says, he plays the game the right way. Considering Karl’s penchant for smart veteran players, it is easy to see why the coach would like to acquire Hill.
Hill would be a valuable personality to have on the bench. However, his size and skill set do not fulfill any of the Nuggets’ offseason needs. The Nuggets are on the verge of re-signing Linas Kleiza to a 1-year deal at the Qualifying Offer of $2.7 million. Hill, like Kleiza, is a 6’8” small forward. Signing both Hill and Kleiza would be foolish because they would vie to fulfill the same role…a role that Kleiza is better suited for on the Nuggets.
While Hill (12.3 ppg) averaged nearly three more points per game than Kleiza (9.9 ppg) in ’08-‘09, he did so by averaging 7 more minutes of playing time per game. Hill (2.3 ast) is a better facilitator than the much younger Kleiza (.8 ast), but he can no longer get out on the wing and run the floor as well as Kleiza, which is what the Nuggets need out of a bench small forward. It is true that Kleiza has his share of oncourt issues, and it is clear that Hill is years past his. However, the 24-year-old Kleiza remains a work in progress. Kleiza is already somewhat of a bargain player at $2.7 million, and he would be an incredible steal if he improves his defense and regains his ’06-’07 shooting touch (37% 3pts on 227 attempts). Let’s also remember that Kleiza still shot about 33% on 267 attempts from beyond the arc last season, which is much better than Hill’s 31% on only 76 attempts. The Nuggets need athleticism and 3-point shooting off the bench that Kleiza, unlike Hill, can actually offer the team.
Plus, the Nuggets need to add size to their frontcourt this summer. No matter who backs up Carmelo Anthony at small forward, it is imperative that the Nuggets acquire a long, offensively skilled PF/C. I wrote a long column yesterday about why unrestricted free agent PF/C Rasheed Wallace would be perfect for the Nuggets. After thinking about it again last night, I still cannot think of a better player for the Nuggets to go after. Yet, for the sake of argument, let’s assume from the front office’s interest in Hill that Kroenke wants to maintain financial flexibility and Karl desires a more easy going veteran presence than the volatile ‘Sheed.
Rather than pursue Hill, the Nuggets should look to acquire PF Tim Thomas from the Chicago Bulls. The 6’10” Thomas would add one more big body to the frontcourt, and he would bolster Denver’s offense because his game is similar to that of a small forward: he possesses the ability to post-up and can also move outside and consistently drill three-point shots. His skill set complements the Birdman’s game nicely. Furthermore, his $6 million contract expires at the end of the upcoming season. The Bulls currently have a logjam at power forward and center (Note: Tyrus Thomas is already complaining about the minutes he must play next season) and are in need of help at small foward, so the Nuggets could probably package Steven Hunter and Renaldo Balkman to acquire Thomas. The salaries match and Hunter and Balkman’s contracts also expire at the end of the season.
Unrestricted free agent PF Drew Gooden is another option for the Nuggets. He is a strong 6’10,” and his presence in the post would help the Nuggets on offense. On the other hand, Gooden is an incredibly poor defender, his offensive game only flourishes when he plays over 25 mpg, and he is known as somewhat of an eccentric locker room personality; I mean, he did grow a beard on the back of his neck during the playoffs two years ago. Considering the market and his less than stellar play for the Spurs at the end of last season, the Nuggets could probably acquire Gooden in a sign and trade for around $5 million per year, putting him in the same ballpark as Wallace or Thomas. However, the Nuggets would then have to sign him to a multi-year contract, and he certainly does not (and should not) fit into the team’s plans beyond next season.
Zaza Pachulia is an intriguing possibility for the Nuggets to consider. Pachulia is an unrestricted free agent, who played center for the Atlanta Hawks last season. He is quite large at 6’11” and 275 pounds, and he demonstrated strength and above average defensive instincts when he matched up against Kevin Garnett in the first round of the ’07-’08 playoffs. Pachulia’s hardnosed play against Garnett is one of the main reasons the Hawks managed to extend that series to seven games.
Pachulia would team up well with Nene in the post. Pachulia’s size and strength would allow Nene to focus less on rebounding (something he is not that good at in the first place) and more on getting out on the fast break and scoring in the low post. The drawbacks to Pachulia are his offensive inconsistencies and his mental lapses on defense. He has a tendency to slip out of position, which is why he only averaged a meager .3 blocks per game in 20 mpg last season (a pathetic .6 blks per 40 min). A center of his size should never average so few blocks in so many minutes. However, pairing Pachulia with Birdman and Martin would make up for his inability to block and steal the basketball.
Even so, Pachulia is not worth the substantial money the Nuggets would owe him long-term through a sign and trade. The 25-year-old from Tbilisi made $4 million in the final year of his contract with the Hawks, and his agent is seeking a multi-year offer in the neighborhood of $6 million per season. If the Nuggets want to trade for a solid PF/C who they can pay big money and lock up long-term, they should think outside the box and do whatever it takes to acquire Mehmet Okur or Andrea Bargnani (Note: I’ve thought of several creative trade scenarios for each of these players that I’ll write about later in the week).
The Nuggets however are not going to shell out a large amount of money to any single player this summer. They have too many players to re-sign and too large a hole to fill in their frontcourt, no pun intended. This is why the Nuggets must pursue Rasheed Wallace. He fulfills all of the Nuggets’ basketball and fiscal needs. The fact that I even mentioned Tim Thomas in this column is unbelievable considering Wallace is sitting there just waiting to be picked up. Furthermore, Joe Dumars is sitting alongside ‘Sheed waiting for a reason to not trade him to Boston or Cleveland. At the risk of sounding redundant, Denver has a serious need for ‘Sheed!