Category Archives: Nuggets

The Marshall Plan

How crazy is B-Marsh? Should we even care?

How crazy is B-Marsh? Should we even care?

Hypocrisy stands at the root of my issues with embattled Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall. His freakish strength and unparalleled ability to create plays after the catch do not mitigate his criminal record. It is the NFL’s duty to discipline Marshall when he steps out of line. As long as Marshall beats a criminal charge and escapes the League Office, it is legitimate that he dresses on Sundays. Protest the franchise, burn a jersey, or even picket on the stadium’s steps, but rest assured that nothing will keep Marshall out of the starting lineup if he is healthy and unsuspended.

It is nevertheless damning that Marshall continues to surface as a suspect in domestic abuse cases across the country. It is far too easy for Marshall to settle these disputes inside or outside of a courtroom for us to not remain at least cautiously critical of his character; I know Harvey Steinberg nodded his head and smiled when he read this last sentence. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ may allow Marshall to remain on the field and earn his living, but our common sense should forbid him from advising children.

This is not to say that a person who has erred greatly does not deserve a second chance. Remorse at the hands of deep reflection occasionally qualifies a public offender to tell others cautionary tales about what not to do. Our city however can no longer trust Brandon Marshall. His “genuine” remorse expired two arrests ago.

Marshall has always managed to avoid jail time. He has also managed to worm his way back into the positive spotlight time and time again. His publicist and the Denver Post have made all of this possible. But enough is enough. If the judicial system exonerates Marshall and Roger Goodell clears him to play, so be it. He is nothing more than an All-Pro wide receiver on an offensively depleted roster. As a fan, I hope he continues to score touchdowns in orange and blue. I also hope for his sake that he earns a fair salary, considering he risks his life every time he steps onto the turf. Yet, I hope most of all that Denver ceases to offer him the opportunity to say he is sorry.

Shannahan could not get Marshall to act like a gentleman off the field. Will McD even try?

Shannahan could not get Marshall to act like a gentleman off the field. Will McD even try?

This is the only way that Marshall will ‘get it’ from here on out. The prepared statements Marshall reads to reporters and releases through his attorneys can no longer suffice. The Denver Post needs to remove itself from this public relations fiasco by saying “no” to Marshall’s publicist. Articles about Marshall’s involvement with Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives should never again appear in an issue of the Post. The kids at ODYGA deserve better from Marshall and their city’s paper. Both have used these at risk kids as PR pawns. Celebrity athletes only get one shot at being a mentor. Marshall failed. The media therefore must stop trying to turn Brandon Marshall into a positive societal story.

Casting Marshall as a mentor is partially what got us to this point of no return. The media and the Broncos tried to convince the public that Marshall is something he is not: a humanitarian. He is nothing more than a confused athlete with anger management issues. Though he has never been proven guilty, he has lost his credibility within our city. He publicly apologized and promised he could change. More importantly, Marshall used ODYGA as a road to redemption. Yet, he continues to let all of us down. Why would we want to be aware of anything this man thinks beyond his postgame reactions on Sundays?

Laud Marshall’s on-field courage and feel free to label him an athletic specimen, but it is best to refrain from speculating about his off-field persona. Stick to football-related questions when it comes to Number 15 because that is all he understands. Plus, we have already devoted far too much spotlight to his questionable character, poor judgment, and pithy public apologies.

Hi, my name is Brandon Marshall, which in ancient Greek means "one who takes part in 7 domestic disputes in 3 states in a 4-year span." Pretty sweet name, right? I totally rack up numbers on and off the field.

Hi, my name is Brandon Marshall, which in ancient Greek means: "One who engages in 7 domestic disputes in 3 states in a 4-year span." Pretty sweet name, right? I totally rack up numbers on and off the field.

We can focus on the box score and forget about the humanitarian formerly known as Brandon Marshall, but how does a fan put morals aside and pull for an athlete like Marshall? What, if anything, does a professional athlete owe his or her fans and community?

These are pertinent questions as JR Smith enters the penitentiary, Michael Vick is released from federal custody, and Marshall heads to training camp in a week and a courtroom later this fall.

Charles Barkley once said, “Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Chuck was absolutely correct. It is not a professional athlete’s responsibility to raise a community’s children. Parents must teach their children to distinguish right from wrong. Furthermore, an NBA power forward’s job is to perform in the paint, not educate local youths or volunteer on all his off-days. Though athletes can significantly improve a community by organizing charity events and spearheading positive local causes, it is ultimately an athlete’s personal decision whether he or she embraces community activism.

The general public often forgets this crucial fact because fans and media are so quickly lost amidst the fortune and fame of professional sports. It is nonetheless important to bear in mind that these gifted men and women are still individual citizens. They (usually) pay their taxes just like the rest of us, which entitles them to choose their own path and spend their money as they see fit. It is therefore naïve and idealistic to assume all player contracts are social contracts, as well. As long as an athlete fulfills his or her league and/or team’s community service requirements and obeys the law, the public cannot condemn an athlete for not exerting extra humanitarian effort.

By extension of Chuck’s logic, it becomes the public’s duty to highly scrutinize those professional athletes who have publicly sought and accepted roles as mentors within our community. We should commend athletes who uphold their public promises and remain consistent by criticizing those who fail to meet the lofty, well-publicized expectations they set for themselves. The integrity of our city hinges upon our collective ability to wade through celebrity rhetoric, discerning right from wrong, the genuine from the fraudulent, and the faces we can trust from those that will only let us down.

Furthermore, human experience demonstrates that few things are more frustrating and potentially harmful than teachers who neglect to practice what they preach.

JR just realized that 3 times 10 equals 30. Congrats, JR! Now you can quantify the number of days you have to sit in jail. If you didn't have such a great attorney, you would have spent 3 times as many days in jail. Work on that equation and get back to me.

JR just realized that 3 times 10 equals 30. Congrats, JR! Now you can quantify the number of days you have to spend in jail. If you didn't have such a great attorney, you would have been sentenced to 3 times as many days. Solve that equation and get back to me.

Brandon Marshall and JR Smith are like family members who you secretly dislike, but you are obligated to treat with civility. The NFL and NBA League Offices are your grandparents, and the Broncos and Nuggets’ management are only your mother and father. As long as your grandparents keep a relative in the family, no one else can kick him or her out. You do not have to love these players or respect their personal choices, but you might as well try and make the best of their performances in Denver.

That said, feel free to say whatever you like when your bothersome “relatives” are not around…or when you are not watching the game of the week.

The citizens of Denver are entitled to hold the city’s professional athletes to a certain standard of decency. A season ticket holder obviously reserves the right to complain about any member of the organization he or she has invested his or her money in; this goes for rude ushers and subpar chefs, as well as criminal shooting guards and abusive wideouts. However, Colorado’s non-season ticket holders and non-sports fans also deserve to be heard.

The citizens of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson County have paid $11.45 annually since 1991 to subsidize the construction of Coors Field; this tax expires in 2011 or when the stadium is paid off. The city of Denver gave the Broncos a $15 million stadium site for $1, and we tax ourselves a penny on every $10 spent in metro-Denver to pay for the field Brandon Marshall makes his money on. Pat Bowlen and Co. only paid for 25% of the new $400 million Mile High Stadium, while taxpayers agreed to contribute over $250 million to the project.*

Also, do you recall what happened to the sale of the Avalanche and Nuggets during the months before the Pepsi Center opened in 1999? Mayor Wellington Webb successfully blocked Donald Sturm’s purchase of the Avalanche, Nuggets, and Pepsi Center. Sturm refused to include a clause in the sale that prohibited moving the Avalanche and Nuggets out of Denver for the next twenty-five years. Webb argued that the city of Denver  had every right to be weary of selling these franchises to Sturm, considering the millions of dollars taxpayers had contributed to the teams in tax breaks, infrastructure costs, and other subsidies. Of Mayor Webb’s actions, author Dennis R. Judd wrote, “The city’s ability to veto the Sturm deal gave it leverage over future sales; it also indicates that other cities can establish conditions on selling publicly subsidized facilities that can enhance their odds of gaining a return on these investments.”

    Look, it's Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg! Oh my bad, that's just Michael Clayton. I get them confused because they both make a living performing miracles for less than admirable people.

Look, it's Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg! Oh my bad, that's just Michael Clayton. I get them confused because they both make a living performing miracles for less than admirable people.

The Broncos, Nuggets, Avalanche, and Rockies are privately owned, but they are still public entities. The jerseys our city’s pros don represent more than the organizations they play for. Those logos are funded by your tax dollars, giving you the right to critique each and every player in Denver.

All that I ask is that we criticize carefully. Consider all of the facts and occasionally put yourself in an athlete or owner’s shoes when forming your own opinions. The Broncos should not trade Brandon Marshall because the NFL League Office has not significantly punished him. He has a discouraging off-field track record, but the Broncos still need to satisfy their fan base by winning games and making the playoffs. Furthermore, the Denver media can limit Marshall’s celebrity by refusing to publish stories about his personality. In the mean time, the public can do and say whatever it wishes.

Just do yourself a favor and heed your mother’s advice: think before you speak.

Here's the real Harvey Steinberg exitting a Denver courtroom with "fan favorite" Todd Sauerbrun. Such a gentleman, emphasis on the "gentle." Just ask the cab driver Todd assaulted.

Here's the real Harvey Steinberg exitting a Denver courtroom with "fan favorite" Todd Sauerbrun. Such a gentleman, emphasis on the "gentle." Just ask the cab driver Todd assaulted.

* Figures taken from Dennis R. Rudd’s 2003 book The Infrastructure of Play: Building the Tourist City

Videos:

Watch Brandon Marshall defend himself

Watch an interview with Marshall’s ex-girlfriend

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Go Get Gasol!

Look at Yao's face. He is extremely frustrated. This is exactly why the Nuggets need Marc Gasol.

Look at Yao's face. He is extremely frustrated. This is exactly why the Nuggets need Marc Gasol.

As I mentioned in my mailbag a couple days ago (even before the Afflalo trade), the Nuggets should seriously consider making a run at Marc Gasol. The trade the Nuggets completed yesterday puts the team in an excellent position to land the 7’1” Baby Gasol. This would in turn put the Nuggets in an excellent position to contend for an NBA title.

The Nuggets clearly need another offensively capable big man to complement Martin and Birdman’s defensive abilities, as well as take some of the heat off of Nene in the offensive paint. Marc Gasol is perfectly suited to fulfill this role. He is long, strong, and down to get the friction on (thanks, Sir Mix a Lot) in the low post. He has good strength at 265 pounds, makes powerful moves underneath the basket, is effective at drawing contact from defenders en route to the rim, and is a willing passer who looks to kick the ball out to an open teammate before taking his own shot from down low. He also possesses a nice right-handed hook shot.

Acquiring the Spaniard would finally give the Nuggets the size to push around the Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, and Magic. Adding Gasol would also make the Nuggets a much more versatile and less predictable team. Karl could start Gasol, shift Nene over to power forward, and bring Martin off the bench against a big team like the Lakers. Against smaller, quicker teams, such as the Spurs, Gasol come off the bench to spell Martin when the team needed height and/or an offensive boost in the post.

The 24-year-old has plenty of room to grow, and he’ll undoubtedly improve once Steve Hess gets him in the gym. Seriously, think about how much Hess helped Nene’s game. Gasol would be an absolute beast at a leaner, stronger 265 pounds.

Let’s take a quick look at some numbers. In fact, who better to compare Marc Gasol to than his big bro, perennial all-star Pau Gasol…

Per 40 minutes, Pau averaged 19.1 points 9.7 total rebounds and 3.1 offensive rebounds, 2.3 blocks, .5 steals, and 2.9 assists during his rookie NBA season. Last year was Marc’s first season in the NBA and he put up some pretty solid numbers himself. Marc’s per 40-minute stat line reads as follows: 15.5 points, 9.6 total rebounds and 3.3 offensive rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.04 steals, and 2.2 assists. Though Pau scored a few more points, Marc still held his own. One must keep in mind that Marc was the Grizzlies third scoring option last year behind OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay. Even LeBron’s numbers would dip if he played in a starting-five that included Mayo and Gay. Also, remember that Pau was the go-to-guy during his first year in Memphis. Every play ran through him. Therefore, Marc did a pretty solid job by managing 11.7 points 7.4 rebounds 1.1 blocks in 30 minutes per game last season. Those numbers are exactly what the Nuggets would need out of him. Furthermore, his defense would improve while playing for a better team and coach in Denver.

It is honestly a godsend that Gasol plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis GM Chris Wallace literally gives away Gasols to other Western Conference teams. Furthermore, Gasol became expendable last month when the Grizzlies drafted 7’3” C Hasheem Thabeet, and followed this selection by trading SF/SG Quentin Richardson to the Clippers for PF Zach Randolph. These subsequent moves leave Memphis with a crowded big man rotation. The franchise wants to develop Thabeet by keeping him on the court, Z-Bo is known to erupt if he does not receive ample playing time, and the team drafted 21-year-old PF Darrell Arthur last year. Arthur, the gifted former Jayhawk, played effectively in 19 minutes per game last season, and the team does not wish to suppress his development by slashing his minutes this year. Not to mention Memphis still has 7’2” Iranian center Hamed Haddadi on the roster.

Chris Wallace explains why he enjoys giving away Gasols. I think he is saying that the southern franchise finds the Gasols' facial hair unbecoming, and their Euro attitudes too liberal. Whatever, just give us Marc, Chris.

Chris Wallace explaining why he enjoys giving away Gasols. I think he is saying that the southern franchise finds the Gasols' facial hair unbecoming and their Euro attitudes too liberal and non-rigid. Whatever, Chris. Just give us Marc.

The Grizzlies’ offseason decisions also leave them devoid of smaller frontcourt reserves, shooting guards, and players in general. There are only eight players currently on the team’s roster (nine if you count Hakim Warrick, who will likely return at the QE). This is where the Nuggets come in. The Nuggets could re-sign Kleiza to the QE and then promptly trade him, Steven Hunter’s expiring contract, and Sonny Weems in exchange for Gasol. Both teams win in this trade.

Kleiza offers the Grizzlies instant offense from the bench, and is an upgrade over GF Marko Jaric. He is a better athlete than Jaric and more versatile because at 6’8” Kleiza can play 2-4. He is also a valuable (and cheap!) insurance policy behind OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, which the team needs now that Quentin Richardson is off to LA. The Grizzlies also receive an attractive $3.7 million expiring contract; the franchise can also increase its cap flexibility for the summer of 2010 should the front office choose to let Kleiza walk at the end of next season. Sonny Weems is a D-League star, who would likely blossom while playing significant minutes in Memphis since they lack shooting guards. This trade therefore gives Memphis much needed bench scoring, lands young talent at the right positions, and frees up at least $3.7 million in cap room next summer. Heck, throw in a 2011 1st round draft pick and if necessary a 2nd rounder to ensure Chris Wallace jumps at the deal. Landing Gasol at $3.3 million is far too rewarding a possibility to pass up.

Plus, it would be ideal to acquire Gasol at this stage of his career. His contract, like Martin’s, expires after the 2011 season. The Nuggets should add Gasol now so that he develops solid chemistry with Carmelo, JR, and Nene in hopes of keeping this nucleus together long-term with the cap space the Nuggets will have once the Great Martin Contract ends.

I’m going crazy here. The Nuggets and Grizzlies are two teams that need to make deals, each team possesses the necessary pieces, and Chris Wallace is involved. If anyone besides Mitch Kupchak can convince Wallace to give him Marc Gasol, it has to be NBA Executive of the Year Mark Warkentein.

Pau to Marc: You wanna come way out west wit me, right baby bro?!

Pau to Marc: You wanna come way out west wit me, right baby bro?!

This potential trade leaves the Nuggets with 11 players on the roster (I’ve included Birdman and Lawson). The Nuggets could follow up this trade by using the remainder of the MLE and/or minimum contract offers to fill their 4 remaining roster spots. The Nuggets still need a third point guard, and they should re-sign Anthony Carter to the minimum to fill this role. He knows the offense, is a good character guy, and Karl likes him. The Nuggets should then consider signing SF Matt Barnes. Barnes solidifies the Nuggets’ defense and 3-point shooting, and his presence could prove to be invaluable if Balkman and Afflalo are not ready to log playoff minutes; he would still end up costing at least $1.2 million less than Kleiza. The Nuggets could also offer this money to PF Tim Thomas, who was bought out by the Chicago Bulls earlier today. I discussed the merits of acquiring Thomas in my July 2nd column.

It is also true that the Nuggets possess some talent on their summer league team. The Nuggets therefore might consider signing a couple of these players to fill out the roster. Kareem Rush’s 3-point shooting and 6’6” body would be a nice addition, and Coby Karl is a smart player.

This deal makes far too much sense for it not to go down. As a fan, I cannot think of any offseason move that would excite me more than pairing Nene with a young 7-foot beast like Marc Gasol. Plus, the move helps Kroenke’s balance sheet because adding Gasol would increase the Nuggets’ international marketability. Come on, E. Stanley. He isn’t even that expensive. You can bank on Marc Gasol. Do it for the fans, por favor?

Food for thought:

Is anyone else tired of JR Smith? I know I am getting there. The Nuggets should consider trading JR Smith if he is what it takes to land Marc Gasol. JR is a brilliant (and lucky) shooter. And yes, his explosive offense did single-handedly win the Nuggets a few games last season. However, let’s not forget that JR is currently sitting in a jail cell because he ran a traffic light and killed his best friend. JR claims he has grown up, but I don’t buy it. He appeared on a live internet feed during an early morning traffic stop in New Jersey three weeks ago. Smith and Eddie Curry, an NBA prima donna who needs to get his life together and lose enough weight to run up and down the court, were passengers in the car that had been pulled over. The NBA players joked that they would give $1,000 to the first person in the SUV to run out of the stopped vehicle and tap the hood of the police cruiser. Way to go, Young Rich. Ask yourself, “Are these the actions of a true champion?” I think not. JR is currently too foolish and immature to play on a team destined to win an NBA title. I just do not see a team that he is a part of winning a ring. But the Grizzlies will not compete for a ring anytime soon and JR’s wild game would certainly sell some tickets in Memphis. The Nuggets might actually grow more disciplined, hungry, and competitive if they picked up Matt Barnes and dumped JR to land Gasol. Just something to consider…

Smith and his defense attorneys. Shouldn't he be in the gym? The face of an NBA champion? I think not.

Smith and his defense attorneys. Shouldn't he be in the gym? The face of an NBA champion? I think not.

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Arron Afflalo: Defensive Genius

Arron looks pretty good in powder blue.

Arron looks pretty good in powder blue.

Mark Warkentein treated Nuggets nation to a deep breath and moment of repose yesterday afternoon. The Nuggets upgraded and filled out their roster by acquiring SG Arron Afflalo and PF Walter Sharpe from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for a second-round draft pick. This trade is yet another savvy basketball and financial move by Mr. Warkentein, especially in the wake of Dahntay Jones’s departure to Indiana.

Due to the emergence of Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, Afflalo flew under the radar in Detroit. Expect him to be front and center in Denver. Afflalo, a defensive specialist, immediately becomes the Nuggets’ back-up shooting guard. Coach Karl will likely depend on him to slow down an opposing team’s most offensively potent guard. He is also an effective three-point shooter, who possesses a serious upside at 23 years of age.

Most importantly, Afflalo uses his head. He respects the game and understands that playing in the NBA is a privilege and not a right. Riding the bench behind Hamilton, Iverson, Stuckey, and Bynum taught him how to earn his minutes. He plays with desire at both ends of the court, and the Nuggets are markedly better for acquiring him. Wait a second. This 23-year-old sounds a little too good to be true. Upon further inspection, he kind of is.

Afflalo is an intelligent young man. As a freshman at UCLA, Afflalo made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll during his spring semester. Even as he spent countless hours in the gym and on the road pursuing an NCAA tournament bid, Afflalo maintained the discipline to go above and beyond in the classroom. Qualifying for the Honor Roll at UCLA is not easy. Making the Honor Roll at UCLA while simultaneously committing oneself to an elite Division I sports team is an incredible achievement.

Arron Afflalo’s story only gets better.

Afflalo improved drastically during his sophomore season at UCLA. He grew into the team’s leading scorer by averaging 15.8 points per contest, but he also led the Bruins’ defensive charge. Afflalo’s scoring and defensive prowess drove the Bruins all the way to the Final Four in 2006.

Afflalo put on a show during the 2006 NCAA Tourney, as he constantly came through on offense and defense in clutch situations. The sophomore shooting guard hit the game-winning three-point shot against Alabama, advancing the Bruins to the Sweet Sixteen. Yet, it was Afflalo’s tight defense down the stretch that turned his own shot into the game-winner. Alabama held the ball during the game’s final seconds, but Afflalo refused to back down and forced point guard Ronald Steele into missing the potential game-winning shot for the Crimson Tide. Afflalo demonstrated his two-way abilities again during UCLA’s upset over Memphis in the Elite Eight. He shut down Tigers leading scorer Rodney Carney, a player the Nuggets briefly considered acquiring this summer, and added 15 points as the Bruins reached the Final Four. I’d bet my season tickets that Mark Warkentein dissected that game tape in the past two weeks…

Afflalo’s most significant performance of the tournament came against Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. Afflalo scored 15 points and matched up well against 2006 Player of the Year Adam Morrison (remember him?) during the Bruins’ comeback victory. However, it was not Afflalo’s athletic abilities that set him apart during this particular night in Oakland. It was his head and heart.

Afflalo is a class act. After sparking the comeback that brought the Bruins to '06 Final Four, he helped Morrison off the floor. Arron, a sociology major at UCLA, really does understand people in the face of great societal pressures.

Afflalo is a class act. After sparking the comeback that brought the Bruins to the '06 Final Four, he helped Morrison off the floor. Arron, a sociology major at UCLA, really does understand people in the face of great societal pressures. Unfortunately for Adam, Arron didn't major in psychology.

The Bruins trailed the Bulldogs by 9 points with three minutes remaining in the game, but Afflalo’s team successfully rallied to reach the Elite Eight. The defeat crushed Morrison. He had played his heart out the entire season, and I’m fairly certain he left his soul on the court against UCLA that evening (Note: Morrison has never been the same since this game ended). After the final horn sounded, Morrison remained face down and inconsolable at center court. Before celebrating his first trip to the Final Four, Afflalo joined teammate Ryan Hollis, picked up the Gonzaga captain, and helped him off the floor. This act remains a defining display of NCAA sportsmanship.

For the record, Afflalo accomplished all of this before turning 21. His instincts seem to grow better with age. The following season Afflalo averaged 17.4 points per game and was voted Pac-10 Player of the Year. On winning the award, Afflalo stated, “It is good that contributions on both ends of the floor are recognized … If you truly have a love and passion for the game, then you should work at every aspect of it, not just the part that gives you (attention), that being scoring.” These words have to be music to George Karl’s ears, and it is easy to see why Chauncey emphatically endorsed Afflalo when the front office consulted him on the trade.

As Joe Sakic walks away from the Denver sports stage, it is comforting to see that the Nuggets are hiring quality personnel. The team already possessed a gentleman in Nene, but acquiring Chauncey gave the Nuggets a new identity. The Nuggets have grown into a classy bunch on the whole. I hope they build off of last season’s success not only by continuing to win, but also by accepting the challenge of acting as the full-time face of pro sports in Colorado. They are currently Denver’s most talented pro team, after all. Afflalo’s defense and three-point range will undoubtedly help the Nuggets rack up victories next season, and his small salary looks great on the team’s financial ledger. But I’m also confident that his presence will have a positive effect on his teammates, as well as the city’s perception of the franchise.

One thing remains certain. Afflalo is clearly a student of the game.

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Frye Foster by Chasing Channing

Channing Frye's face would look great in a Nuggets' team photo, and his dogs would look great in Wash Park.

Channing Frye's face would look great in a Nuggets' team photo, and his dogs would look great in Wash Park.

The Denver Nuggets are reportedly pursuing unrestricted free agent PF Channing Frye. This is not the first time the Nuggets have considered acquiring Frye. Former Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe was quite fond of the power forward following his rookie season with the New York Knicks in ’05-‘06. Considering Vandeweghe’s questionable personnel track record, it remains unclear how much stake to place in his fondness of certain NBA players.

Frye however demonstrated a high basketball IQ during his ’05-’06 rookie campaign. He set excellent screens at the top of the key, cut to the basket well, shot an accurate mid-range jumper, and even displayed above average athleticism when finishing at the rim. Frye was rather lean and lacked strength, but he used his 6’11” height to his advantage when crashing the lane for rebounds, put backs, and the occasional throw down slam. Then Knicks coach Larry Brown, who is known for his disdain for young players, trusted Frye enough to play him 24 minutes per game. Frye responded by putting up promising numbers in 65 games (12.3 pts 5.7 rebs 2.1 off rebs and 47.7% FG).

Unfortunately, his rookie campaign came to an abrupt end when he sprained his knee in a late season game against the Toronto Raptors.

Frye regressed during the ’06-’07 season. He appeared in 72 games and averaged 26 minutes per contest, but he only managed 9.5 points and 1 offensive rebound per game. To make matters worse, his field goal percentage fell by 3% on 49 more field goal attempts. Overall, Frye became a much less efficient player during his sophomore season in the NBA.

I know, Isiah. You don't actually have a clue why you do so many of the things you do. I pity the FIU Golden Panthers basketball team. Also, FIU Athletitc Director Pete Garcia might as well pack his bags now. Pete, if Isiah doesn't get the board to fire you in the next year, he will just move into your office, shoot you a creepy smile, and take your job. Ask Larry. Also, for some reason, I picture Isiah talking like SNL's the Ladies Man.

I know, Isiah. You don't actually have a clue why you do so many of the things you do. I pity the FIU Golden Panthers basketball team. Also, FIU Athletitc Director Pete Garcia might as well pack his bags now. Pete, if Isiah doesn't get the board to fire you in the next year, he will just move into your office, shoot you a creepy smile, and take your job. Ask Larry Brown. Also, for some reason, I picture Isiah talking like Leon Phelps (aka the Ladies Man on SNL).

He seemed dejected the entire year. Yet, Frye’s slip in production was likely a result of the turmoil brewing within the Knicks organization. You’ll remember that Isiah Thomas staged his coup d’etat during the summer before the ’06-’07 season. Isiah ousted Larry Brown less than 12 months after signing the Hall of Fame coach to a long-term contract, installed himself behind the bench, and turned the Knicks into the laughingstock of the NBA.

Isiah kept Frye in the starting lineup for the majority of the ’06-’07 season solely because he believed Frye would develop into the next Dirk Nowitzki. This was a ludicrous aspiration considering Frye attempted a mere 9 shots from beyond the arc during his rookie season. Frye converted 3 of these attempts, but he only hoisted 9 three-point shots all year! Dirk shot 68 three-pointers during his first year in the NBA and became a perimeter threat the following season by attempting 306 threes. Frye shot 18 three-pointers during his second season in the league (only 288 less than Dirk), and is 20 of 70 or 28.6% on three-point field goals for his entire career.

To say the least, Isiah’s expectations for Frye were absurd. The Great Knickerbocker Dictator tried to make Frye something he is not, which briefly broke the 23-year-old’s confidence and set back his development.

Isiah gave up on Frye in February of ’07. He pulled Frye from the starting lineup and replaced him with a “defensive force” named Jerome James (one of the most overpaid players of all-time). He then traded Frye to Portland that summer as part of the infamous Zach Randolph trade. (Editor’s Note: Thomas is a moron of the first order on and off the basketball court. If you don’t believe me, check this out.)

Frye’s minutes decreased over the course of his next two seasons in Portland. He however became a more complete basketball player under Nate McMillan’s tutelage. Although he played far fewer minutes in Portland, Frye significantly decreased his turnovers while simultaneously increasing his rebounding efficiency. Examine the statistics and it is clear that Frye would be an excellent and affordable fourth big man on the Nuggets.

The Nuggets would expect Frye to play between 12 and 18 minutes per game depending on the health of the team’s frontcourt. It is therefore worth examining the numbers Frye posted during the ’07-’08 season when he averaged 17 minutes per game for Portland. Compare these figures to Frye’s stats from the previous season in New York and you’ll quickly realize that the 26-year-old quietly evolved into a remarkably efficient basketball player once he became a Blazer.

Frye played 26.3 minutes per game for Isiah during the ’06-’07 season, averaging 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 turnovers. At first glance, these look like solid numbers for a sophomore NBA power forward. Yet, converting “minute per game” statistics into “per 40-minute” statistics provides a more accurate means of rating a player’s efficiency. In ’06-’07, Frye’s stats per 40 minutes were 14.4 points, 8.36 rebounds, and 2.15 turnovers. These numbers look vastly less impressive than his 26.3 mpg stat line for that same season. While Frye remained an average scorer in ’06-‘07, he was an inefficient rebounder and careless with the basketball.

Fast forward to the ’07-’08 season…

In 17.2 minutes per game, Frye averaged 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and .7 turnovers. These numbers appear quite pedestrian. It looks as though Frye took yet another step backwards after arriving in Portland. However, his per 40-minute stat line tells a different, more fulfilling story. Per 40 minutes, Frye scored 15.8 points, brought down 10.69 boards, and only turned the ball over 1.62 times. Plus, his field goal percentage rose from 43.3 % in ’06-’07 to 48.8% in ’07-‘08. The numbers do not lie. Frye’s game flourished at 9 less minutes per contest in Portland.

Frye isn't Dirk Nowitzi...and he never will be. But his size would definitely bolster the Nuggets' frontcourt.

Frye isn't Dirk Nowitzki...and he never will be. But his size would definitely bolster the Nuggets' frontcourt.

Channing Frye achieved impressive numbers as a reserve power forward during the ’07-’08 season. He could play a similar role for the Nuggets this upcoming season. Frye fulfills exactly what the Nuggets need off the bench for approximately 15 minutes every game. At 6’11” and 245 pounds, Frye would add necessary size to the Nuggets roster. He is also extremely coordinated, which allows him to run the floor well in transition and increases his defensive potential. Frye offers the Nuggets offensive prowess in the post, a solid jump shot, above average rebounding abilities, and versatile athleticism. He is also good at setting high screens, which would give Chauncey, JR, and Carmelo better looks from the perimeter.

Frye’s greatest shortcomings are on defense. He does not average nearly enough blocks (.5 blks per game in his career), and he should be more active in passing lanes at the defensive end given his mobility. However, Frye is only 26 years old and possesses quite an upside as he enters his fifth NBA season. Furthermore, Frye’s offense would complement Birdman’s defensive skill set, and the Nuggets could potentially sign both players using the Mid-Level Exception. The Nuggets are attempting to backload Birdman’s new contract, meaning he will likely earn approximately $3 million next season. This leaves at least $2.5 million available to sign Frye, who earned $3.1 million last season in Portland.

If the Nuggets are unable to sign Frye using a portion of the MLE, they could acquire him in a sign and trade by offering Steven Hunter’s $3.6 million expiring contract to Portland in exchange for Frye at $3 million per season. The salaries match and both teams win in that trade.

It actually benefits the Nuggets to acquire Frye in a sign and trade because the team would unload Steven Hunter for a big man who actually plays. The Nuggets could then use the remainder of the MLE to offer Matt Barnes a backloaded contract, re-sign Dahntay Jones, or save the cap space to make room for Linas Kleiza’s $2.7 million Qualifying Offer. In the ideal scenario, the Nuggets trade for Frye, re-sign Jones with the remainder of the MLE, and also complete a sign and trade with Phoenix for Barnes by packaging Renaldo Balkman’s expiring contract and a 2011 draft pick. The Nuggets could then offer Kleiza the QE to keep him around for insurance purposes or to use as trade bait come February*. Assuming the Nuggets re-sign Anthony Carter at the veteran’s minimum, these moves give the Nuggets a strong and long 12-man roster for under $80 million.

I therefore retract my previous desire to see Indiana C Jeff Foster in a Denver uniform. There is no reason to pursue Foster and his richer contract with a hidden gem like Channing Frye left on the market.

Frye is huge! And he dresses way funkier than Jeff Foster.

Frye is huge! And he dresses way funkier than Jeff Foster.

Frye improved steadily under Nate McMillan’s direction in Portland. McMillan played for George Karl as a member of the Seattle Supersonics during the 1990s. In fact, it was Karl who coached and mentored McMillan into a smart, efficient NBA point guard. Karl and McMillan share a bond and are similar coaches. Each respects the game and demands perfection from his players. Both men emphasize the importance of defense, are occasionally tough on their players, and love to log long hours in the gym. Yet, Karl and McMillan also trust and respect their players. Players, in turn, respect them.

Thus, it only seems natural that Frye would quickly build a solid relationship with Karl, allowing his game to further expand in the Mile High City. If Frye even marginally improves defense, he could fit into the Nuggets’ long-term plans. Hopefully Warkentein takes swift action and acquires both Frye and Barnes at bargain prices.

*Note: There is a variation of this chain of events that could also work. The Suns might find Linas Kleiza a more appealing player than Balkman. Therefore, the Nuggets could sign Kleiza for the QE and then promptly use him instead of Balkman in a sign and trade for Matt Barnes. Balkman is a nice defensive insurance policy, and the Nuggets would no longer need Kleiza’s offense with Barnes coming off the bench. Trading Kleiza and keeping Balkman also saves the Nuggets about $600k. Just a thought.

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There Is Life After Rasheed

That's 'Sheed telling the Nuggets they are f'ing stupid for not pursuing him. He is pissed that he won't get to finish his career with Chauncey. P.S. I HATE Boston.

That's 'Sheed telling the Nuggets they are f'ing stupid for not pursuing him. He is pissed that he won't get to finish his career with Chauncey. P.S. I HATE Boston.

The sweepstakes are over. The Nuggets lost. Or worse yet, perhaps they never tried.

Rasheed Wallace is set to a sign a new contract, but it will not make him a Denver Nugget. Wallace agreed to a 2-year deal worth the Mid-Level Exception with the Boston Celtics late last night. This is a bittersweet moment for Nuggets fans. Acquiring Wallace would have added invaluable size and scoring to the Nuggets’ roster. Furthermore, the Nuggets must counter the Lakers and Spurs’ aggressive offseason moves by adding a player of Wallace’s caliber. Wallace would have been a perfect fit in Denver. It is however a blessing that Wallace landed in Boston instead of San Antonio.

Though ‘Sheed is off the market, all is not lost here in Denver. The Nuggets are in the process of locking up the Birdman whose defense, rebounding, and sheer intensity are central to the Nuggets’ success. In the mean time, Nuggets fans must remain patient and trust the front office. Mark Warkentein and Rex Champman demonstrated last season that they are capable of making the right deal at the right time in order to keep the Nuggets competitive. While I am nervous that the Nuggets will offer the Birdman an excessive contract at 5-years $25 million, I believe Warkentein has something up his sleeve. The Nuggets will make a move at the proper time, won’t they? The reigning NBA Executive of the Year knows that last season’s roster will not measure up to the new, new Lakers and the rejuvenated Spurs, right? I sure hope so…

With Wallace off the table, the Nuggets must look elsewhere for three things: length in the post, efficient scoring, and defense. Birdman supplies length and excellent help-defense, but the Nuggets need to add scoring, as well as one more adequate big man to complete their four-man post rotation. Wallace was an all-in-one solution. Furthermore, he was the only all-in-one solution available this summer. The Nuggets now must take a “moneyball” approach to rounding out their roster. In other words, the Nuggets need to sign multiple players with different skill sets to solve the team’s offensive and defensive woes.

Dahntay's expression silently screams, "I'm so in contractual limbo right now!" Don't worry Dahntay, soon someone will sign you for way more than you're worth. Would a lolly cheer you up in the meantime?

Who says a picture can't tell a thousand words? Dahntay's expression silently screams, "I'm so in contractual limbo right now!" Don't worry Dahntay, soon someone will sign you for way more than you're worth. Would a lolly cheer you up in the meantime, bud?

Re-signing Kleiza and Dahntay Jones would have been the right moves had the Nuggets acquired Wallace. Kleiza’s ability to get up and down the floor would have allowed the Nuggets to change the pace of a game by running when Wallace was not on the court. Additionally, Jones’s aggressive defense was crucial; his presence in the lineup mitigated Kleiza, Carmelo, and JR Smith’s defensive shortcomings. The Birdman strengthens the Nuggets’ defense, but he and Kenyon Martin still need more help. Birdman’s offensive game also leaves much to be desired. The Nuggets therefore should pursue unrestricted free agent SF Matt Barnes instead of re-signing Kleiza and Jones.

Barnes is a pesky defender who is capable of getting out on the wing and running in transition. Case and point: Steve Nash loved playing with him in Phoenix, and Barnes played very well for the run-and-gun Warriors when they knocked off the Mavs during the ’07-’08 playoffs.

He had a career year in 77 games for the Suns last season (10.2 pts and 5.5 rebs), and at 6’7” is a hybrid of Jones and Kleiza. He possesses Jones’s defensive prowess, as well as Kleiza’s shooting touch and mobility in transition. In fact, Barnes (34.3% on 341 3pt attempts) was a much more accurate and efficient 3-point shooter than Kleiza (32.6% on 267 attempts) this past season. With JR moving into the starting lineup, Barnes would be an ideal sixth-man for the Nuggets. He would add defensive intensity on the perimeter, run and gun on the wing, and knock down 3-pointers at an efficient rate.

The Nuggets could acquire Barnes (and his many imposing tattoos) via sign and trade. The Suns would likely accept Renaldo Balkman’s expiring contract and a 2011 draft pick for Barnes because they are already over the Luxury Tax and desperate for cap room. If the Nuggets could arrange to slightly backload Barnes’s new contract and pay him $2.7 million for his first season in Denver, the salaries would match in a Balkman-Barnes sign and trade. Furthermore, Barnes would be a bargain for the Nuggets, as adding him would be more cost effective than re-signing both Kleiza and Jones.

Barnes earned just under $800K last season. After posting career numbers, he would likely command around $3 million per year. This salary is well within the range of the $2.7 million Qualifying Offer the Nuggets are considering extending to Kleiza. Keep in mind that the Nuggets would also have to pay between $1.5 and $2 million to retain Jones. Spending $3 million on Barnes would look much better on the court and in Warkentein’s books than committing nearly $5 million to Kleiza and Jones.

Barnes’s skill set would more than compensate for letting Kleiza and Jones walk. Moreover, acquiring the 29-year-old Barnes at $3 million per season would be a significantly better move than adding 36-year-old F Grant Hill at the veteran’s minimum*.

In addition to speed, defense, and 3-pt shooting, Barnes adds more sweet ink to the Nuggets' lineup. The Nugs should only retain Kleiza on one condition: he agrees to shave his head and have the Lithuanian flag tattoed atop his dome.

In addition to speed, defense, and 3-pt shooting, Barnes adds more sweet ink to the Nuggets' lineup. The Nugs should only retain Kleiza on one condition: he agrees to shave his head and have the Lithuanian flag tattoed atop his dome.

There is no question that Matt Barnes would immediately add speed, offense, and defensive toughness to the Nuggets’ roster. Yet, his 6’7” frame lacks length. As a result, the Nuggets would still need to acquire a long, athletic PF/C to complement Nene, Martin, and Birdman in the post. Indiana’s 6’11” and 250-pound C Jeff Foster is the right man for the job. The Nuggets nearly acquired him at the trade deadline last February because Karl likes Foster’s size and physicality under the hoop; it was Foster who broke Martin’s thumb last season while fighting for a rebound.

Wouldn't the Lithuanian flag look great on Kleiza's head? Some ink would increase his bargaining power with the Nuggets.

Wouldn't the Lithuanian flag look great on Kleiza's head? I think some ink would increase his bargaining power with the Nuggets.

Assuming the Nuggets trade Balkman for Barnes, the team could offer the Pacers a combination of Steven Hunter’s expiring contract, a portion of any of the Traded Player Exceptions the team holds, and/or draft picks in exchange for Foster, who makes $6 million in each of the two seasons remaining on his current contract. He is a physical rebounder and post-defender, and is capable of playing an energetic 15-18 minutes per game. Foster would significantly upgrade the Nuggets’ rebounding, and his presence on the bench would protect Nene, Martin, and Birdman from foul trouble. Adding Foster would give the Nuggets one of the most aggressive frontcourts in the entire league, as well as the length to contend against the Lakers.

Acquiring Barnes and Foster under the given scenarios would significantly upgrade the Nuggets’ roster. These two players would make the Nuggets a much more versatile team. Against longer teams the Nuggets could experiment with a large, defensive-minded lineup of Billups, Barnes, Carmelo, Birdman, and Nene without sacrificing vital offensive numbers. The Nuggets could also go small and explosive with Billups, JR, Barnes, Carmelo, and Nene. Think about it. There are so many offensively potent and defensively solid lineups with Barnes and Foster available coming off the bench.

White men can jump! A sample of Foster's athletic ability. Now look at the bottom of this article.

White men can jump! A sample of Foster's athletic ability. Now look at the bottom of this article.

If the Nuggets re-sign Birdman, ink Anthony Carter for the league subsidized veteran’s minimum, add Barnes and Foster, and fill out their roster with two more minimum contracts, the team’s payroll will rise to around $82 million. The Nuggets would pay the luxury tax, but as I’ve previously stated it would be worth it this time around. Furthermore, it is the only way the Nuggets will contend against the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, and Cavaliers (all Luxury Tax teams) during the ’09-’10 season.

* Note: I understand that the league pays a significant portion of a veteran’s salary if he signs for the minimum. However, winning in the NBA costs money. Taking a slight cap hit for Barnes would be well worth it, especially considering the fact that any significant upgrade will put the Nuggets above the Luxury Tax.

A sample of Foster's crazy eyes.

A sample of Foster's crazy eyes.

A sample of Foster's krunk eyes...not bad for an 8th man bench player.

A sample of Foster's krunk eyes...not bad for an 8th man bench player.

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Grant Hill: Great Guy, Bad Nugget…

Hill has a nice looking wife named Tamia and a comfortable home they consider "all their own." However, Hill shouldn't plan on building a home in Denver any time soon.

Hill has a nice looking wife named Tamia and a comfortable home they consider "all their own." However, Hill shouldn't plan on building a home in Denver any time soon.

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.

Chicago PF Tim Thomas flossin' at an event in LA sponsored by Def Jam. He would Def knock down some threes here in Denver.

Chicago PF Tim Thomas flossin' at an event in LA sponsored by Def Jam. He would Def knock down some threes here in Denver.

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Drew Gooden and his questionable facial hair! Enough said. Please God no, we don't need more of this in Denver. There is already enough questionable facial hair in LoDo after 9 PM on weekends.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Drew Gooden and his questionable facial hair! Enough said. Please God no, we don't need more of this in Denver. There is already enough questionable facial hair in LoDo after 9 PM on weekends.

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).

Zaza Pachulia's post presence is like him in this picture with rapper Busta Rhymes: large and looming yet awkward and not as smooth as Al Horford.

Zaza Pachulia's post presence is like him in this picture with rapper Busta Rhymes: large and looming yet awkward and not as smooth as Al Horford.

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!

"Oh my f'ing goodness! Just trade for me already, Denver!"

"Oh my f'ing goodness! Just trade for me already, Denver!"

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Where Do They Go From Here?

Will Birdman re-build his nest in Denver next season?

Will Birdman re-build his nest in Denver next season?

The Denver Nuggets have some tough roster decisions to make in the coming months. The most crucial of which is whether or not to exceed the luxury tax line next season. This decision was made for the Nuggets last April when the team nearly made the NBA Finals. The Nuggets are oh so close to challenging the Lakers at the top of the Western Conference, and Nuggets players and fans deserve another shot at a championship. Nuggets management therefore must commit to spending more than $71 million if they wish to remain competitive against the rest of the West, especially as San Antonio and Portland rearm with the intention of knocking off the Nuggets next season.

The Nuggets are no longer a sleeper team. The Lakers know they can beat Denver, and the Spurs and Blazers enter the offseason with the Nuggets locked into their sights. San Antonio acquired Richard Jefferson’s young legs and inside-outside scoring abilities in order to match the Nuggets fast, aggressive style of play. Additionally, Portland looks to add height and experience (Hedo Turkoglu?) because they watched a longer, smarter Lakers team dominate the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The 2008-09 Denver Nuggets were a talented bunch. They made franchise history and deserve acclamation for their numerous victories, as well as their remarkable growth as a team. They were a pleasure to watch and a fun story to follow. That said, the Nuggets were not without their flaws. The team relied too heavily on JR Smith’s erratic yet strangely effective shooting touch to keep them in games, lacked offense in the post when Nene rested or played poorly, and were not long enough to beat the Lakers in a seven game series.

The front office must neutralize these flaws by re-signing the Nuggets’ key free agents and making at least one significant move to upgrade the roster. E. Stanley Kroenke must agree to spend some extra cash for the Nuggets if he wishes to see his team consistently contend against the ‘09-‘10 Spurs, Blazers, and Lakers, not to mention the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Magic.

Determining how to invest Kroenke’s cash is another question altogether. Drafting Ty Lawson was a solid move. Though I wanted to cry when Utah came away with Eric Maynor, Lawson is a smart, strong point guard, who gets to the basket, and has great range with his clutch jump shot. He also knows how to win and his game should flourish under Chauncey’s direction. With luck Lawson will assume the back-up point guard role by January. In the mean time, the Nuggets should retain Anthony Carter for the veteran’s minimum. I know, I know, AC is a turnover machine. I cringed every time he checked into a game during the playoffs. Yet, much to his credit, AC plays hard, fast basketball, changes the tempo of games, and is an above average perimeter defender. He will be an ideal (and cheap) third-string point guard once Lawson gets a feel for the NBA game and is capable of playing real minutes.

Re-signing Chris Andersen and Dahntay Jones are also important moves. Birdman’s passion and energy are palpable from the stands, and the team certainly gets an emotional boost when he checks into a game. Furthermore, his length, rebounding, and shot blocking are crucial to the Nuggets success. The Nuggets should be able to retain Birdman for a significant portion of their $5.8 million Mid-Level Exception. I believe Birdman is worth $3.5 to $4 million of the MLE, and that he would take a small pay cut to remain in Denver. He lives in Denver, loves the mountains, and the Nuggets took a chance on him last summer when no other team would. If the Nuggets can sign Birdman for $3.5 million, they should offer the remainder to the MLE to Dahntay Jones. His tough defense and freakish athleticism are certainly worth $2.3 million, and he could become a dangerous player (a la Bruce Bowen in his prime, Raja Bell/Boris Diaw for the Suns in ’07, or James Posey for the Celtics in ‘08) and a bargain for the Nuggets if he continues to develop his mid-range jump shot.

Kleiza like to booze...uh, I meant he likes to run the court for easy dunks on Boozer.

Kleiza likes to booze...uh, I meant he likes to run the court for easy dunks on Boozer.

It has been widely reported that the Nuggets will extend the $2.7 million Qualifying Offer to Linas Kleiza. This would be a fairly solid move because it allows the Nuggets to cheaply secure an above average role player who has shown flashes of brilliance. Kleiza however has also exhibited debilitating inconsistencies on both ends of the court, and his penchant for partying is worrisome; most LoDo bar patrons have probably at some point witnessed Linas’s ability to throw them back, as well as his temper. Yet, I do like what Kleiza can bring to an NBA game on any given night. He runs the floor extremely well and is more than capable of knocking down multiple threes when he does not overthink his shot selection. On the whole, re-signing Kleiza at the QE is the right move because it is low risk and high reward at $2.7 million. It adds valuable depth and gives the Nuggets one more year to see if Kleiza develops into a consistent player. On the other hand, it will clear some cap space next offseason if Kleiza does not improve and the Nuggets do not offer him a long-term deal when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Also, Karl sees Kleiza as his personal project. For most of his tenure as coach, Karl has trusted Kleiza more than JR, so you know that Karl does not want to see the front office let the Lithuanian walk.

Now onto the ACQUISITION…

No Rasheed, you're the man!

No Rasheed, you're the man!

The Nuggets must invest wisely. Warkentein and Co. have put the Nuggets in an excellent position to not only contend now, but also several years down the line. Their efforts began with last summer’s salary dump and continued with the Ty Lawson trade. Chauncey’s window is slowly closing, but with luck and coaching Lawson will take up where our hometown hero leaves off. Since the Nuggets are already $12 million over the salary cap, they will not emerge as buyers in free agency. The Nuggets must instead engineer at least one sign and trade by using either the $9.8 million Traded Player Exception they hold from the Camby trade, the $3+ million TPE from the Chucky Atkins trade, or trading away the expiring contracts of current Nuggets players.

After drafting Lawson and assuming the team retains AC, there is no need to pursue a point guard. The Nuggets also have solid depth at both shooting guard and small forward with JR, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, and Kleiza returning. The Nuggets therefore desperately need a long, offensively skilled power forward or center. I predict Birdman’s defensive game and rebounding abilities will expand next season, but the Nuggets will never be able to count on his offense to supplement Nene’s game.

The safest path for the Nuggets is pursuing unrestricted PF/C Rasheed Wallace through a sign and trade. The Nuggets could swap Renaldo Balkman and Steven Hunter—their contracts combine to $5.8 million and are attractive because they expire after the ’09-’10 season—for Wallace if he agreed to sign a 2-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million. A potential Balkman/Hunter for Wallace deal became more attractive for the Pistons today when Carlos Boozer decided not to opt out of the final year of his contract. Boozer was the Pistons’ primary free agent target this summer. The Pistons will most likely attempt to sign Boozer or Chris Bosh next summer, which means they will look to acquire more expiring contracts over the next year in an attempt to clear additional cap space for ’10 free agency.

Though Wallace is 34 years old, his body is not breaking down and his numbers remain solid (12 pts 7.4 rebs 1.3 blks 1 stl 42% FG). Not to mention, Wallace probably would have had a more productive ’08-’09 campaign had the Pistons not traded away Chauncey and devolved into a dysfunctional team thereafter. At 6’11”, Wallace would add much needed length to the Denver lineup. A frontcourt consisting of Nene (6’11”), Wallace (6’11”), Birdman (6’10”), and Martin (6’9”) is as athletic as it is huge. Each of these players is extremely versatile, and having both Nene and Wallace on his bench would allow George Karl to run a variety of lineups without sacrificing offense in the frontcourt. Last season, Nene was Karl’s only consistent frontcourt scorer besides Anthony. The Western Conference Finals were over once the Lakers plugged the lane and equalized Nene. With marginal scoring from their big men, Denver lived and ultimately died by their inconsistent long-range jump shooting.

Acquiring Wallace would give the Nuggets another scoring big man, and his skill set would prevent teams from beating the Nuggets with the game plan the Lakers used this past April. His excellent three-point shooting (113 for 319 or 35 % last season) would significantly bolster the Nuggets’ half-court offense. Remember this, Nuggets fans? Opposing teams would have to respect the perimeter with Billups, Smith, and Wallace on the court, which would spread the floor and allow the Nuggets to penetrate more effectively against long teams. Additionally, Wallace’s height on the perimeter causes match up problems for opposing teams. He can shoot over any guard and few forwards his size are athletic enough to shadow him on the perimeter. The Lakers, for example, would have to send Gasol or Odom out to defend Wallace, freeing up room in the lane for Nene to post up, Birdman and Martin to swoop in for offensive rebounds and put backs, and for Anthony and Smith to put the ball on the floor and drive. Wallace would also contribute defensively. He is an effective shot blocker and has averaged a steal per game over his entire career.

Mark Warkentein just told Chauncey that Rasheed is coming to Denver. Look how happy he is.

Mark Warkentein just told Chauncey that Rasheed is coming to Denver. Look how happy he is.

Like Kenyon Martin (seriously follow that link, it is awesome), Rasheed Wallace has a combustible personality. However, it is clear that Chauncey Billups has instilled a classy style of winning in Denver that mitigates selfish, team destructive attitudes (see the maturation of JR Smith and Carmelo). Chauncey was not always able to prevent Wallace from drawing technicals when they played together in Detroit, but he constantly kept Wallace focused on winning and playing team basketball. Wallace has made it clear that he just wants to win at this point in his career. This is why Kevin Garnett is begging Boston GM Danny Ainge to do whatever it takes to acquire Wallace. Chauncey and Carmelo need to push Warkentein to beat out Ainge. I am sure Pistons GM Joe Dumars would rather send Rasheed out West than to an Eastern rival, such as Boston or Cleveland. Just imagine all of the different lineups the Nuggets could play with next season by adding such a versatile player.

Ideally, the Nuggets would negotiate a 2-year contract with Wallace and then trade for him. This would significantly limit the risk of acquiring Wallace. It would give the current roster a 2-year window to win a championship and then Wallace, JR, and Martin would come off the books after the ’10-’11 season, giving the Nuggets roughly $28 million in cap room. The Nuggets will need this cap flexibility in order to re-sign Smith to a big-time contract and hopefully to rearm for the future around Ty Lawson and Carmelo.

E. Stanley's mustache twitched in disgust while he paid the luxury tax for back-to-back first round exits.

E. Stanley's mustache twitched in disgust while he paid the luxury tax for back-to-back first round exits.

Re-signing Birdman, Jones, AC, and Kleiza, acquiring Wallace, and rounding out the roster with one minimum salary player raises the Nuggets team salary to about $81 million dollars. Kroenke, as a result, would pay a significant luxury tax. But nowadays it takes a large investment to win in the NBA. The Lakers won last season with a $78.2 million roster. The Celtics fielded an $80.3 million roster in ’08-‘09 and won the championship two years ago with a $76 million payroll. The Cavaliers paid out $90.1 million in player salaries last season and look to spend more in the upcoming season in hopes of securing a title for LeBron James. Who says Carmelo stays in Denver down the line if he does not reach the NBA Finals with Chauncey? It is a question worth pondering.

Furthermore, this would not be the first time Kroenke displayed the patience and deep pockets to field an extremely expensive roster. He did it for two seasons following the Allen Iverson trade in ’06. After weathering the AI storm, I understand Kroenke’s reluctance to seriously surpass the luxury tax again. Those consecutive first round exits with AI were hard enough for me to watch on television, so I cannot imagine the anger Kroenke experienced sitting courtside. I bet the rage ran from his well-groomed mustache all the way down to the tips of his snakeskin cowboy boots. Yet, investing big dollars in next season’s roster would be different. Re-signing these players and obtaining Wallace is not a desperation move like the ’06 AI trade. These moves, like Warkentien always says, are chess moves. They are calculated responses to not only the weaknesses the Nuggets displayed in the Conference Finals, but also to the upgrades other elite NBA teams make this summer.

It would not be fair to the Nuggets faithful if the front office passes on talent this summer in the name of avoiding the luxury tax. Denver fans showed a tremendous amount of support for the Nuggets during last season’s incredible playoff run. Nuggets attendance records were set, tailgating at Pepsi Center was commonplace on game days, and it quickly became clear that Denver loves its NBA team…when the front office fields a competitive roster. Through several savvy moves, Warkentein and Co. gave Denver basketball fans a taste of meaningful victory. For several months, Nuggets fans understood how exciting it has been to be a Spurs, Lakers, or Mavericks fan for much of the past decade. Please Mr. Kroenke, do not turn such an historic season into an historic tease. Moves must be made immediately and for that dollars must be spent. But they can be spent wisely! Please give us fans another chance to feel the thrill of victory by ensuring history repeats itself next season.

Ok, so Rollie Fingers's epic stash slightly edges Stan the Man's in the Pro Sports Mustache War. But Stan the Man still has a pretty good sub-nostril thing going on.

Ok, so Rollie Fingers and his epic stash slightly edge Stan the Man in the Pro Sports Mustache War. But Stan the Man still has a pretty good sub-nostril thing going on.

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