As of Tuesday morning, things on the Nuggets front were pretty quiet. Probably a little too quiet for coach George Karl, who doesn’t yet know what will come of free agents Nene and Arron Afflalo. Right now his locker room looks pretty bleak and he’d like to have either Nene or Afflalo return to Denver but would love to have both return. When The Denver Post asked Karl if he has thought about the reality of not having either guy, he responded: “I've thought about it. I would call it more of a nightmare than a thought.”
Believe it or not, the fate of Nene and Afflalo in Denver relies on some bigger names in the NBA. Once again it seems the small/middle market NBA teams are waiting for the big market teams to pick up all the league’s best players, leaving teams like Denver to fight over the leftovers.
The Post’s Dave Krieger said Nene is, in fact, one of the top unrestricted free agents available but because nobody really knows if he’s a true center or a power forward he’s getting shuffled around a lot in deals that he’s really not the focus. For instance, the Houston Rockets planned to make Nene an offer to play forward next to center Pau Gasol. NBA Commissioner David Stern shot down that scenario when he stopped a trade, as acting owner of Chris Paul that would have moved Gasol from the Lakers to the Rockets. Confusing? Players, fans and owners are still steaming at Stern’s decision to nix the deal and is part of what is so weird about this current pre-Christmas player roundup.
Apparently, the New Jersey Nets are interested in grabbing Nene but the Nets first priority is trying to get Dwight Howard from Orlando. It sounds unlikely that Howard will go to New Jersey as he has a crush on Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles but wherever he goes, it may have an impact on where Nene goes.
“In short,” Krieger writes, “it’s looking as though Nene is a backup plan or complementary piece for all his suitors except the Nuggets, who haven't replaced him and remain interested in making him their starting power forward, where he would play beside young center Timofey Mozgov, obtained in the Melo deal.”
It’s unclear where Afflalo may land. What is clear is that players that are similar to Afflalo are getting paid much more than Afflalo so Denver is either going to have to trade him to a team that can pay him or Denver’s going to have to pay him. As it is right now, Denver doesn’t know if they will play either one on Christmas Day.
And while it may be a scary possibility that Denver might not get Nene or Afflalo, right now it’s just painful not knowing what type of team Karl has, with just a week until the season starts.
“I've told my staff, and I try to tell myself, our job is what we have and we have to make this team better,” Karl told The Post on Monday. “I can't deny we're all a little anxious and frustrated that we don't have [Nene and Afflalo] and that we know if we had those guys, it would be easier and probably quicker getting to where we want to go.”
So while Karl and the rest of Denver wait to see what the team will shape up to be, the rest of the world simply looks to the likes of Howard and Paul to see where they will go, to see what super team or dream team they can form with their friends, like LeBron James so famously did.
All of this makes me wonder, did we really have a lockout? I understand that profits are at the heart of the labor dispute between owners and players. But I also thought fixing the current big market’s stomping on the small market’s teams by buying all the players would even it out, somehow. Yes, Commissioner Stern put an end to a deal that would have sent Paul to the Lakers, but that was only because he had grounds to do so as the de facto Hornets owner. Doesn’t it seem like all the league’s Dwight Howards and Chris Pauls are going to end up on the same three teams anyway?
As a Nuggets fan, I do hope Karl gets a chance with some decent players this year. I know his time as a coach is limited. But for anyone who, like me, believed in some sort of notion that the NBA would become more competitive and basketball an overall better professional sport after the lockout, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
I guess if I were a Lakers fan, I’d be pretty excited about the upcoming season. As a Denver fan, I don’t know if I should be excited or not. It’s just business as usual in the NBA, once again.