Dreaming of Denver Moves

Ben Fenton is currently a law student at the University of Arizona.  He is originally from New York and grew up a Knicks fan.  He moved to Denver in high school and spent his first couple years in Colorado actively rooting against the Nuggets.  But as the Knicks somehow got progressively worse each year while outspending everyone in the league, he started to sympathize with his new hometown team, before officially switching loyalties after the brawl at Madison Square Garden in December 2006.  What follows is a suggestion of how the Nuggets could use Carmelo Anthony’s desire to move to become a championship contender.

My beloved Denver Nuggets are in disarray.  Stan Kroenke has ceded ownership to his son Josh; the holy basketball operations triumvirate of Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman and Bret Bearup has been replaced by Masai Ujiri (who?); the team’s “best” player wants out of town; and local sportswriters are preparing the team’s obituary while fans brace for a return to the dark ages of the 90’s. 

In reality, though, the future may not be so bleak. With just a couple of reasonable moves, Denver can transform its current situation into something remarkable.  Here’s a dream scenario that could have the Nuggets lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy next June:

Move #1:    The Nuggets send Carmelo and Ty Lawson to the Mavericks for Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler.

Why this could happen: 

Carmelo would need to agree to an extend-and-trade for the Mavs to go with this.  He’s allegedly told those close to him that he is open to a trade to Houston, so why not Dallas?  Dallas has plenty of big names in Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Rodrigue Beaubois, etc.  Carmelo might view himself as the missing piece to that puzzle, especially with Ty Lawson coming along.

While Mark Cuban loves Jason Kidd, he probably believes that Dirk Nowitzki is responsible for more of his team’s success than his veteran point guard.  Cuban realizes that Kidd only has a couple of productive years left in his tank at most, and with an opportunity to snag high-scoring Carmelo Anthony and a young point guard in Ty Lawson to replace Kidd, he might be willing to let him go.  He’d also likely be willing to part ways with Tyson Chandler, who wouldn’t have been a starter with Haywood on the roster anyway, to make the salaries match.

Move #2:    The Nuggets send the expiring contracts of J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin to Charlotte for Gerald Wallace, Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop, and Matt Carroll.

Why this could happen:

Charlotte isn’t going to be a serious title contender next year with the personnel they have, and they don’t look to be major players in free agency over the next few summers with all of the dead weight contracts they’re carrying.  They probably recognize that Gerald Wallace is their best player, but don’t consider him to be a superstar and might be open to parting ways with him in exchange for lots of flexibility next summer under the new collective bargaining agreement.

After these two deals the Nuggets would have this starting lineup:

PG:  Jason Kidd, 2009-10 WP48 .337

SG:  Chauncey Billups,2009-10 WP48 .194

SF:  Gerald Wallace, 2009-10 WP 48  .270

PF:  Nene, 2009-10 WP48  .176

C:  Tyson Chandler, 2009-10 WP48 .094

….with these players seeing regular minutes off the bench:

Arron Afflalo (WP48  .089), Al Harrington (WP48 -.024), Chris Andersen (WP48 .241)

…and these players seeing spot duty:

Anthony Carter (WP48  .100), Nazr Mohammed(WP .199)

Chauncey Billups and Nene would be playing different positions than they did last year (both of which demand less production than their old positions) so each player’s WP48 would increase if nothing changes. However, Billups’ production has declined steadily over the last few seasons and may continue at an even sharper rate next season, as he’ll be 34 years old.

On the other hand, the Nuggets may be able to get more from Nene than from what would be expected from the position change alone.  Though he’ll be 28 at the start of the season, without the black hole that is Carmelo Anthony in the lineup taking 20 shots a game, Nene would become more of a focus on offense.  In each of the past 2 seasons, Nene has finished in the top 8 in the NBA in true shooting percentage, yet has only averaged 9 field goal attempts and 5 free throw attempts per game.  Nene is a rare bruising big man who can clean up inside but can also make free throws and consistently hit a mid-range jump shot.  He also has good floor vision and is a great passer for his position, and might see his assists increase with more touches.

Gerald Wallace, who spent half of his minutes at power forward last season, would spend most of his time at small forward on this roster.  Though there will be some diminishing returns from having so many proficient rebounders on the floor at the same time, if Wallace comes anywhere close to maintaining his unadjusted production, his WP48 should increase.

Tyson Chandler has been below average in each of the last two seasons, but there is good reason to believe that he’ll be more effective this year.Over the three seasons preceding the last two, Chandler averaged a stellar WP48 of .265. He’s only 28, he’s healthy for the first time in a while, and perhaps most importantly, he’s in the final year of his contract and will be playing for a new one.

If the Nuggets do all of these things and everything works out exactly as I hope, here’s what the Nuggets production might look like next season:

That’s right.  With these moves the Nuggets would project to be as good as the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.  Will the Nuggets make these moves? Probably not.  But it’s fun to dream.

- Ben Fenton

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