In the post-Carmelo Anthony trade world, sought-after players almost always target the biggest markets -- New York, L.A., Miami -- in an effort to maximize their profitability and win championships aided by an uneven playing court the NBA lockout has done little to level. So, in that environment, the decision of Nenê to sign the sort of long-term deal with the Nuggets he'd previously rejected (albeit a richer one) is a miracle. And there are other positive signs, too.
Our Kyle Garratt called keeping Nenê Denver's top priority, and most observers agreed -- but I wasn't leading the call. Over the years, I've criticized Nenê for his lack of offensive aggressiveness, his propensity for getting out-muscled down low, and his tendency to disappear during the biggest games. After Melo's departure last year, he seemed to make some progress in these regards, as if understanding that he was the likeliest person to fill the vacuum left by the departed superstar. But he still didn't strike me as the solution at center.
Then again, it appears he doesn't have to be. George Karl has talked about starting Timofrey Mozgov in the middle, and if this mammoth slab of Russia can at least clog up the lane, pester opposing centers and flush the occasional put-back, his presence will allow Nenê to shift to power forward -- his more natural position. This move would give the Nugs a huge front line, one big enough to take on all comers, even as it would provide Nenê with more room to operate from an offensive standpoint, rather than being limited to mainly post-ups.
As a bonus, Denver also supplemented its lineup with two players from the world-champion Dallas Mavericks, Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer, both acquired for practically nothing -- just a future second-round draft pick. For the Mavs, this move was primarily a salary dump that may give Mark Cuban flexibility to attain bigger names. (Is he getting serious about entering the Dwight Howard sweepstakes?) But whatever his motivation, the results only benefit the Nuggets, who are severely short of bodies given the presence of J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler in China.
Fernandez, who came to Dallas from the Trail Blazers, fits into the J.R. slot nicely -- he can fill it up from long range. And while Brewer hasn't exactly set imaginations ablaze with his play for the Mavs and, before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves, he's got the potential of being a nice role player in the Chandler mode. At this point, Nugs brass still insist they want Chandler to re-join the squad once he wraps up his overseas commitment, but he shows few signs of wanting to do so -- and if he shows Denver the back of his hand, the team has options.
These developments don't answer every question for the Nuggets. The latest priority from my perspective is securing Arron Afflalo, a great defender, a streaky scorer and the sort of character guy who pays dividends even when he's not on the court. With luck, the return of Nenê, coupled with the Fernandez-Brewer trade, will convince him to stick around.
Not that the Nuggets have a championship-caliber team. But the lineup would certainly be competitive, and probably better than that, particularly given an entire season -- or at least all of the current, truncated one -- to cohere.
In short, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about the return of NBA basketball. Finally.
Look below to see an ESPN report about Nenê.
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More from our Sports archive: "Nuggets break Phoenix losing streak -- and Nenê comes into his own post-Carmelo Anthony."
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