Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Post-Camby Nuggets - Next Steps?

Earlier this week, the Denver Nuggets shockingly traded Marcus Camby to the LA Clippers. The cost? A swap of second-round picks. In 2010.

In doing so, the Nuggets have been vastly criticized for handing the 2007-08 Defensive POY to a team in its own conference. On the other hand, Denver shed itself $15.6M worth of salary over the next years. Even without Camby's salary, the Denver has a payroll teetering around the luxury tax threshold of $71M. Why is that important? When crossing into that threshold, teams pay dollar-for-dollar to the league. Whomever in management pulled the trigger in Denver likely stated that they will save as much as $31.2M over the next two years. To put that in perspective, less than 20 players will make that money over the next two years.

Now, let's read between the lines. Despite having four of their five top earners healthy (Nene) for the majority of the season, Denver could only muster the 8th best record in the West. Of course, that still meant 50 wins, which would have garnered a #4 seed in the standardly-deviant Eastern Conference. In giving their best defensive player away for peanuts, it tells me that the Nuggets brass were convinced that they could not win now even with an added piece. That said, this seems like the first of multiple moves to be made by the organization. Who's next? How on earth do you expect the Nuggets to stop teams, when they had trouble stopping teams from scoring all season (even with Camby)? So, where do the Nuggets go from here? Here are a few options.

1. The Status Quo. Give or take a million, the Nuggets are right at the luxury tax threshold of $71.15M. They also have at least two players to sign (teams need to sign at least 13 players). They have a roster with two perennial All-Stars, a former All-Star and a host of role players with amazing offensive talent.

2. Trade AI. Plain and simple, the AI/Melo has not worked out. It's not that they have not been excellent, because they have. Fifty wins is no small accomplishment. In the dog-eat-dog Western Conference, excellent just isn't good enough sometimes. At 33, Iverson is one of the league's best guards and he has an expiring contract ($21.9M). Translation: He could walk for free next off-season and he could be considered the missing piece to a team without a dominant guard at the All-Star break who can get to the line and play through pain.

Who would want him?

The team that comes to mind is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland would jump at the chance to have AI and they have the disposable salary to do it. A trade with the expiring salaries of Wally Szczerbiak ($13.0M), Joe Smith ($4.8M), Delonte West ($2.8) in addition to JJ Hickson ($1.3M) and future draft picks could seal the deal.

3. Dangle Melo. Multiply the parties interested manifold. Denver has to also think about their marketing strategy if they part ways with Anthony, as he is the face of the franchise.

4. Sign a FA Center. Both Francisco Elson and Jonathan Bender have indicated an interest in wanting to play for the Nuggets, and the only center of the roster is ::drum roll:: … Steven Hunter. Now, the ball is in Denver’s court. Judging the two players, Elson is the more accomplished player and is a proven defensive asset.

5. Seek creative deals involving Kenyon Martin and Nene. I am almost certain that the Nuggets offered these two players with added incentives for nothing to teams with little to no response. Both have been marred by injury and other health concerns, and they make silly money.

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