Before digging in, just to be clear, I am posting this here as opposed to Roundball Mining Company for two reasons. One is that this post is uniquely about my own personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of RMC or its other writers. The other is that, since this is a refutation of a post by an individual blogger, I feel it would be unfair both to him and to RMC to use too large a megaphone in a more microcosmic debate.
With that out of the way, allow me to first direct you to Smooth’s Hoops, a basketball blog dedicated to the Denver Nuggets written by Smooth Operatah, a.k.a. J.R., who you can follow on twitter at @Smooth_Operatah. Specifically, this post is in response to his post entitled Why the Andre Iguodala trade doesn’t make Denver better, and although I will be quoting it extensively, I’d ask that you read it in its entirety before proceeding so that you can see the whole thing in its own context. Also, please note — and he points this out — that it’s Part 1 of a multi-part series of posts, and here I am replying only to the first one.
Having said all that, let us begin.
As the title suggests, I dispute many, if not practically all of the claims made in Smooth’s post. In some cases we simply have a difference of opinion, but in others he makes assertions which are either unsupported (or unsupportable), or demonstrably false. And it’s the latter set I’d like to focus on.
Smooth writes that the Nuggets “traded a disgruntled “star” in Carmelo Anthony because each had had enough of the other.” By all accounts there was nothing mutual about the situation, as Denver wanted to keep Melo, while he alone wanted to part ways and subsequently forced the Nuggets into either trading him or losing him for nothing to free agency.
Continuing his version of the chronology leading up to the Andre Iguodala trade, Smooth says:
Injuries set in during the months of February and March (as they typically do in every season, but, even more-so in a lockout-shortened slate where guys are playing as many as five games in six nights) and Denver panicked, trading Hilario for league laughingstock, JaVale McGee. (As an aside, unless there is acute attention paid to minute allocation during the season such as that employed by San Antonio with aging Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan, injuries will pileup – especially with players as seemingly fragile as Nene.)
There are a couple of problems here. First, in criticizing the Nene trade, he contradicts himself by at once belittling McGee’s value (“league laughingstock”) while completely glossing over a very serious potential time bomb in Nene’s value (“fragile”). Even if JaVale is viewed by many as a joke, it’s a no-brainer for a rebuilding team to trade for a younger, taller, cheaper, healthier, more athletic player, both in terms of future salary structure and in terms of developing young players together. Additionally, there is absolutely no tangible indication that this was a “panic” move. In The Association: Denver Nuggets it seems pretty clear that Masai Ujiri was aggressively working the phones in order to make the trade happen. Also, in an excellent post over at the Denver Stiffs (read it here), a very strong case is made that Ujiri negotiated for Nene’s salary to be set exactly at $13 million specifically with an eye to trading him by the deadline and receiving the largest possible traded player exception in return. There is no evidence of panic, and plenty to the contrary.
I will largely pass over the victimology of Nene and Chauncey Billups, save for the assertion that the Nuggets “moved them in trades with very little feeling or remorse or nearly the return such players should garner.” How in the world could Smooth possibly know the personal feelings of the guys in the front office? To my knowledge there have never been any interviews or news reports suggesting that Nene, Billups or Arron Afflalo were anything but well-loved and highly respected by everyone in the Nuggets organization. Over years of working together, these guys establish at least friendly working relationships if not genuine friendships, and despite the fact that business sometimes must take precedence, what grounds are there for claiming those decisions aren’t difficult on a personal, emotional level? And as for the question of value back, well the jury will still be out for a while, but the upcoming season should tell us a lot about the career trajectories of Nene and Billups versus the players Denver received in return for them. But for a team forced into rebuilding, again, these all seem to be sensible moves for building a better future.
The claim that Ujiri has “a very clear track record for” making trades based on panicking is basically fabricated out of whole cloth. If anything, his reputation around the league is precisely the opposite of that. When most expected him to panic during the Melodrama and pull the trigger on a bad deal, he did exactly the opposite and held out for a surprisingly good one. Smooth contradicts himself here as well, saying that Ujiri “panicked again” in making the trade for Iguodala, then several sentences later pointing out that the Nuggets have had “lust for Iguodala – going at least as far back as two years ago.” What part of taking the opportunity to finally land a player you’ve coveted for years is “panicking”? And who cares if the Nuggets “were never once involved in the Dwight Howard talks until the final days when major players (Orlando, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia) needed a fourth team to take Andre Iguodala?” That was when the chance arose to acquire a player they wanted, so they took it. In his interview with Drew & Scott (which I summarized here at RMC), Ujiri explained the dynamics of the Iguodala trade from Denver’s perspective quite clearly:
[T]here was a three-way trade, and when we… poked into it, it was already a deal that was going to get done… [T]hey told me where they were, and they were looking to see if there was a fourth team to join… I have to be worried about the Denver Nuggets. We have to be worried about making the Denver Nuggets better… And we’re going to try to get to a level where one day we’re competing with [elite teams], and I think Iguodala is a good piece to take a step forward.
Although the deal came together quickly, it was a calculated, well-considered move on Denver’s part.
Smooth only gets into the actual criticism of Iguodala as a player, and the insinuation that he’s a downgrade to Afflalo, in a very general sense (and I’ve condensed these statements for brevity, but again, please read his entire post to see them in the complete context):
No [other teams] necessarily had use for Iguodala’s services… [He] can’t score and relies entirely on his athleticism for success… [He’s] a nearly-30 year old NBA veteran ‘tweener’ who’s on the decline… Denver was the only team that would take Iguodala… He can’t shoot. From anywhere (outside of last year’s near-40% showing from behind the arc). Having the ability to shoot is kind of in the job description for a shooting guard.
Since Smooth hasn’t really made his case here (he promises to do that in subsequent posts), I’m not going to pick this apart too much, except for one thing. And that is that the suggestion that the Nuggets are the only team that would be interested in acquiring Iguodala is just patently absurd. League wide he is recognized as a top 5 wing defender, and while I’ll readily accept that Afflalo is certainly the better, more efficient shooter, he’s also the inferior rebounder, distributor and, well, everything elser. And at any rate, that one aspect of Iguodala’s game is not what defines him as a player, nor would it be a deal breaker to any front office in the league in landing one of the most versatile, well-rounded players in the game today (something I’m certain a survey of GMs would support, if only conducting one were that easy).
I want to end this by directing my final comment straight at you, Smooth: I really do enjoy conversing with you on twitter, I think you made some salient points in your Mozgov post and often have a lot of insightful and knowledgable observations to share. And I hope I haven’t been too harsh here. But this post really pushed my buttons, and here’s the reason why: I think your assessment misses the mark here so badly that it’s really unfair to Ujiri and the quality of organization that he and Josh Kroenke have run over the past two years. I’m not in the business of being their shill, and they’re certainly not above criticism. I share, for example, your trepidation about the Fournier pick; I wasn’t happy about it on draft day, and while I feel Ujiri has earned my trust based on his track record, Fournier has a lot of work to do to convince me that pick wasn’t a big reach. But overall, I feel that the picture you have painted of the Nuggets front office badly distorts them in a negative light. And if you make a strong, reasonable, well-supported case that the Iguodala trade was bad for Denver, I’ll be very interested in seeing it. But if you build it on a foundation as shaky as this, it seems inevitable that it will crumble apart. So it’s my hope that you’ll at least consider that possibility and reassess your arguments.