Trading Nene for JaVale McGee: Why Ujiri and Kroenke Were Right to Do It

[Note: Originally Posted 03-16-2012 at 12:01 AM by DenButsu]

Trading Nene for JaVale McGee: Why Ujiri and Kroenke Were Right to Do It

I’ve spent a good part of this day reading about, and mulling over, and reading more about the Denver Nuggets trading Nene for JaVale McGee. The more I learn, and the more I think about it, the more this really makes sense for Denver. In this move, which on its surface could look questionable at best, general manager (well, technically, “Exectutive Vice President”) Masai Ujiri and owner Josh Kroenke have served their organization well.

As a preliminary note, currently the latest news about this trade is that the Nuggets will waive Ronny Turiaf in order to clear a roster spot and cut payroll so that they can sign restricted free agent Wilson Chandler. The ability to sign Chandler while remaining under the salary cap and well under of the luxury tax threshold is one of the more important aspects of this trade, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

That said, I’m going to set it aside and focus on Nene and McGee. And to that end I’d like to start by quoting Royce Young from CBS’ Eye on Baketball, who names McGee a winner in this trade:

There’s a whole lot of raw ability built up in that gangly seven-foot frame. But McGee’s time in Washington has basically devolved to him becoming a running joke. He was the example of how hapless the Wizards were as his stupid plays and anti-highlights became a nightly thing. [BHere’s the secret about McGee though: He might be a knucklehead, but he’s not a headcase. He plays hard. He tries. He competes. He does dumb things and makes you say, “WHY JAVALE WHY?!” but you won’t doubt the guy is giving it a good effort.[/B]

And at just 24, the guy still has a ceiling. He just needs a change of scenery, a coach willing to develop him and help him mature and an environment conducive to improving and growing. He’s got all of that now. George Karl is a perfect coach for him, he’s playing for a good team for the first time in his life and the Nuggets are a well run organization.

Much of the initial reaction from Nuggets fans could be summed up as, “I can’t believe the Nuggets just traded Nene for the dumbest player in the league!” And McGee’s low basketball IQ, evidenced by his many youtubed misakes that are both painfully and comically embarrassing, may be an impediment to his development that the Nuggets will have to contend with.

I think the passage I bolded in the quote above may be one of the more salient points about this trade. Check out this post on twitter from Nuggets radio announcer Jason Kosmicki on the heels of the trade news breaking:

jason kosmicki ‏ @RadioKoz
I can’t say to much here until its oh-ficial but this will help in so many ways that you don’t understand.

Now this is pure speculation on my part, and I hope in time we’ll learn more factual details about the situation, but it sounds to me like this trade goes beyond “basketball reasons”, and may venture intosome attitude and/or locker room problems. I’m not suggesting that Nene was a bad locker room guy in the sense of being confrontation or complaining or arguing with teammates. By all accounts he’s a friendly, warm-hearted dude. But I think it’s quite possible that, if his attitude towards improving his game was one of indifference, and if a conspicuous lack of effort and execution had a contagious effect on team chemistry, that his continued presence could be seen as a negative influence on the organizations’s culture.

I think all of us Nuggets fans, hopefully including those who don’t like this trade, can feel some relief that we’ll no longer need to complain about Nene doing half hearted layups rather than taking it to the hole, setting terribly weak screens, getting somewhat easily blocked out by smaller players, not putting in enough effort and, generally, just not using his size and strength to be nearly as tough as he potentially could. We may have a new set of problems in JaVale, but nothing is more frustrating than watching a potentially dominant player phone it in.

Here are another couple of great points from Koz:

a 65 million dollar contract comes with expectations. Those expectations need to be met
how effective was nene in the 4th quarter late in games? Go look. Cuz i know

What would you expect from a guy you’re paying $65 million? For one thing, you expect him to fill up some of the vacuum created by Melo’s departure, and actually improve with his larger role on the team.

But nearly across the board, Nene has taken steps back rather tan forward this season:

2010-11	28	20.4	.657	.615	7.5	20.8	14.4	10.4	1.8	2.4	13.9	18.8	123	104	6.4	3.1	9.6	0.201
2011-12	29	16.8	.554	.509	6.2	22.5	14.5	12.1	2.2	2.4	18.5	22.4	100	102	0.5	1.1	1.6	0.094
Career		17.4	.602	.560	8.3	18.6	13.5	10.1	2.2	2.3	16	18.3	113	103	27.9	23.2	51.1	0.149

Per 36 Minutes
2010-11	28	6.3	10.3	0.615	4.5	6.3	0.711	2.3	6.7	9	2.3	1.3	1.1	2.1	17.1
2011-12	29	6.2	12.2	0.509	3.9	5.8	0.677	1.9	7.2	9.1	2.7	1.6	1.1	3.4	16.4
Career		5.6	10	0.56	3.8	5.6	0.678	2.6	5.9	8.4	2.2	1.5	1.1	2.4	15

Compare this season with last season. A nearly 4 point drop in PER. More shot attempts per 36 minutes, but made at a 9% lower rate, also dropping his TS% over 10%.He’s added more than one turnovere per 36, while slipping back half an offensive rebound. In areas where he has made gains – namely defensive rebounds and assists – they’ve been small. His win shares have plummeted from 9.6 to 1.6. His offensive rating from 123 to 100.

I won’t claim to say that we can know yet if his game is actually regressing or if his heart just hasn’t been in it, but it’s fair to say that this was not the Nene the Nuggets front office broke the bank for last year. He has not delivered on expectations. He hasn’t just slipped slightly in the problematic areas from last season, he’s slipped below his career averages. And he hasn’t just been less productive, he’s been less productive while also being less efficient.

Look into the future, Nuggets fans. Nene is 29 now, In 2014-15 when he’s 32, in 2015-16 when he’s 33, and still assumed to be making $13 million each of those seasons (and every season until them), how do you think you would have felt about his contract at that point in the future if the Nuggets had retained him?

With this traded, the Nuggets increased their financial flexibility moving forward, not only gaining the ability to re-sign Chandler without blowing up the payroll, but also leaving room for the inevitable contract coming to Ty Lawson, and potentially one for McGee if Denver likes what they see from him through the remainder of the season.

McGee is taller and younger than Nene; Chandler’s young, too. Denver also gets a future 2nd round draft pick in this deal, according to reports, not to mention a very nice brand spankin’ new traded player exception. (This is actually a direct continuation of the Melo trade, in a series of fresh trade exceptions being acquired as older ones are spent).

So: More flexibility, more assets, more youth, more height, and in addition by subtraction, one fewer bad contract, with Kenneth Faried waiting in the wings to fill Nene’s vacancy with the minutes he’s in need of.

I don’t know how McGee will turn out in Denver. If it isn’t good, however, they can let him walk. And if he appears to be a good fit, they can extend him. Increased options is another benefit of this trade.

It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend sometimes. But it does seem to me that this trade does move the Nuggets onward to greener pastures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s