The Denver Nuggets should amnesty Chris “Birdman” Andersen

With the rise of rookie Kenneth Faried to a legitimate starting caliber power forward, and the general movement of the Denver Nuggets towards stockpiling young assets with upside who have the potential to be a part of the team’s future for years to come, once fan-favorite Chris “Birdman” Andersen saw his role diminish from a stalwart 20+ minutes rotation player to a permanent bench resident.

His elimination from the rotation may not have been entirely about basketball. On May 10, Denver’s 9News reported that Andersen was “the target of an ongoing investigation in a suspected Internet criminal case” and that “Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children investigators seized property from Andersen’s home”. The report went on to quote the Nuggets’ press release as saying that Andersen had “been excused from all team-related activities indefinitely as he deals with the reported investigation”.

He was not arrested and thus far no charges have been filed and no further details have been released. Shortly after the police raided Andersen’s home, the Denver Post reported that his attorney Colin Bresee had released a statement indicating Andersen may have been the victim of extortion. A recent update in the Post revealed that the investigation is still ongoing, and that “a task force created to investigate is still awaiting for forensic evidence to come back from a laboratory”.

In other words, we really don’t know what’s going to become of the Birdman as a result of this investigation.

It’s also unclear whether his late season benching happened coincidentally as a result of the Nuggets front office and coaching staff wanting to develop their four young frontcourt players (Faried, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos), or if it was due to the team having an inside track on his legal entanglements.

What we do know is that, for whatever reasons, by the last few months of the season he was persona non grata, His season effectively ended on March 15th, about a month and a half prior to the end of the regular season. He played in only one game after that, stepping in for only five minutes on March 25th, and then never setting foot on the court again, including during the Nuggets’ playoff run versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

Three years ago, Andersen inked a 5-year contract with Denver worth approximately $21 million. It was a reasonable move to make at the time. The Nuggets were coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance in which they made a strong push against the then-mighty Los Angeles Lakers, and the Birdman was an integral part of that roster.

But fast forward to present day, when Andersen, now 34 years old, still has two years remaining on his contract at about $4.5 and $4.8 million respectively, has a body that in the 2010-11 season began to show signs of some potentially serious wear and tear (he played only 45 games that year), and with the deadline trade of Nene for JaVale McGee, is the last living remnant on the Nuggets of a team and an era that simply do not exist anymore.

The Birdman is a part of these Nuggets’ past, and clearly has no place in their future.

Given his legal situation, his status now as a non-contributor to the team on the basketball front, his age and potential injury risk, and the two rather hefty remaining years on his contract, the risks and liabilities have come to far outweigh any benefit as a player or value as an asset that Andersen has to offer.

The time has come for the Denver Nuggets to part ways with Chris Andersen, and the amnesty provision of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented at the end of last year provides them with the mechanism they need to cut him loose.

But if they’re going to use it, they have to act fast.

According to Larry Coon’s excellent Salary Cap FAQ, amnesty, which “is a one-time opportunity for teams to release one player via the waiver process and remove him from their team salary and luxury tax computations”, has a limited window for being used, only “available for the first seven days that follow the July [free agency and trade] moratorium”.

As this year’s moratorium ended on July 10th, the amnesty deadline is July 17th, giving the Nuggets approximately 36 hours to pull the trigger as I write this post now.

I really hope they do it.

Perhaps an even more pressing concern than the risks and tolls involved with keeping Birdman on board is the severe limitation on available roster spots. After recently re-signing Andre Miller, then in a bit of a surprise move signing rookie guard Evan Fournier, and soon – most expect – extending JaVale McGee, the Nuggets have, including Andersen, a seam-splitting fourteen guaranteed players on their 2012-13 roster.

And that is before signing second round draft pick (and sleeper hopeful) Quincy Miller, or retaining development project point guard Julyan Stone.

Let alone making any moves in the free agency market, an option I and many other Nuggets fans had pretty much dismissed out of hand considering the way this offseason has unfolded, but which had to be reevaluated after Anthony Randolph was spotted with Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri watching Denver play Dallas, and rumors started flying about Denver’s interest in the 23-year-old forward.

So what makes more sense for the Denver Nuggets? To keep Chris Andersen on board and pay him nearly $10 million over the next two seasons, which will count against the salary cap (and luxury tax if they spend enough on payroll)? And in doing so to prevent the signing of a young player with upside who has a shot at growing with this young team and being part of their future?

Or to cut him loose, along with the baggage and salary he comes with, finally making a clean break with a Nuggets past which is irrelevant to the organization’s current trajectory, and making room for the addition of youthful assets with the potential to contribute to this incarnation of the Nuggets for years to come?

Sorry, Chris, but it’s a no-brainer. I do hope you’re innocent, and if so, that you’re fully exonerated. And I appreciate the Birdman glory days (I’ll probably never tire of watching the video posted below). And if everything does work out for you, you’re a player I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing chasing a ring somewhere that you can play a role for a contender.

But as for the Nuggets, it’s time to set a firmly forward bearing course.

And the only sensible way to make that happen is to amnesty the Birdman.

Fly on, Freebird. (If, you know, they actually do amnesty you).

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