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Fran Blinebury

Nene
Nene has averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds over nine seasons with the Nuggets.
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For center Nene, free agent jackpot all about timing


Posted Dec 7 2011 4:55PM - Updated Dec 8 2011 4:39PM

Noted Knicks fan Woody Allen once said 80 percent of success is showing up.

Nene might have added something about timing.

There's nothing like stepping up to the counter at the convenience store with a Coke in one hand, a bag of Cheetos in the other and letting the buck in change go toward a lottery ticket at just the moment when the quick-pick machine decides to spit out the right combination.

Jackpot, Nene.

A season ago, he'd have been lost amid the fireworks and the smoke machine of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Next summer, he could merely be part of the scenery if Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams take center stage on the open market.

But for now, the free agent world is Nene's oyster bar and he's prepared to slurp up all that he can.

"I learned last season that this was a business," Nene told Yahoo! Sports. "No matter how nice you are to people, no matter how nice people are to you, this is a business. I did my best for the team and they waited and waited to extend me. I was like, 'Oh, OK, all these years playing good, doing your best and they still test you.' That's not about family, love and somebody liking you. It's a business.

"God put me in this opportunity to be one of the top players in free agency, and I'm going to take advantage of it because it's never going to come back again. It's one opportunity I have in my life."

It is also an interesting opportunity to see how the league reacts in the immediate aftermath of the damaging five-month labor lockout when the ownership side was pushing hard to install limits on contracts that they themselves can offer.

What might it say about all of the hand-wringing and cries of red ink if right out of the box there's a team willing to make a max offer of $17 million a year to a guy with career averages of 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game over nine seasons with the Nuggets?

Does Nene break the bank because he's, well, there? That depends on your perspective. Dallas, Golden State, Houston, Indiana, Miami and New Jersey are all known to covet him. Denver wants very much to keep him.

The 6-foot-11 center can play at both ends of the floor, which is unique, and the fact that he can do that as a "five" is more unique, though the questions have always been less about his physical prowess than his game-to-game consistency.

Nene is usually efficient, leading the league in shooting at 61.5 percent last season, and is good on the glass. But does his arrival change your franchise? Probably not.

And yet.

He is the big man the Heat crave and the kind of man in the middle the Mavericks will need to have any shot at defending their title if they aren't willing to meet the demands of their own free agent Tyson Chandler. For the Warriors and Pacers, he could be a solid piece that puts a couple of clubs on the periphery firmly into the playoff mix. With the gaping hole in their lineup left by the retirement of Yao Ming and the desperate need for proven size at the start of Kevin McHale's tenure as coach, the Rockets' urge to land him is considerable.

Perhaps nowhere is the drive greater than with the Nets, who are now secure in the long-time viability of the franchise with the upcoming move to Brooklyn, but need to assemble a more competitive supporting cast in order to convince the All-Star point guard Williams to re-sign next summer.

The question, of course, is whether all of the candidates -- including the Nuggets -- would merely be repeating the kind of traditional mistake that contributed to the 149 days of acrimony from summer into fall?

There is no blaming Nene for any of what happens. He's been a good citizen and a decent man throughout his career and is only taking the same advantage everyone else would with a system that is presenting him with a huge payday, wrapped up pretty and tied with a bow just in time for the Christmas Day season openers.

Nene carries the kind of career numbers that impresses the stat wonks with his efficiency. But at 29, does he remain a big man full of untapped potential waiting to be unlocked and unleashed in a new setting? Or does a resume of nearly a full decade reveal what you see as what you get -- a player who tends to shrink in the clutch, most recently in the Nuggets' first-round playoff loss to the Thunder last season.

To Nene, the answer hardly matters. The success is in showing up at the right time.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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