Another Nuggets season is in the books, which means its never too early to start discussing the future.
With several key players eligible for free agency this summer, the Mailbag was flooded with inquiries related to Denver’s potential personnel moves, both internally and externally.
Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Gary Forbes are restricted free agents, while Melvin Ely, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are unrestricted. Nene can become an unrestricted free agent if he opts out of his contract before July 1.
Now that everybody is up to speed, let’s get to the questions.
Who do you think is the most important free agent to re-sign for 2011-12 and why?- Ben, Calabasa, CA
I believe each of Denver’s pending free agents has his own unique qualities, but I’m not going to duck your question. Thus, my answer would have to be … Arron Agustin Afflalo.
Arron is what coaches call a "glue guy" – someone who holds everything together. Not only is he improving his game on the court, he's growing as a leader in the locker room. Coach George Karl even said that Afflalo is a leading candidate to be a team captain next season.
He is a tireless worker who set career highs in nearly every category each of the past two seasons. The Nuggets can ill afford to lose his perimeter scoring on the offensive end and his tenacity and intelligence on the defensive end. We saw Afflalo’s value during the playoffs as he sat out the first two games with a hamstring injury. In a series where four of the five games were decided by four points or less, his contributions were certainly missed.
Is this the final year the Nuggets rid themselves of overpaying for Kenyon Martin?- Chris, Greeley
Allow me to take you on a journey back to the summer of 2004 when Kenyon was among the top free agents on the market. He was an athletic All-Star who could score, rebound and guard five positions. He was a 26-year-old beast just entering his prime. He had two NBA Finals appearances under his belt and was exactly the type of power forward the Nuggets needed to play alongside budding superstar Carmelo Anthony and steady point guard Andre Miller. Even the most skeptical media types embraced the signing as something Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe had to do.
“At 26, Martin is pretty much everything you want in a power forward,” Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Krieger wrote on June 22, 2004. “He’s big, strong, athletic and belligerent. The Nuggets had a lot of appealing qualities last season, but physical toughness wasn’t one of them. Sign Kenyon Martin and you won’t be worrying about that.”
In the NBA, as in life, things don't always work out as planned. Kenyon ran into injury problems within two years and wasn't able to be the dominant player that he and the Nuggets hoped he would be. Was it his fault that he was being paid maximum money? He earned the contract while playing with New Jersey and simply capitalized on the free-agent market.
Keep in mind that K-Mart was a defensive force against David West and Dirk Nowitzki during Denver’s run to the 2009 Western Conference finals. Not bad for someone who had microfracture surgery on both knees. He also assumed a bigger leadership role in the locker room after Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups were traded on Feb. 22, while averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds after the All-Star break, compared to 6.3 and 5.3 before the break.
You might consider me a K-Mart apologist, but I think Kenyon has value. After the playoffs, he said he didn't want to leave Denver and the Nuggets would like to keep him at the right price. What is that price? Just as it did seven years ago, the free-agent market will tell us the answer.
What's up, A-Lo:
A-Tuck here from all the way in Arkansas. Long-time fan of the Nuggets. Just wondering what types of moves we can expect from the Nuggets in the offseason.- Aaron, Little Rock, AR
I've been covering the Nuggets – and, previously the Avs, Broncos, Rockies, CU Buffs, CSU Rams, et al – for 17 years and this might be one of the most difficult offseasons to predict.
What I can tell you is that Nuggets team president Josh Kroenke and executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri will work tirelessly to put a quality team on the court. Winning an NBA championship remains the primary goal, and there are no plans to rebuild.
With several players scheduled to become free agents, the Nuggets are intent on keeping the core of the team together. Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Gary Forbes, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are talented players who are certain to attract interest from other teams as well.
I think the Nuggets will focus on their own free agents first and then evaluate others available on the open market. They also have the 22nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and are already working hard to find someone who can become an impact player for years to come.
What can the Nuggets take away from this season to really push them to become a contender next season?- Tim, Denver
If I had to cite one thing, it's probably experience.
After trading Melo and Chauncey - two playoff-tested veterans - the Nuggets became a relatively young team; Nene, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith were the only holdovers with significant postseason experience. While the first-round playoff loss to Oklahoma City was disappointing, it also should prove educational for guys such as Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson.
Gallinari scored 18 points in his playoff debut and added another 18 in the second half of Denver’s Game 4 victory, while Lawson broke loose for 27 points in Game 4. Chandler struggled offensively but was repeatedly lauded by coach George Karl for his defense against Kevin Durant.
After the All-Star break, the Nuggets showed the world that balanced scoring, solid defense and fundamental basketball can keep them in contention for a division title.
Everyone says you still need a go-to guy in the playoffs, but I think there's a chance for Denver to develop that guy from within. Arron Afflalo, Lawson and Gallinari are a few names that come to mind as potential "breakout" performers for 2011-12.
The only downside is that we have to wait several more months to see it happen.