On a day destined to see the professional basketball world stop rotating, the Nuggets officially learned that one of the centers of their universe may not be returning. As the NBA lockout looms, it’s anyone’s best guess as to when players will next take the floor. However, when they do, Denver will be in a considerably worse position if Nene is not in powder blue.
The 6’11” Brazilian informed the Nuggets that he is opting out of the final year of current deal with the team. Scheduled to make $11.6 million, the 28-year old Nene believes it’s in his best interest to test the open market. Denver better hope the other 29 teams fail the exam.
For whatever reason, the Nugget fan base has not taken to Nene particularly well. Claims that Nene is “soft” or ill-suited to play center at the NBA level have been numerous. Folks have been adamant that someone of Nene’s stature should be more aggressive at the rim and finish stronger in the post.
While Nene does not play “the five” in a conventional manner, he is certainly tougher than he is typically given credit and for Denver to let him walk now would be a big mistake.
The reality is that Nene has been playing out of position for the last handful of seasons. Though he is tall (and wide) enough to play center, his athletic ability and shooting touch make him more suited for the power forward position. The problem is, the Nuggets haven’t had the prospect of a true NBA center with enough upside to consider moving Nene to “the four.”
That changed when Denver dealt Melo to the Knicks. Timofey Mosgov was one piece that arrived with the New York bundle. Yes, the Russian is raw. But he’s also 7’1” and runs the floor like a small forward. Will he be able to take on the minutes necessary to move Nene to power forward full-time? Not immediately, but when the two are on the floor together it will create the opportunity for mismatches and (potentially) easy Nugget scores.
On the Nuggets former team of “me-first” scoring “stars”, Nene struggled to find his place. Now that the group has been overhauled with a handful of youthful faces, the nine-year veteran (should he decide to stay in Denver) will have a chance to a) become a primary scoring option and b) provide leadership to a team in desperate need of an identity.
What Denver can do for Nene, however, pales in comparison to he can do for the team. As we learned in the playoffs, the Nuggets need a go-to offensive force. The “score by committee” attack that served its purpose in the regular season, came up painfully short in the postseason. Given the opportunity to embrace the role, Nene could evolve into the dominant scorer that he wants to be and the Nuggets would need him to be.
At the same time, having Nene in the fold would also allow for the gradual development of Mosgov. No Nene, and the Nuggets will be forced to go with more youth up front than they would likely prefer.
Nene opting out of his final year doesn’t necessarily mean he will never play for the Nuggets again. This is good news for Nuggets fan-- who should hope Nene finds it necessary to return.