To trade someone so quickly after committing to them for so long is very rare, especially when you’ve owned the incumbent player for a full decade beforehand. But it does happen. In light of trading him Washington yesterday, a mere three months after re-signing him to a 5-year $65 million contract, Denver are being accused of demonstrating buyer’s remorse over Nene.
But this is not strictly true.
Sam Amick reports that Denver began working on trading Nene almost immediately after re-signing him. He is unmistakably right, and it took only three months to go from the planning stage to completion. However, looking to trade Nene immediately is not, in itself, evidence of buyer’s remorse. That is evidence of something else.
That, if anything, is reselling, pawnbrokering, wheeler-dealing, merchanting. That is buying purely with intent to sell later on. That is either asset management or borderline deception, depending on your opinion. Whatever it is, it is not remorseful.
It was deliberate from the start.
Denver knew something we didn’t, something they never told us. They never wanted to re-sign Nene in the first place. Nene was re-signed for five years and $65 million because that was the cost of re-signing Nene, and not because Denver thought he was worth it. Denver had a choice — either lose Nene for nothing, or overpay him significantly. Even knowing that they would rather give minutes to Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, young bigs with potential, they chose the latter, re-signed Nene for big bucks, and then spend half the year playing him out of position. An overpaid asset is a better asset than no asset at all, and for as long as Nene’s perceived value (scorching hot after the summer courtship) outweighed his actual value, Denver intended to cash in. They did just that.
With this in mind, the trade starts to look a little different.
Regardless of any individual opinion with regards to the returned player, Javale McGee, Denver just got a productive, athletic, young big and emphatic salary relief in exchange for their non-All-Star highest-paid player whom they did not even want. “Buyer’s remorse” is not as fair of a representation of the saga as might be “buyer’s consolidation.” Denver didn’t regret re-signing Nene, as they did it specifically to deal him. A delayed sign-and-trade, if you will. And they’ve been able to complete it far soon than perhaps they expected.
If Denver thought Nene is not worth $13 million a season, having had over a decade in which to draw this conclusion, it is therefore quite the gamble for Washington to conclude that he is. However, they too were in a bind. Pretty much everything is wrong in Washington, and JaVale, for all his significant statistical production, is becoming the face of it. Similarly, Nick Young (concurrently traded to the L.A. Clippers for nothing but the meaningless Brian Cook and a probably meaningless second round pick) scored a ton, did nothing else, and wanted to get paid for his efforts. He did nothing Jordan Crawford couldn’t do, and having two remorseless one-dimension chuckers at the same position was solving nothing. Duplication of talent and lack of fundamentals has long been Washington’s problem, and this trade seeks to address that.
Washington are now paying a huge amount of money to an aging non-All-Star, with a lengthy if unfortunate injury history and stagnated, merely solid production. But if they weren’t going to re-sign McGee anyway, the value is apparent. Whatever flaws Nene brings with him — the advancing age, the injuries, the fact that he’s at his career apex right now and paid to produce more than he does — and the inconsistent effort on the year thus far (always worrying post-contract) Nene is a third-tier caliber big in this league, and it has been years since Washington had that. That is something that costs, always has cost, and always will cost a lot of money. If they were going to pay all that to McGee, and yet they think Nene is better, they may as well pay it to Nene instead.
If you didn’t like what the trade does for Washington, consider what not doing the trade does for them. They are left with the same shambles as before, with plenty of money to spend but no one who wants it, other than McGee and Young, both of whom are entering free agency wanting far more than they likely deserve. McGee’s lack of basketball IQ was not born out of Washington’s refusal to acknowledge it, or lack of effort to work at it. Flip Saunders benched him for Fabricio Oberto as often as he could. No, it seems innate within McGee, a man who keeps being told not to block it out of bounds or try to dunk from the tunnel, but who doesn’t seem to listen. These are the mistakes the young Wizards make. These are not mistakes Nene makes. (And I feel safe in saying that even in the wake of a bizarre spike in turnovers this year.) The cost is excessive, but if trading for Nene is the first step to building a smarter, more successful team, that seeks to develop some but not all of their talent from within, then it’s a step in the right direction. Their youth needs some guidance.
It might be a step in the right direction for the Nuggets, too. However, that is up to JaVale. Denver takes an enormous gamble that they will able to maximize McGee’s abilities and do away with the sideshow, in a way that no one previously has been able to do, whilst also retaining him for a competitive price. The second of these will be as much of a problem as the first. The money they save on Nene is rather meaningless if they plug it all straight back into McGee, and given that McGee feels he is worth $14 million — which is what the far superior Marc Gasol just got in his maximum value contract — this will become an inevitable summertime soap opera.
JaVale is not as good as he thinks he is. That much we know. The concern now is how good Denver thinks he is.
The Nuggets still value this season, which is why they kept Andre Miller. They are just about in the playoff seedings at the moment, winning the competitive 8th seed race with a 24-20 record, and have Wilson Chandler about to provide ample reinforcement. They are one of the league’s youngest teams, and one of its deepest, with two options, depth, potential and youth at every position. Trading Nene for youth is not the sign of blowing things up, because there was nothing to blow up. Denver are the rare example of the team built adequately for both the short and the long term, and trading Nene so soon after re-signing him accords with both of those plans. The question is whether they could have done better than McGee had they waited a bit longer.
Trading Nene quickly was always the plan, whether we knew it or not. We’ll wait and see if it was too quick.