Nene opted out of his contract with the Nuggets – no surprise, except to the people in Denver – and will test the free agent waters. On the heels of trading away Carmelo Anthony in February, this one has to sting a bit. Fortunately, the Nuggets are still in position to be a playoff contender in the West thanks to the bounty from the Knicks’ trade (Mozgov could start at center over Birdman), and a smart No. 1 draft pick (Kenneth Faried, power forward to replace Kenyon Martin). But if you look at Denver’s starting lineup to open the 2010 season (had everyone been healthy) – Billups, Afflalo, Melo, Martin, Nene – and then compare it to what they’ll probably open the 2011 season with (Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari, Chandler, Birdman) … the fact that they’re not looking at a 20-win season after losing four starters is pretty impressive.
Six options of where Nene could end up:
Indiana Pacers. Will have tons of cap room to make a move on someone in free agency. How does Nene next to Roy Hibbert sound? Tyler Hansbrough wouldn’t like it, but Indy would have as good a PF/C combo as anyone in the East. This has lots of potential, especially when you combine those two with Danny Granger at SF, Paul George at SG, and George Hill at PG (even though he’s more of a hybrid). That’s a long, big five players to have on the court in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Your top three off the bench are Hansbrough, Collison and Rush. Not bad. Not bad at all. I actually think this could position the Pacers to jockey for the 4th spot in the East.
Miami Heat. Not sure the can afford him unless … a) The Big Three take a pay cut, b) Nene takes significantly less money than he could get elsewhere, c) Miami rounds out its roster with players making the NBA minimum (whatever that is under the new CBA).
San Antonio Spurs. Don’t see how they can make it happen financially with Duncan, Parker, Manu & Jefferson all making big bucks. Trading Tony Parker seems out of the question now that George Hill is gone, and Richard Jefferson alone won’t fetch much.
Boston Celtics. It probably would mean moving Ray Allen and maybe even Kevin Garnett, but Nene would instantly help Boston remain in the title hunt despite the Big 3 getting up there in age.
New Jersey Nets. If the Nets will consider David West, why not Nene, who is younger, but probably more expensive? Nene isn’t the pick-and-pop guy that West is, but Dwight Howard would probably love to play alongside a monster power forward (apologies to Brandon Bass).
Dallas Mavericks. Tyson Chandler is a free agent. Would the Mavericks really be OK with Brendan Haywood starting at center? I don’t think Ian Mahinmi is ready for a backup role just yet. Dallas would stay in the title mix by adding Nene.