Few NBA players boast the sort of all-around gifts on the interior that Nene can. The 6-11 center/forward can keep up with guards as they attempt to attack from the perimeter, he helps defensively with his frontcourt teammates, and he has an efficient offensive game that can be trusted in a pinch. He's also 30, he's had a series of knee injuries, and he's due $13 million a year over the next four seasons mainly because all those intriguing attributes made him the most sought-after free agent in last December's weak market. Those mitigating factors -- including missing 16 out of 43 games so far this season -- also encouraged the Nuggets to trade Nene to the Washington Wizards on Thursday just four months after throwing a massive contract his way.
The Los Angeles Clippers also jumped in the fun, sending Brian Cook and a second-round pick to Washington for scoring off guard Nick Young, a straight out of central casting type that plays so-so (if improved defense), passes perhaps fewer times than any off guard in the NBA, but can score in bunches inside and out.
Denver for its trouble, will take on a bit batch of it: JaVale McGee. The NBA's most celebrated knucklehead will take his ridiculous hops and 3.2 blocks per every 36 minutes to Denver in a surprising deal that makes a little sense for each team. Washington, as is often the case, still comes out behind the Nuggies and Clippers in the "making sense" department.
This isn't a screwup on the level with Wes Unseld's famous young-for-old deals (this time, Washington sent a guy named "Young" away and received a player in Nene whose name literally translates to "baby"), but it is a little worrying considering Nene's baggage and contract. In the meantime, though, he'll play fantastic basketball when he's healthy, he's a real pro in the locker room and on the court (despite injury concerns, Nene won't be showing up out of shape anytime soon), and despite that big contract he remains quite tradeable as a borderline All-Star at a tough position to fill.
And if the Wizards do luck into the top overall pick this June and select Anthony Davis (Washington has the league's second-worst record, but a lottery switch could change their draft standing), Nene will certainly provide an excellent mentor for the incoming big man. Much more so than McGee, a player whose basketball IQ appears unconscionable at times.
It's a safe move, losing two players of unquestionably bad influence to take on one of the game's more well-rounded players; and though we don't envy Nene having to leave the only team he's known in a decade of NBA basketball to take to a lottery-ready Wizards team, he should be able to make the switch with ease. Washington has plenty of options, both in the open market or trade market, moving forward.
Denver's a strange story, especially when you consider the quickness in which they made the turnaround for Nene, but the team's depth allows for them to take chances like this. Denver badly needs help on defense, and though Nene's all-around gifts seemed to keep the team's dodgy perimeter in check, perhaps the shot-blocking McGee might be better suited for a pell-mell squad like the Nuggets.
Let's be clear, the Nuggets are going completely random with this one. Nene was supposed to be the calming influence, the unorthodox-but-strangely-orthodox big that remained a constant through all the running and rotation changes. Injuries got in the way of that, and now McGee (likely paired more often with the high-flying Kenneth Faried) will be counted on to start innumerable fast breaks.
The problem with JaVale is that he's just as likely to be caught completely out of place while chasing those blocks. McGee is often at the top of the leader board when it comes to block rate (the amount of defensive possessions he ends with a block), but a 9 percent mark will easily lead the league in that category. That leaves over 90 percent of the possessions you take part in (not just in a game, but the ones you're out there for) to cover correctly, help, shade, hedge, box out, and all that boring stuff. McGee, to put it kindly, isn't always on the same page with those sorts of heady defensive principles.
He'll also make $10 million less than Nene this year, he's not explicitly replacing him, and the Nuggets have plenty of 7-footers to go around. The move will likely ease the return of forward Wilson Chandler from China (signing as a restricted free agent, with most interested teams capped-out), and it will allow the Nuggets to go into 2013 free agency with enough space (after retaining Chandler) to grab a maxed-out free agent.
No, there's still no star here. But Nene wasn't a star either, and the Nuggets have to take a chance on making a major move.
Nick Young with the Clippers fits perfectly. You would honestly be shocked at how little he passes, newfound national TV audiences, and he won't do anything to help Vinny Del Negro's 22nd-ranked defense, but the Clippers badly needed a competent sort with a good touch at the off-guard position. Teams have basically been backing off and begging Randy Foye to shoot the Clippers out of games all season, and while Nick Young isn't exactly Ray Allen, defenses won't be allowed that luxury with Los Angeles' newest addition. He'll make some Wizard-y plays, too, which are always fun.
Not as many as JaVale McGee will make working in that thin Denver air, though. Get ready to fire up a few YouTube clips, Denver and Los Angeles. These guys bring the laffs.
Washington knows this. And they're more than happy to play the straight man from here on out.