It's been a strange road for Kenneth Faried. From the moment he arrived in the association, his dichotomous nature as high-energy Manimal on the court and soft-spoken son of two mothers off it made him a media darling. And yet even as his star rises as Team USA's starting power forward, Faried's value as a once traditional player at a position that's evolving further from the basket remains in question.
Drafted 22nd overall by the Nuggets, Faried earned a 2011-12 First Team All-Rookie selection and Rising Stars Challenge MVP honors upon collecting 40 points and 10 boards as a sophomore. The 6-foot-8, 228-pound Morehead State product averaged a double-double per 36 minutes each of his first three NBA seasons, and has replicated those numbers in the opening three games of the FIBA World Cup.
While Faried has emerged as a perfect frontcourt pairing to Anthony Davis in the absence of Team USA stalwarts Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — all of whom bring their own set of skills to a position increasingly populated by stretch-4's — the criticism leveled at the Class of 2015 restricted free agent remains. We'll let Zach Lowe explain, as he did both fairly and pointedly for Grantland last month.
Faried conceives of himself as a max-level player, but he can’t shoot and he has struggled defensively. He can’t protect the rim in the half-court (his chase-down blocks in transition kick major ass, though), and he’s never been an intuitive pick-and-roll defender.
Lowe rightly noted Faried's tireless work ethic around the rim and in transition, skills that earned Kenyon Martin $91.75 million over seven seasons in Denver, but the Nuggets are determined not to hamstring themselves with the same contracts that ultimately left them Western Conference also-rans last decade.
So, Denver general manager Tim Connelly has shopped Faried at every turn — for a first-round pick last year and more understandably for Kevin Love this summer — and if all of this seems like a strange way for a 36-win team in need of elite talent to court a 24-year-old All-Star-caliber player, then join the club.
Speaking about last season in Denver last night, Team USAer Kenneth Faried said trade rumors "affect you when you want to stay somewhere"— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014
Faried clearly wants to stay with Nuggets and is mounting quite a contract drive as negotiations continue on extension to keep him in Denver— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014
Nuggets and Faried have until Halloween to finalize extension or Team USA's emerging energizer will become restricted free agent next summer— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014
Restricted free agents experienced mixed results this summer. The Jazz matched Charlotte's four-year, $63 million offer to Gordon Hayward. The Mavericks snatched Chandler Parsons from Houston for three years and $46 million. Greg Monroe seems willing to sign Detroit's $5.5 million qualifying offer in hopes of cashing in as an unrestricted free agent next summer. And who the hell knows what's happening with Eric Bledsoe. All these options are on the table, as is a five-year extension worth eight figures annually.
Given the history of stars using USA Basketball as a springboard to NBA success, the Nuggets may be wise to meet Faried's demands sooner rather than later. Granted, he's played three blowout wins against Finland, Turkey and New Zealand, but Faried's World Cup averages of 14.3 points on 80.8 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds are impressive, and count Mike Krzyzewski among his growing list of fans.
"Overall, from the start of training camp, he's been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us," USA Basketball's coach told ESPN.com. "He’s made that happen."
That endorsement alone should have suitors lining up for Faried's services next summer. Then again, if rumors are to be believed, Denver couldn't find a team willing to part with a first-round pick for him last summer. The NBA sure is a strange road, even for a kid forever plowing full-speed ahead.