Denver Nuggets: Predicting Where Their Chinese Free Agents End Up
The Denver Nuggets lost three key rotation players this offseason, all of whom decided to forego most of the NBA season and sign contracts in China, which have no opt-out clauses like most other foreign leagues. Surprisingly, the Nuggets have been rolling without Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith off to a 14-5 start and one of the best records in the Western Conference.
But that doesn't mean that these three players couldn't be valuable pieces to teams looking to make playoff runs and in need of an outside boost. Since they won't be returning until February they will all likely sign short-term contracts with teams firmly in the postseason picture. It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense for one of them to come back just to play 15 games in Detroit.
Let's take a look at where these three may end up before the season ends...
Kenyon Martin: Los Angeles Clippers
As a 34-year-old veteran, Kenyon Martin is likely looking for not only a viable title contender, but a team that could use a player of his style.The revamped Los Angeles Clippers, who are looking to make their first meaningful postseason run since the Elton Brand days, could use another body to bolster their frontcourt.
Since dealing Chris Kaman in the blockbuster Chris Paul trade, the Clippers lost a great deal of their size and interior scoring. L.A.'s rotation is now jam-packed at the 1 and 2 but awfully thin at the 4 and 5.
The addition of Reggie Evans was savvy on the defensive end, as Evans has proven to be a hard-nosed defender and rebounder in the league, but he lacks any offense more than one foot from the hoop. Trey Thompkins could certainly have some value for a second-round pick, but he can't be counted on for major minutes yet, and Brian Cook's normally reliable three-point shooting is at a disappointing 21 percent.
Adding Martin would give them a legitimate backup to Griffin capable of playing 20 minutes a night or even stepping into the starting lineup if Griffin or Jordan need to sit out a few games.
He has a reliable mid-range jumper and a consistent set of post-moves, making him a worthwhile option on the offensive end. His defense and rebounding have always been solid, and for a power forward Martin is a capable passer as well.
In just 25 minutes a game last season he averaged 8.6 points, 6.2 boards and 2.3 assists while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
His injury history will be a concern as he'll be coming back right for the most important stretch of the season and will likely not be conditioned as well as most others in the league. However, as another veteran presence and one with a myriad of playoff experience with both the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets, Martin may be a more valuable piece than many would think.
Wilson Chandler: New York Knicks
This comes with the caveat that Chandler is a restricted free agent, meaning the Nuggets could potentially match an offer the Knicks tender him, which will likely be fairly meager to begin with.
However, should the Nuggets opt not to for whatever reason, New York is a very logical location for the swingman from DePaul. The Knicks lack a quality backup small forward; Bill Walker's injury history and lack of offensive versatility outside of perimeter shooting make him better suited as a rotation player than a main guy of the bench.
Chandler is exactly the kind of player the Knicks need to sign if they truly want to commit to a defensive mentality. He has great lateral quickness, good defensive instincts and has an uncanny knack for shot-blocking, averaging 1.4 a game with New York last season.
With the struggles of Landry Fields and the need potentially to rest Carmelo Anthony down the stretch Chandler could become your go-to sixth man and spot starter at the 2-guard or small forward spot. He averaged a career-high 16.4 points per game with the Knicks last season, albeit he was playing nearly 35 minutes a game. Still, due to his young legs and familiarity with Mike D'Antoni's system he could be an asset immediately.
Offensively he can penetrate the lane aggressively and get to the rim or drive-and-kick, in addition to being a solid spot-up shooter. Since defenses would most likely double Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire, Chandler could see plenty of open looks and the 35 percent he shot overall last season from deep could mesh well with a Knicks team willing to jack up an absurd number of threes as is.
Adding a player like Wilson Chandler would go a long way towards adding some depth to the Knicks' bench and though he was non-existent in his first playoff trip with Denver last season, the presence of a versatile player like Chandler could make a major difference between a first-round loss and a Conference Finals run.
J.R. Smith: Boston Celtics
I was torn between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers for Smith, but unless the Celtics are not realistically in the postseason picture I could see Smith joining the Boston bench late in the year. If the C's are to have any hope of making another championship run they need someone who can spell Ray Allen late in the season and that could very well be J.R. Smith, a lethal shooter, albeit one who is prone to head-scratching behavior.
Drafted straight out of high school, Smith has clashed with his coaches in both New Orleans and Denver, but has never played under a coach and leader of Doc Rivers' caliber. Signing him to a one-year deal would provide them with little risk if Rivers and Smith prove incompatible, but if anyone can get through to the talented Smith it's Rivers. If Smith proves to still be the headache he was in Denver then they aren't stuck with him long term.
The Celtics' backcourt rotation is coming together with Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels and the surprising rookie E'Twaun Moore, but they could use some more established scoring and floor spacing.
With the way a player like J.R. Smith can heat up from the floor he could be a valuable option playing behind Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. As the season carries on the Celtics could use another highly athletic player with fresh legs as they prepare for one last potential title push.
He shot 39 percent from deep last season and was one of the Nuggets primary scoring options and the key offensive player of their second unit. He averaged 12.3 points in only 24.9 minutes per game and while he still chucked up some questionable shots Smith did show some maturity and was able to stay out of George Karl's doghouse.
By last year's postseason the Celtics were clearly a beleaguered group which made it difficult to compete with the high-octane Miami Heat. Adding Smith, coupled with the new depth of the Celtics with Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Pietrus, Chris Wilcox and Avery Bradley Boston is coming closer to regaining the kind of versatile bench that made their past deep postseason runs possible.