In one of the day's more bizarre trades, the Denver Nuggets (as part of a three-team deal) have essentially swapped Nene for JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
Considering how quickly the Wizards' roster devolved into post-apocalyptic chaos, the decision to trade McGee for a more stable veteran is an easily explainable one in Washington. Yet for Denver, the prospect of immediately ditching a prized free-agent acquisition in exchange for an infamous knucklehead may seem rather baffling on first glance.
That said, consider the following:
- Per Ken Berger of CBS Sports and Sam Amick of SI.com, the Nuggets faced an almost immediate bout of "buyer's remorse," regarding their decision to ink Nene to a five-year, $67 million contract just prior to the season. Nene's injury history is hardly squeaky clean, which is far from a good sign for a big man who hasn't yet entered his 30s.
- JaVale McGee's career has been a comedy of errors, but he also knows nothing but the ways of one struggling franchise. The Wizards' problems seemed to stem less from individual players like McGee or Andray Blatche, and more from the lack of a proper team infrastructure.
NBA players—like all people—are dynamic entities. They ebb and flow as a product of their natural biorhythms, their skill work, and the frequency of practice and rest, among a wide variety of other factors.
Their futures are never written in stone, even though a shocking number of NBA observers claim to know the ceiling or floor for a player with absolute certainty. It's never quite that simple, and though some players are stigmatized early for lacking a jump shot, causing a problem in the locker room or making defensive blunders, NBA players are—for the most part—entirely malleable.
Some are far more willing to be shaped than others, but even the most stubborn can find enlightenment under the right coach or in the right system.
For every young player, the recipe is different. Some need discipline. Some need freedom. But all need leadership of some kind, and McGee—through a particularly problematic era of Wizards basketball—never seemed to get much of any.
That hasn't stopped McGee from ranking as a top-15 rebounder and a top-five shot blocker on a per-possession basis this season—that elusive carrot that will keep teams chasing after McGee his entire career, no matter what happens in Denver.
Those stats alone don't quite speak to McGee's defensive faults or overall absurdity, but the raw production they represent cannot be discounted. Somewhere in that lanky, seven-foot frame is a hell of a player, limited largely by whatever strange things are brewing in that noggin of his.
George Karl will have his work cut out for him with this particular project, and it's entirely possible that his somewhat laissez-faire instructive style won't be the precise remedy that McGee needs. But perhaps McGee can find guidance in Andre Miller or Al Harrington. Or maybe all McGee really needed was a change of scenery and a better system.
We'll all know soon enough; the second stage of McGee's career is beginning in earnest, and though he's made incomprehensible play after incomprehensible play, there's nothing in McGee's profile—daffy though it may be—to suggest him universally unsalvageable.