NBA Rumors: Nuggets Must Re-Sign JaVale McGee to Contend in Western Conference

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot over JaVale McGee #34 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets need someone to get them over the hump.

Sure, they have made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, but all but one of those has ended after the first round.

The gigantic problem with the Nuggets has been their lack of a big man inside to protect the rim.

For all of the offensive talent Nene possessed, he didn’t strike an ounce of fear into opponents driving down the lane. Chris “Birdman” Anderson can at times, but he certainly couldn’t be relied upon on a consistent basis because of his weak offensive game.

That’s why this summer the No. 1 goal of the Nuggets should be to re-sign JaVale McGee. Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick reports the two sides are close to a deal to retain the 7’0’’ center:

Source says Denver's talks w/ restricted free agent C JaVale McGee are progressing and all signs point to his Nuggets tenure continuing.

— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 11, 2012

Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post reports he’ll cost roughly $10 million per year, which seems a tad high for a player with consistency issues, but that’s the going rate nowadays for a strong center in the NBA.

Just ask the Brooklyn Nets, who are in the midst of trying to sign Brook Lopez to either a four-year, $58 million deal or one for five years and $78 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

McGee averaged 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in only 20.6 minutes of action after he was traded to Denver with 20 games remaining in the season. Those numbers morph into 20-10-3 if he has an entire offseason to work with his teammates and is given starters minutes next year.

Did I forget to mention his postseason performance, where he swatted 22 shots (3.1 per game) and hauled in nine or more rebounds in four of the seven games against the mighty Lakers front line?

While averaging 3.6 rebounds in only five games of action last year is far too small of a sample size for Lopez, the 5.9 per game he hauled in in 82 games in 2010-11 aren’t much better. He is a scorer that is a weak rebounder and mediocre shot-blocker (1.6 per game in his career).

If he’s worthy of a max deal, getting McGee for $10 million a season is a steal. For that main reason, Hotchman reports the Portland Trail Blazers may try to make a run for his services.

The Nuggets need to step up now.

After spending the first three years of his career mentally adjusting to the life of an NBA player, it appears McGee finally “gets it” at the age of 24. He played and acted like a seasoned veteran in his short time with the Nuggets.

And that’s the most exciting aspect of this for Denver: McGee is still maturing as a player and has yet to reach his full potential. The best years of his career are still in front of him as he continues to learn the intricacies of the game.

A true center that can swat shots like they're bugs and can run the break and finish with authority is a game-changer in today’s NBA. You need a defensive presence inside to protect the rim, especially when your guards are less-than-stellar defenders.

McGee can be the rock in the post to fend off Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (which he most certainly did by the end of their series this year).

Yet the Lakers aren’t the only Western Conference team with punishing big men.

Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Zach Randolph and Kevin Love all reside in the Western Conference. If you don’t have a big man who can hold his own offensively and make life difficult for them in the post, you have no shot of competing in this conference.

The greatest example is the Dallas Mavericks. They won a title behind the incredible rim protection of Tyson Chandler, only to be swept away in Round 1 a year later with roughly the same exact roster minus Chandler.

Fans are fed up with the first-round exits, and re-signing McGee will go a long way to ensure there will be Nuggets basketball deep into the month of May for the foreseeable future.