The Nuggets’ high flying big man is coming off the best season of his career. The self-proclaimed “Birdman” led the team’s defensive charge this past season, averaging 2.5 blocks in just 20.6 minutes per game. That translates into an impressive league-leading 5.75 blocks per 48 minutes.
The 6’ 10" Andersen, ironically enough, has just as an impressive wingspan, allowing him to swat away any given layup attempt by an opposing player. He has certainly been an intimidating force, but there haven’t always been clear skies for the Birdman.
Andersen grew up in Texas, and decided to leave Blinn Community College in 1999 after one year, with his sights set on the NBA.
Unfortunately for Andersen, whether it was his lack of public exposure or his lackluster offensive ability, he went undrafted.
After playing one year in China for the Jiangsu Dragons, Andersen returned to The States and bounced around between minor league professional teams. By the 2001-02 NBA season, Andersen began to realize his dream when he signed a contract with the Denver Nuggets.
Andersen’s NBA career started off sub-par, as he was playing off the bench for a small market team and his statistics were proving him to be just another basketball vagabond going through the motions.
By 2004, Andersen’s athleticism was gaining him exposure, after he participated in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. That summer, Andersen signed with the New Orleans Hornets where he was free to post career highs in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage, as well as to participate in his second consecutive Slam Dunk Contest.
The Hornets looked as though they would be a good fit for Andersen, but as time would tell, he was soon evicted from his comfortable setting.
In January 2006, Andersen was given a two-year ban from the league when he violated the NBA’s anti-drug policy. The banned substance that he tested positive for was not disclosed. His career was clearly in serious peril.
Andersen didn’t ever think so. He was persistent in work outs and media stories were released almost every month on his progress, with Birdman continuing to grow stronger.
In March 2008, he became the first player to apply for and be granted reinstatement. Andersen re-signed with the Hornets almost immediately.
However, all of the previous progress Andersen had made seemed to have gone astray. In the last two months of the season with the Hornets, he only played in five games, averaging numbers far below his previous lows as a rookie.
Although he made it back, he left little hope for future success. Andersen’s fate as a vagabond looked to be officially sealed.
Fast forward to 2009, and the Birdman is flying high once again. Now 30 years old, Andersen was shown mercy by the Nuggets, and has returned to join players like J.R. Smith and Linus Klezia to form what some call the league’s most formidable bench.
A strong contender throughout their conference finals series with the Lakers, many felt the Nuggets had the potential to deliver an upset. Chris Andersen is certainly one to thank for that new found optimism.
An instant fan favorite because of his spiky hair and vast athleticism, Andersen is one of the Nuggets’ most marketable players, helping draw fans into the arena of the small basketball market city.
If he opts to stay with the Nuggets, who provided him with the opportunity to revive his career, Andersen may lose out on his chance to cash in.
If Anthony Carter is any indication, it doesn’t bode well for Andersen. A tight-budgeted team, the Nuggets only rewarded Carter—one of the more reliable backup point guards in the league—with two straight minimum contracts.
Even given the team’s stingy history, Andersen’s allegiance still seems to be with the Nuggets. Recently interviewed after the team’s playoff loss, Andersen relayed the message that he was looking to stay with the Nuggets: “I love this city, I love this state. I appreciate everybody in the whole town for backing us and helping us prove others wrong."
The Nuggets, however, have been focused on providing their starters with big money, while signing low-paid backups. With Nene and Kenyon Martin already in the fold for the long haul, it’s unlikely the team will move one of them on in order to give Andersen a starting job.
At the same time, other teams should jump on the chance to add Andersen, who should be demanding a Mid-level Exception (MLE) salary.
Birdman has risen to develop into one of the league’s best defensive players. In a league full of “run and gun” offenses, defense is becoming a lost art, and Andersen has set himself up to enter a market full of teams lacking that type of artist.
Andersen will have to explore his options during the summer. If he can cash in with another team, he should jump at the opportunity. If not, staying with the Nuggets and giving them a hometown discount will add to his already strong fanfare.
Either way, Andersen finally looks to be on the right path and should only continue to flourish.
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