NBA Free Agents 2011: 10 Teams That Need to Acquire Nene Hilario This Summer

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorMay 11, 2011

NBA Free Agents 2011: 10 Teams That Need to Acquire Nene Hilario This Summer

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    Nene is one of the NBA's best big men today...
    Nene is one of the NBA's best big men today...Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Centers typically come at a higher premium than any other position in the NBA.  The Denver Nuggets' Nene Hilario will certainly command a high price tag for the many interested parties that will pursue him.

    Early in his career, Nene was regarded as one of the most coveted big-man prospects of the decade.  He flashed early signs of great promise from 2002-2005 before injuries nearly derailed everything from 2005-2008.

    After only playing 81 games during that span, Nene has since returned to being one of the most consistently-performing pivots around.  His numbers have been solid, he's capable of playing either front-line position and he's just as competent a defender as he is on offense.

    At the same time, Nene's current $11.4-million contract suggests that he's a legitimate star player.  Yet, while Hilario's production is absolutely reliable, one has a hard time remembering the last time he absolutely dominated a game, much less a stretch of them.

    This year's efficient 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game brought up the same questions that have surrounded Nene since he arrived in 2002: He's so talented, but why aren't his numbers any bigger?  Why does he never seem to be reaching his ceiling?

    At 28 years of age, Nene Hilario is solidly within his prime.  It's entirely possible that he has already reached his peak production.  It's also questionable as to whether he is a legitimate second option or not. 

    At the same time, competent NBA centers are such a precious commodity these days that many teams will reach deep into their wallets for the Nuggets' big man.

    Here are the top 10 potential destinations for Nene Hilario this offseason:

Toronto Raptors

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 21:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets takes a shot against the defense of Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors at the Pepsi Center on March 21, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Toronto Raptors are one of the league's weakest teams in the paint, due in large part to their misguided belief that Andrea Bargnani is a legitimate center.

    Just because the Italian big man has a center's body does not cover up the fact that he doesn't post up, rebound effectively or protect the rim. 

    Nene Hilario is a skilled low-block player, in addition to possessing a very solid short-to-mid-range jumper.  His rebounding numbers aren't eye-popping, but he can block shots and even create steals.

    Nene thrived as a system player in Denver; he'd find a number of complementary parts with Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa in Toronto.  Acquiring Nene would allow Bargnani to slide back to the more natural power forward spot while effectively stretching the floor.

    The problem here is going to be cap space.  Toronto's roster is incredibly bereft of overall talent for being so expensive.  Unless Barbosa opts out of his contract, the Raptors would not have enough money to sign Nene outright.

    Pursuing a deal of Barbosa and Amir Johnson for Nene would make the numbers work, but sending Barbosa, and the No. 3 pick in this year's draft might be the steeper, more realistic price.

Sacramento Kings

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 22:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Sacramento Kings at the Pepsi Center on December 22, 2006 in Denver, Colorado. The Kings won 101-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Initially, it sounded as if Sam Dalembert was still in Sacramento's long-term plans.  Lately however, it seems that he might be willing to take a pay cut in order to play for a winner.

    DeMarcus Cousins is clearly Sacramento's future in the post, but one has to wonder whether Jason Thompson is seen as a legitimate starter by them anymore. 

    The Kings will have loads of cap space this year.  Signing Nene Hilario would create a beefy-and=athletic front-line, along with Cousins and augmented by Thompson. 

    One has to wonder whether the cash-strapped Maloof brothers would make a big splash like this.  Equally questionable is whether Nene would really chase the money to a perennial doormat with so many financial and geographical questions swirling about.

    Still, signing Nene would add him into a starting lineup that already boasts Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Francisco Garcia and DeMarcus Cousins. 

    With a couple of interesting bench pieces also in the mix, this might be a team that would start filling up the stadium and win column sooner than later.

New Orleans Hornets

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    NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 18:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets makes a shot over David West #30 of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on December 18, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Nuggets 98-92.  NOTE TO USER: User expres
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    With David West, Carl Landry and Jason Smith all potentially entering free agency, the New Orleans Hornets front-line could be in a major state of flux.

    Even if West or all three of those players moved on, this might seem a questionable fit for Nene Hilario.  One has a hard time initially picturing Nene and Emeka Okafor on the same front-line together.

    A second look reveals that this could actually work quite well.  Both Nene and Okafor are ever-so-slightly undersized at center.  However, putting them together suddenly creates a pretty large front line.

    Okafor is a fantastic shot-blocker, and Nene is no slouch on defense either.  While Okafor is somewhat limited on the low block, his ability to hit high-post jumpers and cut backdoor would pair well with Nene's preference for playing near the basket.

    New Orleans spent this last season building front-line depth.  Having finally achieved it, one wonders whether they'd pursue a quality-over-quantity signing like this.  Being league owned might complicate the purchasing process as well.

    Still, with Chris Paul able to create easy baskets for all involved, this would be a dominant front line if the Hornets could compensate with another jump shooter or two.

Detroit Pistons

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 12:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets is fouled by Charlie Villanueva #31 of the Detroit Pistons as he goes to the basket at the Pepsi Center on March 12, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Similar to the Toronto Raptors, the Detroit Pistons are sorely lacking a post presence to go along with their overabundance of jump shooters.

    At least the Pistons will have promising second-year man Greg Monroe, but he should not have to be playing center for this squad. 

    Adding Nene Hilario would suddenly create an absolutely respectable front line along with Monroe and Austin Daye.  What's more, with Ben Wallace, Charlie Villaneuva and Jason Maxiell still around, the Pistons' former first unit would be more than adequate becoming the second.

    Tayshaun Prince has a nearly-identical expiring deal to Nene's; his departure, along with the inevitable exit of Chris Wilcox, could open up enough money to get this done.

    At the same time, Detroit needs to figure out whether Rodney Stuckey is worth locking up for the long term.  If outside teams are offering big money, it might force the Pistons to decide between their young combo guard and a proven center like Nene.

    With so many other guards already on this roster, I'll take the big man every time.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets dunks over DAndre Jordan #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Clippers might just have enough money to sign Nene outright, but only if they chose not to retain any of their own free agents.

    Since that would include letting the promising DeAndre Jordan walk, this is unlikely.  At the same time, Jordan is one of the more attractive free-agent big men this offseason, and other teams may outbid what the Clippers are willing to pay.

    With Chris Kaman still on the roster, one also has to wonder whether L.A. would look to pursue Nene. 

    At the same time, the Clippers are clearly building towards legitimate playoff contention.  Adding Nene would be an improvement in complete-game polish over DeAndre Jordan while increasing reliability compared to Kaman.

    The Clippers would have some options here.  Kaman's contract is nearly identical to Nene's.  A sign-and-trade would thus be a possibility. 

    More likely might be a sign-and-trade of DeAndre Jordan for Nene, as this would fit in under L.A.'s cap, while shaving some luxury tax money off of Denver's.  This would also be more in line with the Nuggets' current youth movement. 

    Perhaps this is just a wishful thinking scenario, but a front line of Nene and Blake Griffin would be both more complete and terrifying than even their current options.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 21:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot against Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on January 21, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 107-97. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Prior to their recent, definitive first-round ouster, this would have seemed like a highly-questionable option for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Now, however, it will be interesting to see just how far Andrew Bynum's star has fallen in Lakerland.  Sure, his potential seems more sure than ever after strong post-injury numbers during the playoffs.

    At the same time, his locker-room carping and on-court antics might have worn out his clout with Kobe Bryant and company.  They sure didn't look happy with him in Dallas.

    Those type of wounds can typically be smoothed over in an offseason.  However, Bynum also represents the Lakers' greatest trade chip at this point.  If they're truly intent on retooling, then moving him might become a matter of necessity.

    A straight up sign-and-trade of Nene for Bynum would not only work financially, but would also give the Denver Nuggets another cornerstone to develop on the same timetable as their youngsters.

    For the Lakers, Nene would represent a more polished big man to line up with their "win now" aspirations. 

    Andrew Bynum might be the future, but the Lakers may not be able to wait that long.  Trading for Nene would be one of the only equal-value swaps available, as far as the present is concerned.

San Antonio Spurs

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 23:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets grabs a rebound away from Tiago Splitter #22 at the Pepsi Center on March 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Spurs 115-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    It keeps coming up in nearly every trade-speculation piece I've written during the last few weeks, but I'll say it again: the San Antonio Spurs need to bolster their frontcourt if they want to stay relevant. 

    Bringing in Nene alongside Tim Duncan, and in conjunction with DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, would be a dream come true for the Spurs.

    Consensus is that the Spurs do have assets in their backcourt.  With youngsters like Gary Neal, George Hill and James Anderson showing great promise, one has to wonder whether Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili might become trade bait.

    The problem in this scenario is from Denver's end: Tony Parker might be the more attractive trade piece, both to buyers and to the Spurs as sellers.  Yet, he may not be wanted in Denver, where Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton have manned the point admirably.

    Manu Ginobili's contract would also work in a sign and trade, but he seems to mean more to the Spurs emotionally, and might be harder for them to part with.  What's more, he's older and more injury-prone than Parker, and might not be viewed as fair value for a starting center anymore.

    Another possibility might be for Richard Jefferson's contract to be packaged with one of the younger-prospect guards.  This also presents a problem, as Anderson, Neal and Hill make so little money that they might not be enough to make the dollars match up.

    San Antonio should pursue Nene hard, but it might require some creativity from the Spurs' R.C. Buford to make this work. 

Golden State Warriors

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    DENVER - JANUARY 05:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors gets off a shot against Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 5, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Like the scenario with the San Antonio Spurs, Nene may be one of the players most coveted by the Golden State Warriors.

    Due to Andris Biedrins' injuries and inconsistency, the Warriors were forced to play David Lee out of position at center.  This worked with their run-and-gun style, but the results were yet another year apart from the playoffs.

    Nene would certainly make the Warriors a little more conventional, but he's mobile and pairs well with Lee's skillset.  What's more, any team that still possesses Steph Curry, Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright is still going to get out and run a lot.

    Again, the problem here is being able to offer equal value without sacrificing the Warriors' core.  Biedrins would have to be part of the equation, but there's no way he'll be viewed as enough anymore. 

    Adding a developing-volume scorer like Reggie Williams to the deal might be attractive to Denver, especially if they end up losing J.R. Smith and/or Wilson Chandler at the wing spots.

    This sort of trade might become especially intriguing to both parties if the Nuggets are otherwise in danger of losing Nene without compensation.

Atlanta Hawks

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    DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 28:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets battles for position with Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 28, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets deafeated the Hawks 100-90. NOTE TO USER: U
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Hawks have both an affinity and a need for centers.

    Their recent playoff competency certainly might encourage keeping their core together for another year. 

    Yet the fact remains that Al Horford is not a true center.  The Hawks are constantly having to compensate by moving Horford to the four and Josh Smith to the small forward spot against bigger opponents.

    It might be time to recognize that Horford and Smith are somewhat duplicitous assets, one of which could be used to address a different position of need.

    A straight-up Josh Smith-for-Nene swap would be monumentally valuable to both teams: Smith would absolutely thrive in Denver's up-tempo attack while filling a power-forward position of need for them.

    Nene would allow Al Horford to stay at the four, while opening up money and roster spots from having to keep so many spare big bodies around.

    The catch here would be whether Atlanta views Marvin Williams as starting material anymore.  If not, he could be brought off the bench while Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson play the one through three spots around Horford and Nene.

Utah Jazz

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    SALT LAKE CITY - APRIL 23: Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball while defended by Kyrylo Fesenko #44 of the Utah Jazz during  Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena on April 23, 2010 in S
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Utah Jazz have a frontcourt that's loaded with valuable parts.  The problem is that none of them seem to really fit together.

    While Al Jefferson might have a center's body, his inability to protect the rim pairs horribly with Paul Millsap's similar deficiency.  Jefferson is probably still a power forward, but he needs to play alongside a mobile shot blocker.

    Mehmet Okur might be the only true pivot on the roster, but he's also recovering from a debilitating injury and is averse to playing in the paint. 

    With Andrei Kirilenko's shot-blocking probably on the move, and with Derrick Favors needing to see the court more, the Jazz have to swap some assets for areas of need.

    The Denver Nuggets have three centers on their roster, all of whom can play: Nene, Chris "Birdman" Andersen and Timofey Mozgov.  With Kenyon Martin potentially moving on, they may be needing some power forward help instead.

    Al Jefferson and Nene could be swapped straight up. 

    Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur could be traded for Nene and Wilson Chandler (also a sign-and trade).  This scenario would bolster Denver's frontcourt while offering some badly-needed wing help to the Jazz.

    Either way you go, this seems to be a nice fit for both parties with a lot of potential options to make it happen.  We'll choose to forget that these two are bitter rivals and may have trouble simply talking to each other on the phone.