NBA Free Agents 2011: Nene Hilario Opts Out, Denver Nuggets Should Let Him Walk

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IJune 30, 2011

Nene, getting the ball taken to his hoop by a much smaller player in Russel Westbrook.
Nene, getting the ball taken to his hoop by a much smaller player in Russel Westbrook.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Nene, the Brazilian big man, has decided to opt out of his contract with the Denver Nuggets.

After nine prosperous years with the Nuggets, Nene has decided to depart Denver in all likelihood.

In Portuguese, the native tongue of Brazil, Nene means "baby," which is actually a quite fitting name for the 6'11" NBA center.

Nene brings a child-like demeanor to the court, a "play with me or I'll take my ball home" attitude that leaves much to be desired, especially from a player that is supposed to be the veteran leader, the face of the new Nuggets' franchise.

For years, it hasn't been the big-time body that he's been blessed with that's held him back, it's the six inches between his ears that's slowed him down.

It's no secret that he "gets out of games" unless he's involved early and often, which is more his own fault than his teammates'.

What team in the NBA runs their offense through their center in 2011? One? None?

But all Nene sees is that he's not getting the ball enough.

And when he does get the basketball, Nene is too quick to pass it back out rather than going in for a dominating dunk.

Once Nene gets it in his head that he's not getting the rock enough, you can bet he will commit senseless fouls, argue with referees and take himself out of the game.

But Nene's problems don't end there; he's simply not aggressive enough on the basketball court.

Honestly, I believe it's a cultural difference between the US and Brazil; Brazilians love life and are happy being themselves whereas Americans always want more, want to be the greatest at whatever they may do, especially when it comes to the sporting realm.

Nene wasn't nurtured in a "do or die" type of environment. He didn't grow up on the mean streets of New York or LA, playing with the craziest, "win at all costs" type of people.

Put it this way; soccer, Nene's first love, is not the same game as basketball where one person can completely dominate a contest, especially when that person is as beastly as Nene.

And even if it's not the cultural differences that have held Nene back (he's yet to make an All- Star game), there's no doubt that he just doesn't do what's required of an NBA center.

Nene enjoyed the second best year of his career last season with Denver, and his 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game are respectable, just not All-Star caliber.

Simply stated, Nene is softer than an ice cream sandwich sitting in the summer sun.

If he wanted to, Nene could dunk ferociously on opponents on every trip down the floor, but too often he finds himself over thinking situations, laying the ball up instead of taking the contact for and-ones.

And on defense, Nene's play is atrocious.

Far too often he gets out-muscled and out-played by smaller or smarter players as they soar to the hoop while he stands by helplessly and watches them score.

Nene is too concerned with staying out of foul trouble (where he finds himself far too often) so instead of putting his hands up and swatting at shots, he sits idly by while he's scored upon from close.

How many times can Nene have his hands at his waist and move out of an opponents' way before people realize he's soft on defense?

But beyond that, Nene is not, and possibly will never be, an elite rebounder.

In the NBA, the center (and/or power forward) has to rebound the ball with reckless abandon. Nene's high mark in rebounding was 7.8 boards per game, not nearly high enough to be considered elite.

In fact, his 7.6 rebounds this season were a mere 16th among centers that played 25-plus minutes per game.

It comes as no surprise to Nuggets' fans that Denver lost to Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last year largely due to a glaring disparity in rebounds. And beyond that fitting example, the Nuggets have been in the bottom half of the league in rebounding the basketball for years, largely due to Nene's inability to position himself well on box-outs and grab loose balls.

When all is said and done, when Nene finds greener pastures in another NBA city, it will actually be a positive for Denver Nuggets fans.

Sure, Nene is a solid center, a top-10 player at his position, but he's not the type of baller the Nuggets need.

Nene is far to inconsistent, and he's not the type of player that wants to do all the down and dirty things that wins NBA teams games.

The Nuggets need a player that will play gritty and grimy defense, one that will do anything and everything in his power to secure rebounds to give his team more chances at scoring and better chances at winning games.

Luckily, Denver took just that player, Kenneth Faried, with the No. 22 pick last week. No, he won't play center, but Faried could find himself in a starter or backup role with big-time minutes with the Nuggets at power forward, doing all the little things that are so crucial to succeeding as a championship contending franchise.

Nene never lived up to expectations, he never realized his full potential as the No. 7 overall pick in 2002 and if last season was indeed the player's ceiling, the Nuggets will be better off without him in the long term.

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is a Denver Nuggets and NBA Featured Columnist for, the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for, a weekly contributor to, a contributor to writing on the Denver Broncos and a contributor to Blake Street Bulletin, part of ESPN's SweetSpot Blog Network.

Rich also manages K-Biz and Beezy, a Colorado-based rap group.

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