NBA Free Agent Rumors: Denver Nuggets Fans, Say Bye Bye to Nene

Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst INovember 29, 2011

DENVER, CO - MARCH 02:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets dunks the ball in front of Boris Diaw #32 of the Charlotte Bobcats at the Pepsi Center on March 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Bobcats 120-80.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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Six months ago, Nene opted out of the final year of his lucrative contract, leaving $11.6 million on the table.

With the NBA entering a lockout and no one knowing how all the system issues—like the status of the salary cap—would play out. It was a huge gamble by the nine-year professional center from Brazil.

And once he took that leap (knowing he could very well end up taking less money once the new CBA was agreed upon by the league and their players), it was a clear indication that Nene wanted out of his baby blue and yellow Nuggets jersey and into a new one.

According to CBSSports' Ken Berger, "The Nuggets are operating under the firm belief that Nene will test the market as an unrestricted free agent, according to a person familiar with the team's thinking." He also reported that six teams are interested in acquiring the center's talents: Miami, Dallas, Golden State, Houston, Indiana and New Jersey.

And it turns out, no matter where Nene signs, he will indeed lose money due to the NBA's new CBA according to Tom Ziller.

Nene's played all of his nine NBA years with the Nuggets, calling the Mile High City his home after Denver traded Antonio McDyess, Frankie Williams and a future second-round pick for him, Marcus Camby and Mark Jackson to New York right after the 2002 Draft.

Over that time, Nene's played through ups and downs. The 6'11" center tore his ACL in the first game of the 2005-06 season and his 2007-08 year ended early due to a battle with testicular cancer. But he battled back from both injury and illness and enjoyed his best basketball over the last three years.

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 07:  Marc Gasol #33 of the  Memphis Grizzlies celebrates during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 7, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.The
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nene averaged 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds during that time, making analysts praise his play from coast to coast as one of the best centers in the league. Of course, his astoundingly high field-goal percentage may have caused them to miss Nene's soft interior defense or the fact that he pouts and plays poorly when he doesn't get the ball enough.

Nene's never made an All Star team, nor been an All-NBA player, and signs say he's reached his potential, so things could be worse Nuggets fans.

And really, Nene's big payroll number coming off the books could be a blessing in disguise for Denver as the Nuggets will be set up with lots of cap room to work with.

Besides Nene leaving, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith won't be paid by the Nuggets this year since they're all playing in China, meaning Denver could be in the neighborhood of $30 million under the cap once the new CBA is signed.

On top of that, many teams will be looking to shed payroll when the new $58 million cap is put in place, giving Denver a litany of players to choose from in order to rebuild their roster.

One of those players could be Marc Gasol, who is set to make $60 million over the next four years if he is signed to a max deal by anyone besides his former Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol, a third-year pro that stands at 7'1", has averaged strikingly similar numbers to Nene's (12.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG) and he only looks to improve at his young age of 26.

Another possibility to fill Nene's big shoes could be Tyson Chandler. Chandler is currently a free agent after signing a one-year deal with Dallas and winning an NBA Championship with them last season, and the 7'1" center was a big reason why they won. Chandler is a beast on the boards (9.4 RPG last year) and while his 10.1 PPG are lower than Nene's, Chandler dominates on the defensive end. The Nuggets pursued Chandler last offseason, but were beat out by the Mavs, so there will almost certainly be interest by Denver in acquiring the services of the veteran.

Once the Nuggets find their new center, they have many more moves to ponder. Denver must re-sign four-year shooting guard Arron Afflalo and a backup at the 2 spot to fill Smith's void. Then they have to decide if rookie Jordan Hamilton can back up Danillo Gallinari in his first year, or if they need to find a scorer at the 3 spot as well. And will Kenneth Faried be ready to start at power forward for the Nuggets, or will they possibly start Kosta Koufos?

These are the numerous questions the Nuggets' braintrust of Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri must answer, but at least now they know they will be building without Nene in the picture.

Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey, Bleacher Report and Mile High Hoops.

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