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Nuggets Warkentien Makes Great Move Trading For Billups

OK OK – so I’ve never met the guy. The best I can do is read what sports writers and columnists write. Still, I can read between the lines: Mark Warkentein, the acting GM of the Nuggets, pulled off a fantastic move – he traded an aging superstar for a top-10 point guard (the most important position in the game), a young 7 footer, and luxury tax relief. Here’s my impression of how this deal went down:

Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien

Mark Warkentien, incorrectly vilified for dumping Marcus Camby (that trade was made by owner Stan Kroenke and his crony Bret Bearup), made a clever deal trading the aging Allen Iverson for a top-10 point guard in Chauncey Billups.

This past summer, Pistons GM Joe Dumars wanted to blow up his roster. After his attempt to trade for Carmelo was rebuffed (along with a few other superstar overtures), Dumars recognized it was going to be difficult to get “equal value” for any one of his starters.

Fast forward 3 months and enter Stephon Marbury, the best point guard riding the bench in the entire NBA. The rumor is he’ll be bought out. The Nuggets are interested in signing Marbury for the rest of the season. Unlike the Miami Heat (who are also interested in Starbury), Denver still has their full mid-level exception. Advantage, Nuggets.

Mark Warkentein picks up the phone, calls Joe Dumars, and says something like:

“We’re getting ready to sign Marbury, but I figured I’d give you a call and see about Chauncey. He likes Denver, you’ve got a capable replacement in Stuckey, and Chauncey’s contract is pretty long. Why not make a deal? I need an answer today, by the way…”

Dumars, you see, was in a bit of a pickle. He *knows* that he can move Chauncey to any team in the league at any time this year or next. However, he also knows that “equal value” is difficult (if not impossible) to achieve. Getting Iverson in exchange for Billups is a fair offer, especially when you consider the salary cap benefits. Denver created a sense of urgency by threatening to sign Marbury and put this whole thing to bed. Dumars would have preferred to wait to move Billups – he wanted to get Stuckey more minutes before putting the team in his hands – but the Nuggets (and the Knicks) made that impossible.

Dumars is no dummy, mind you. Making sure the Nuggets buy out McDyess (so he can return to Detroit) was a stroke of genius.

Warkentein’s Nuggets are positioned as perfectly for the future as they could hope to be.

  • They’re almost under the luxury tax. They’ll need to make one more move – say trading Steven Hunter – to create a little more room, but when the McDyess buyout is done they’ll be very close to being under the luxury tax threshold. That’s a HUGE cost benefit – not only do the Nuggets avoid a tax payment, but teams under the luxury tax also receive an escrow payment and a share of the tax paid by other teams in the league. That payment – about $5 million – goes a long way towards making a team profitable.
  • They’ve still got some tools left to improve the team. They have a $10 million salary exception that doesn’t expire until after free agency begins next year and an extra first-round pick. Depending on how this season goes, you’ll either see Kroenke open his wallet again (and use these tools to bring in some depth) or Warkentein will try and move K-Mart next summer using everything he’s got.
  • They’re no longer a long-shot for the playoffs this season and next. The combination of K-Mart, Melo, Chauncey, and J.R. Smith is enough to threaten most teams in the league any given night, and if Nene emerges to be the player everyone hopes he can be, they’ll have most of what a championship team needs. Of course, they’ll have to learn how to play team defense, but that’s another discussion.
  • Denver has few salary commitments past 2010-2011 season. They’re not going to be shopping during the “summer of Lebron,” but they’re going to have the funds to play in free agency about the same time that Melo hits 27 – arguably his prime.

Here are the downsides to this trade (from a GM’s perspective):

  • Kleiza is probably leaving. There’s simply no way the Nuggets can afford to hold onto Linas Kleiza without exceeding the luxury tax next season. Unless the Nuggets can finally hit their stride and make it past the first round, owner Stan Kroenke is not going to pay to keep Linas.
  • Denver can’t add depth. For the same reasons that Linas Kleiza may not be a Nugget next season, Denver can’t afford to hire any solid role players without exceeding the luxury tax threshold.
  • Kenyon Martin is still a Nugget. While this doesn’t really have anything to do with the Billups-Iverson trade, the fact remains that the Nuggets are still saddled with one of the league’s worst contracts. If only Kenyon could have been included in the Billups deal…

Mark Warkentien is a good GM – that’s why the Knicks were looking at hiring him this past summer. If only Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke gave Warkentien complete control (see the Marcus Camby give-away).

Ballhype: hype it up!

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