May 9, 2008 7:14 PM
Reviewing 2004 trade for K-Mart
CHRIS TOMASSON ON THE NUGGETS
A LOOK BACK ON THE KENYON MARTIN SIGN-AND-TRADE IN 2004, WHICH COST THE NUGGETS THREE FIRST-ROUND PICKS
No wonder Rod Thorn likes Kiki Vandeweghe so much. He once handed him three first-round draft picks.
With Vandeweghe having been named New Jersey's general manager and becoming the likely eventual successor to Thorn, the Nets president, it brings back memories of when the two were negotiating in the summer of 2004 regarding restricted free-agent forward Kenyon Martin. It's safe to say Thorn showed off one of the NBA's best poker faces in recent years.
So let's take a look at what happened in the summer of 2004, when the Nuggets, with Vandeweghe then their general manager, ended up acquiring Martin in a sign-and-trade for three first-round picks. It's a move that ended up playing a key role in the Nuggets' descent into luxury-tax hell, and severely has hampered their chances of entering the NBA's elite.
But this posting isn't looking in-depth at what might have happened had the Nuggets not picked up Martin. It looks primarily at what might have happened had the Nuggets simply signed Martin to offer sheet, and dared the Nets to match it.
Most observers believe the Nets wouldn't have matched it, and the Nuggets would have retained their three first-round picks. Those picks could have netted the Nuggets in 2005 forward Danny Granger or forward Hakim Warrick and in 2006 perhaps both point guard Rajon Rondo and a solid big man (Craig Smith and Paul Millsap were both second-round picks that year).
Instead, the Nuggets have become an aging team with a bloated payroll, and haven't had a first-round pick since 2005. They sure could have made good use of those draft picks.
HERE'S HOW NEW JERSEY STOOD IN THE SUMMER OF 2004
With Bruce Ratner having taken over as the Nets' new owner, there were early indications he had no intention of keeping Martin with a huge contract. Martin was barking about getting a maximum deal.
An upset Martin pretty much cut ties with New Jersey, and looked to go elsewhere. He primarily was courted by Atlanta and the Nuggets, which both had ample salary-cap room.
There was only one problem. Martin was a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets would have 15 days to match any offer sheet he might sign.
HERE'S HOW DENVER STOOD IN THE SUMMER OF 2004
The Nuggets had unexpectedly made the playoffs in Carmelo Anthony's first season, and there was talk they were one player away from moving into the NBA's elite. Plus, they had nearly enough salary-cap room to hand out a maximum contract.
The Nuggets, though, really needed a shooting guard. Voshon Lenard was nothing more than a stop-gap starter.
The Nuggets wasted valuable time in courting Lakers free agent Kobe Bryant, who no way was going to sign with Denver while sexual assault chargers still were pending against him in Colorado. Then they turned their attention to Manu Ginobili, a restricted free agent with San Antonio. But no way would the Spurs not match an offer sheet on the rising star.
The Nuggets also looked at Quentin Richardson. But he wasn't a guy they wanted to give huge dollars.
With Bryant and Ginobili, as expected, returning to their original teams, Martin was the only big-name free agent left and the clock was ticking. The Nuggets already had Nene at power forward, but there was a feeling the Nuggets needed to spend their money on somebody in order to build on the playoff momentum from the previous season.
TO THE NEGOTIATING TABLE
The initial thinking was the Nets wouldn't match a huge offer sheet. The Nuggets were prepared to offer Martin a six-year deal for just over $80 million. They would include a signing bonus of around $15 million in order to hamper the Nets even more from offering.
But at some point the Nuggets got nervous about simply extending an offer sheet. They were wondering if Nets might reverse course match the offer while Thorn put on a brilliant poker face.
So who would blink first?
It turned out to be the Nuggets.
The Nuggets feared there was a chance the Nets might match. And with NBA rules then allowing a 15-day waiting period (it's now seven days), the Nuggets figured every reputable free agent would be gone if the Nets matched, leaving Denver with nobody to spend its money on.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
The Nuggets agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with New Jersey. They shipped the Nets three first-round selections, a 2005 pick once belonging to Philadelphia, their own 2006 pick and a 2006 selection that once belonged to the Clippers.
Keep in mind that the Nuggets weren't able to negotiate a better deal. They gave away three first-round picks. Not one. Not two. But three.
The deal also meant Martin could sign a seven-year, rather than a six-year deal (he annual raises also would be higher). As it turned out, the sides settled on a seven-year, $92.5 million, including a signing bonus of $1.5 million.
INITIAL THINKING AFTER THE DEAL
The initial feeling was much acclaim for the Nuggets. They were picked by many to be one of the top teams in the West entering the next season. Few focused on the still remaining big hole at shooting guard, and the initial loss of the draft picks.
WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING?
Lenard tore his Achilles in the first game of the 2004-04 season, and the shooting guard situation became even more dire. Martin developed knee problems, and had micofracture surgeries in each knee in May 2005 and November 2006.
Martin blew up at Karl during the 2006 playoffs and was suspended for turned out to be the final three games of a 4-1 first-round loss to the Clippers. Martin's contract, his bad knees and his contract rendered him untradeable.
After playing in just two games in 2006-07 due to knee problems, Martin came back and had a solid 2007-08. But, with three years left and nearly $47 million left on his contract, he's still considered untradeable.
WHAT IF THE NUGGETS HAD DECIDED AGAINST ACQUIRING MARTIN AND HELD ONTO THEIR MONEY UNTIL THE NEXT SUMMER?
If the Nuggets had retained their money, 2005 was the summer of shooting guard. They might have had enough money to make a run at one of these four: Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Joe Johnson or Larry Hughes.
But holding onto the money wasn't much of an option once Martin said he wanted to go to Denver. The thinking was this was a chance to get a one-time All-Star. So the real decision became whether to broker a deal with the Nets or simply sign Martin to an offer sheet and dare the Nets to match.
WHAT IF THE NUGGETS HAD GIVEN MARTIN AN OFFER SHEET AND THE NETS UNEXPECTEDLY MATCHED?
The Nuggets would have either tried to find some lesser free agents late in the summer or held their money until the next summer. Vandeweghe had held onto money from 2003 to spend in 2004, which is why they had a chance at Martin. But there would have been much pressure on Vandeweghe if free agency had yielded no significant players the summer after their surprisingly playoff run.
Still, the Nuggets would have retained their three first-round picks, helping their long-term development.
WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED HAD THE NUGGETS GIVEN MARTIN AN OFFER SHEET AND THE NETS NOT MATCHED?
Most observers believe that, in the end, the Nets would have decided against matching a huge contract offer on Martin. But, obviously, we'll never know for sure. And once the Nuggets blinked, the Nets didn't have to cross that bridge.
But let's take a look at what would have happened had the Nuggets given Martin an offer sheet and the Nets not matched:
Martin still would have a gotten a huge contract. But he'd now have two years left on his deal, rather than three. And he might be a more tradeable asset for a team deep in the luxury tax.
And, if the Nuggets are still in the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax in 2010-11 and Martin is still with the team then, that extra contract year is going to look very ugly on Denver's books.
Here's where the real fun starts. What if the Nuggets did not have to give up any of those three first-round draft picks? Or what if they had parted with only one or two?
First, we should state the Nets used two of the picks to acquire Vince Carter from Toronto in December 2004. So they certainly initially used the picks wisely (some may grumble, though, that New Jersey's big problem was giving Carter a new contract last summer).
On the surface, the actual picks the Nuggets gave up didn't yield top-notch players.
They netted the following players:
2005: With the No. 16 pick that originally belonged to Philadelphia and in which Toronto got from New Jersey, the Raptors took forward Joey Graham, who showed some initial promise but has done little of late.
2006: With the No. 20 pick that originally belonged to Denver, New York took forward Renaldo Balkman, another reason why Isiah Thomas since has been fired by the Knicks. This pick had been traded from New Jersey to Toronto in the Carter deal and then later was sent to New York.
2006: With the No. 22 pick, which originally belonged to the Clippers and was the only one of the three picks the Nets retained, the Nets took guard Marcus Williams. He's a solid backup point, but won't start any time soon with the Nets due to Devin Harris being around.
WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE?
Forget what players were taken with the actual picks. That's not that relevant since two of the executives who did the picking have been generally regarded as being very bad at their jobs. The since-fired Rob Babcock selected Graham in Toronto and Thomas, as mentioned above, took Balkman. It's interesting to note the first pick after Graham was forward Danny Granger, now a rising star with Indiana, and the first pick after Balkman was point guard Rajon Rando, now playing a pivotal role in the playoffs with Boston.
So let's take a look at players who would have been available with the first-round picks the Nuggets parted with in the Martin deal:
2005 PLAYERS OF NOTE TAKEN AFTER JOEY GRAHAM WHO WENT NO. 16
--Danny Granger (17)
--Hakim Warrick (19)
--Jarrett Jack (22, actually taken by the Nuggets and then traded to Portland)
--Francisco Garcia (23)
--Luther Head (24)
--Linas Kleiza (27, actually ended up with Nuggets on draft-day trade from Portland)
--David Lee (30)
--Monta Ellis (40, second round)
--Louis Williams (45, second round)
--Ryan Gomes (50, second round)
2006 PLAYERS OF NOTE TAKEN AFTER ROLANDO BALKMAN (20) AND/OR MARCUS WILLIAMS (22):
--Rajon Rondo (21)
--Kyle Lowry (24)
--Jordan Farmar (26)
--Craig Smith (36, second round)
--Daniel Gibson (42, second round)
--Paul Millsap (47, second round)
--Leon Powe (49, second round, actually taken by Nuggets and traded to Boston)
REVIEWING IT ALL
Had the Nuggets not parted with their picks, 2005 could have been a special draft. Granger could have been had. So could Warrick, whom Anthony, his former Syracuse teammate, coveted.
But since the Nuggets actually had the Nos. 20 and 22 picks in that first round (No. 20 was the disastrous selection of Julius Hodge), they have nobody but themselves to blame for not landing some of the later studs in that draft, including Monta Ellis going No. 40 in the second round to Golden State.
As for 2006, Rondo sure would have looked good in a Nuggets uniform. So would Farmar or Gibson, a pair of point guards who also would have been available. It should be mentioned the Nuggets, in that draft, loved Paul Millsap, who ended up being a steal at No. 47. So it's not unreasonable to think they might have looked at Millsap at No. 20 or No. 22.
But the Nuggets only entered that draft with the No. 49 pick. They would have had Nos. 20 and 22 that year as well as No. 20 in 2005 had they not lost those picks in the Martin trade. Those picks could have provided much youthful invigoration for a Nuggets team that is now aging and has a bloated payroll.