HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No offense to Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely or Bismack Biyombo, the biggest of the big men drafted in the top 10 of Thursday night’s Draft, but they are not the biggest name international post players that we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the coming weeks.
Sure, without a summer league to watch them perform in that makes it a little tougher to track their immediate progress, and there’s no telling when we’ll see Valanciunas in his Raptors uniform.
But there are two other NBA bigs that will have our undivided attention as we head into an uncertain July. Nuggets center Nene and Grizzlies center Marc Gasol are the headliners in a free agent class whose star power and depth pales in comparison to the flashy class of 2010 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, etc.), a group still awaiting word on a new collective bargaining agreement before they can begin the process of deciding their futures.
As promising as that international crop of big men from the draft is supposed to be, and Valanciunas is considered by most the best long-term big man from the 2011 class, none of them will be as valuable as either Nene has been and could be to the Nuggets or Gasol has been and could be to the Grizzlies.
We are talking about two low-post anchors for Western Conference playoff teams, as opposed to long-range projects that no one is sure will be impact players in the league anytime soon.
The Grizzlies extended a qualifying offer to Gasol Friday, a formality to guarantee they can match any offers presented to their prized restricted free agent bruiser.
Gasol’s work in the playoffs — 15 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 blocks as the Grizzlies upset top-seeded San Antonio in the first round and pushed Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals — cranked his value up even more. The interest for 7-foot-1 Spaniard, who should expect a sizable raise from the $3.5 million he made this season, should be off the charts with so few “true centers,” as one Eastern Conference executive put it during the draft, roaming the floor these days.
Nene’s situation is a bit trickier for the Nuggets, who won’t have the ability to match offers on their side. But they are already doing what they can to entice Nene to stick around, per my main man Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post:
The draft is done, but the hardest work is still ahead for the Nuggets in one area that had a dire look to it just a month-and-a-half ago: convincing Nene to stay.
The 6-foot-11 center is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, which leaves him free to sign with whomever he wishes. Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri, however, reported good news on that front, saying they’ve had good meetings and positive feedback from the Brazilian big man since the end of the season.
“We’ve been having good talks,” Ujiri said late Thursday night after all of the draft day picks and trades were made. “We’re making good progress, I think. And I think Nene is excited. We’ve met a few times with him and a few times with his agent.”
Nene averaged career highs in points (14.5) and field-goal percentage (.615) last season, and was near career highs in free-throw percentage (.711) and rebounding (7.6). There was a component of appreciation Nene initially said was missing, and that it was as important as dollars and cents.
Since then, the Nuggets have bent over backward showing him the love.
“It’s been great,” Kroenke said. “We had one meeting with Nene, Masai and I did together. Masai has met with his people several times. I’ve had on-going dialogue with his agent. We’re going to continue dialogue into next week. I can’t comment any further at this point in time, but Nene is a player that we want to have here for a long time. He’s been a backbone of ours for the last several years, and he’s a big part of our future.”
With the premium on quality big men in the league at an all-time high, there is no greater priority for the Nuggets or our Hang Time Grizzlies than making sure both Nene and Gasol stay in the fold.