The Denver Nuggets were not always the favorites, but at the end of the day, they got their big man back.
Beating back strong competition from Houston and New Jersey, the Nuggets reached terms Tuesday with free agent center Nene on a five-year, $67 million deal. Earlier in the day, the Nuggets pulled off a trade with the Mavericks, acquiring forwards Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez from Dallas for a second-round pick. And general manager Masai Ujiri said Tuesday night that progress had been made toward re-signing restricted free agent guard Arron Afflalo.
“Today was a good day for the Nuggets,” Ujiri said.
The Nets had an offer on the table believed to be in excess of $14 million per season for the 29-year-old Nene, who averaged 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds last season for Denver. And the Rockets coveted Nene as well, hoping to pair him with Lakers forward Pau Gasol last week when it looked like Houston would be part of the three-team deal that sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. But the deal fell through, and the Rockets couldn’t make a deal for Nene alone work.
“We’ve been grinding all along,” Ujiri said. “Nene was our guy and we stayed the course and got through it. Nene wanted to stay home. He wanted to test free agency, but at the end of the day he wanted to stay home and play for the Nuggets. Nene will be a good player for us for a long time.”
With Nene and Marc Gasol (who agreed to terms with Memphis Monday) off the board, Kings center Samuel Dalembert is the best big man left on the free agent board.
The Nuggets also replenished the depth they lost when restricted free agent Wilson Chandler, guard J.R. Smith and forward Kenyon Martin all signed deals in China during the lockout by getting Fernandez and Brewer from Dallas. Fernandez never played for the Mavericks, having been acquired from Portland on Draft night. But once the Mavericks acquired Lamar Odom from the Lakers last week and agreed to terms with free agents Vince Carter and Delonte West on Monday, they had a surplus of wing players — and a desire to continue to clear cap room in preparation for next summer’s strong free agent class.
“We saw an opportunity there for two pretty good wings, one who can give us defense, and the other can give us scoring,” Ujiri said. “Both of them are pretty good players, and they both can play fast. That’s the way George wants to play.”
Afflalo is in high demand after becoming a strong defender and picking up his scoring (a career-high 12.6 per game last season). But Ujiri said he is confident Denver can keep him.
“We’re moving, and it’s going good,” he said. “He’s our final piece. We’re going to close and try to make sure we get that done. He’s a huge part of our team.”