CHICAGO – Two million dollars, if counted out in a stack of $100 bills, would stand 86 inches tall. So if the Denver Nuggets want Nate Robinson to make a really splashy entrance at the news conference announcing his signing, they could have the explosive, 5-foot-9, three-time NBA Slam Dunk champ vault over his estimated salary for 2013-14 (while hoping it doesn’t take him 14 tries to get it right).
Robinson does splashy pretty well, and for a Denver team in need of bodies, pace, points production and excitement, the expected signing of the pocket-rocket combo guard on a two-year deal worth $4.03 million looks to be a solid fit.
Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are gone, Danilo Gallinari might be out for a good chunk of the season and a backcourt built around Ty Lawson’s blistering speed should be able to run through its gears with only minor adjustments when the Nate Show subs in.
But as always with Robinson, there are reasons why he keeps a suitcase packed, why he’ll be donning his sixth team’s uniform in less than five years this October.
They’re essentially the same reasons the Chicago Bulls passed on bringing him back, despite a one-year stay in which he proved himself to be indispensible to the Bulls’ trudge to the postseason’s second round. With Derrick Rose sidelined from start to finish in 2012-13 in his big rehab/tease following ACL surgery, Robinson played in all 82 games, starting 23. His 2,086 minutes logged, 921 field-goal attempts and 1,074 points all were his second-biggest numbers in those categories in his eight-year career.
In the playoffs, with Kirk Hinrich (calf) going down, Robinson started eight of Chicago’s 12 games. He put up real starter’s numbers then – 16.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 33.7 mpg – and turned in one of the postseason’s most memorable performances with 34 points (23 in the fourth quarter) of a triple-overtime victory over Brooklyn. He had 27 in the Game 1 upset at Miami in the East semifinals, but withered under the Heat’s defensive attention, making just 14 of his final 50 shots in the last four games.
The Bulls’ players and coaches appreciated Robinson’s heroics, whether driven by his ball-dominating habits or now, because with Rose, Hinrich and Luol Deng eventually unavailable, Chicago’s options were limited. Coach Tom Thibodeau for much of an injury-riddled season was able to virtually plug Robinson into Rose’s role – heavy minutes, shot-seeking ways, bail-out freedom deep in shot clocks, defensive leniency, all the D-Rose amenities – and, as an emergency starter, he thrived.
It seemed evident after his playoff performances that Robinson’s price had risen beyond the Bulls’ budget. Particularly when they committed their mini-mid-level salary cap exception to Milwaukee’s Mike Dunleavy at the start of free agency. Even at a veteran’s minimum salary, though, the chances of Robinson being back in Chicago were almost nil.
Here’s the problem: With Rose returning this fall and, if healthy, ramping up to average his usual 35-37 minutes, Robinson would go back to scrounging for playing time. The Bulls are committed to Hinrich to back up both guard spots (Jimmy Butler is the likely starter at shooting guard) and, as the third point, second-year man Marquis Teague, whose demeanor is better suited to long stretches of pine.
As a Rose understudy pressed into duty, Robinson was perfect. As a supporting cast member required to know his role and remain patient, that would be chafing waiting to happen. He was a big part of the Bulls’ 2012-13 season but if he were a big part of 2013-14, something again would have gone seriously wrong.