Monday, March 3, 2008

Kiki Is A Silly Name.

You know it, I know it, there's no sense beating around the bush. In fact, it's not even his real name, it's Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe III (how about that tastily informative tidbit? did you know that he was born in Germany and that his mom was Miss America in 1952? only here are you getting this information, here and wikipedia). Kiki is merely a nickname, the nickname of a guy who, depending on what the week or month is, has been rumored to be taking over for Isiah Thomas in the front office in New York.

In 2001, he was hired as the general manager of the Denver Nuggets and under his charge, a team that --after shattering all of my dreams in the spring of 1994-- for half of a decade had oscillated between terrible and merely sub-par before his hiring in August of 2001. His job was to dismantle a roster with a few bad contracts and a low ceiling and lay the foundation for a sustained playoff run which is what I'm assuming Dolan would be wanting him to do after the calamity that has been the tenure of Isiah Thomas. Considering the possibility, I thought it might be hilariously fun to laugh and giggle and play while recounting the moves he made that helped put Denver into position to lose regularly in the first round to eventual champions (the Spurs, who I'm told they match up well with), something they could have done in 1994 (by this, I mean lose to the Sonics), but they had to be jerks.

Here, I'm trusting that my sources are accurate, which could get me into a bit of trouble as so many count on me for accuracy and I'm not sure these sites I'm using are reputable. We'll see how this works.

September 24th: signed a few players, the ones that would play games that count: Isaiah Rider, Zendon Hamilton, and Mengke Bateer (he was waived before the season, but they would re-sign him in late February). Isaiah Rider --who has famously spent a night in jail for throwing a milkshake through a Jack in the Box drive-through window, kicked a woman in a sports bar, had an illegal cell phone (likely a burner), gambled in public (throwing dice?), spitting at a heckler (this one I might support, I don't know the circumstances, but I'm really not a fan of annoying hecklers as they are annoying), and kidnapping a woman-- would play ten games before being cut November 19th and wouldn't play another NBA game. Zendon Hamilton played in 54 games, was passable, and was on the Raptors the next season. Mengke Bateer played in 27 games and was a decent rebounder, I guess? I'm being nice, he was mediocre-to-poor, hopefully if he sees this he doesn't read past the question mark.

October 9th: signed Shawnelle Scott, who would play in 21 games and seemed to be a better rebounder than Bateer which is pretty impressive.

October 13th: traded Kevin Willis and Aleksandar Radojevic, receiving Scott Williams and Detroit's first round pick in 2004. Scott Williams won three championships with the Bulls and Kevin Willis only won one (with the Spurs at the end of his career). Following logic, I think we can say with certainty that he was clearly the better player, so this was a great trade. Also, he had a $4.6 million expiring contract, because someone had the idea that he was in fact a good player because he played a role on championship teams. The draft pick would eventually be traded and became Josh Smith who is well-known in basketball circles.

Before Regular Season: exercised the options for James Posey, Keon Clark, and Raef LaFrentz. James Posey would eventually be a useful player on good teams as a defensive stopper that could shoot (and in 03-04, he was genuinely good), but that was years away. In 2001-02, he would post his lowest true shooting percentage. Keon Clark was drunk. Raef LaFrentz was still making a reasonable amount of money considering his talent, he shot well, was second in the league in blocks and would be useful trade bait (more on that later).

November 21st: signed Chris Andersen from the NBDL. Considering that Andersen would eventually become a very solid big guy that doesn't take too much off the table, this was alright. And if you're going to hold his drug issues against him, you're a jerk and probably don't like Roy Tarpley, either, you jerks.

February 21st: traded Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Avery Johnson, and Tariq Abdul-Wahad for Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway, Donnell Harvey, and Dallas' 2002 first round draft pick. Juwan Howard had a salary of $18.75 million that season and $20.15 million the next. He would post his highest player rating of his career in 02-03 of 17.2. Tim Hardaway would play only one more season and had an expiring contract worth $3.4 million. Donnell Harvey, a first round pick in 2000, had two more seasons on his deal and was afforded the opportunity to prove if he was in fact an NBA player, averaging 23 and 21 minutes in his two seasons with the Nuggets. He now plays in Turkey. The deal allowed Denver to get out from under Nick Van Exel's ($22.2 million, 2 years), Tariq Abdul-Wahad's ($23.6 million, 4 years), and Avery Johnson's ($15 million, 3 years) contracts, and avoided overpaying Raef LaFrentz the next year.

March 7th: signed Carlos Arroyo. He had played earlier in the year for Toronto, and would finish the season with this Nuggets. Arroyo would famously play backup point guard for Utah, Detroit, and Orlando. Denver would finish the season 27-55, better in the west than Memphis and Golden State.

June 26th: drafted Nikoloz Tskitishvili and traded Antonio McDyess, the draft rights to Frank Williams who was taken with Dallas' picks and a 2003 second round pick for Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, and the draft rights to Nene. Marcus Camby missed 53 games in his first season with Denver and from 2003-04 on, he would annually rank in the top three in defensive rebounding rate, top six overall, top eight in block percentage, but only lower than third once (03-04), and top ten in defensive rating, only lower than fourth once (also in o3-04). Mark Jackson was cut in September, and Nene would prove to be a mildly above average power forward that would be given an extension fitting a very good one. With the trade Denver was able to avoid paying McDyess $12.6 million to not play in 02-03, and $13.5 million to play 42 games in 03-04. Frank Williams plays in Italy.

Nikoloz Tskitishvili would play regularly only in his rookie year, in the four years he was in the NBA he posted PERs of 4.9, 7.1, 2.7, 8.3, so he might have been worse than Adam Morrison.
Key on "might," for all the mocking Bill Simmons has given general managers for taking players who haven't proven themselves in our country's college game, eschewing them for chair-poster-uppers with upside, it's worth keeping in mind how regularly those "known quantities" fail in the NBA (I'm singling out Simmons, but I'm sure there are others. I just haven't bothered to read those writers with any regularity. If I had to guess other national writers who hate foreigners with a similar level of passion, I'm sure at least of one Bill Platscke, Skip Bayless, Dan Shaughnessy, etc. would fit the bill). Just this decade, lottery picks have been wasted on Jay Williams, Dajuan Wagner, Jared Jeffries, Melvin Ely, Marcus Haislip, Michael Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes, Marcus Banks, Luke Jackson, Channing Frye (he could still be good, though, right?), Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams, and J.J. Redick. In fairness, over that same time (I'm reluctant to include high schoolers, so I'm limiting this list to foreign players, but the argument could be made that I should, in fairness, count the Kwame Brown's and the etc.'s as their perceived value is largely determined by their chair-posting abilities) NBA GMs took the aforementioned Tskitishvili, Darko Milicic, Rafael Araujo, Fran Vazquez (who simply hasn't come to America), Yaroslav Korolev, Saer Sene (which, admittedly, was a ridiculous pick). It's misleading to use the largess of the first list solely as the point of argument, but I think that in some ways I think I was kinder than I could have been when determining which college players warranted a place on the first list.

This deserves a longer post, one I'll probably make in the near future, properly analyzing how successful different draft approaches have been, but I'm not finding myself cottoning to someone patting themselves a little too hard on the back for touting Chris Paul as the correct player to take with the first pick in the draft when they followed that by pushing Morrison just as hard the next year. Anyway, that was an aside-and-a-half, back to the laughing and giggling and playing.

August 1st: traded a 2004 second round pick for Don Reid and a future 1st round pick from Orlando, which if I had to guess, was sent to New Jersey as part of the Kenyon Martin deal the next season. Don Reid would resurrect his career in Denver and make the All Star team in '03, and by that I mean he would play ten more minutes in his career (none of them with the Nuggets) and subsequently retire.

August 8th: signed Mark Blount as a free agent for $763,000. Mark Blount famously played a fill-in role on my championship winning fantasy basketball team last year after Yao Ming went down. Not so famously, he had one good season and fooled someone other than Isiah Thomas into giving him a six year deal worth $42 million (Bill Simmons liked move this at the time [I've spent 30 minutes looking through his archives, haven't found it, but know it happened, trust me], Milwaukee Bucks fans, don't be swayed!). This would not be that season.

October 1st: traded Don Reid, Mengke Bateer, and the first round pick that would become Josh Smith for Rodney White. Rodney White would play two seasons for Denver, playing 72 games during both, starting 19 in 02-03. In a more limited role in 03-04, he would post his career highs in PER, true shooting, and rebounding percentage. He's now apparently playing in Puerto Rico, which makes sense, I guess. If you knew they had a league, I mean.

October 24th: traded George McCloud and (an undisclosed amount of) cash for Chris Whitney. Acknowledging their weakness at guard, the Nuggets traded someone that wasn't going to play again for a player who was a serviceable shooting guard from 1995-2002 and turned out to be beyond his prime, himself. Win-win.

Before Regular Season: signed Predrag Savovic, Junior Harrington, and Vincent Yarbrough. Savovic played in 27 games and he was pretty adept at turning the ball over almost as many times as he assisted baskets and shooting under 32% from the field. Junior Harrington incomprehensibly found himself on a team weak enough in the back-court that he started 51 games, and appeared in all 82. Yarbrough played in 59 games, starting 39 in his only NBA season, he now plays in Germany.

December 18th: traded James Posey for Mark Bryant, Art Long, a first round pick from Philadelphia and a second round pick from Houston. James Posey played much better for Houston than he did for Denver, improving from a 47.7 true shooting percentage to 55.1% for a team that would finish one game outside of the playoffs. The pick would eventually be used by Toronto to select Joey Graham. Art Long was cut two days later.

December 20th: signed John Crotty, known the world over as John Stockton's once gutty, gritty, gutsy backup. These would be the last twelve games he would play in the NBA.

February 20th: traded Mark Blount and Mark Bryant for Shammond Williams and a second round pick. Shammond Williams, who had been a good shooter for stretches while he was with the Sonics, would only start 9 games for the Nuggets down the stretch, which makes sense. At that point it would've been a lot to ask for Williams to immediately jump in and run Jeff Bzdelik's system. It is possible that at that point Denver was openly tanking. To be honest, I wasn't really paying much attention.

March 23rd: signed Jeff Trepagnier. He played a superb 98 minutes, which would prove a fluke as he played an awful 96 minutes in 03-04. Denver would finish the season 17-65, tied with Cleveland for the worst record in the league.

June 28th: drafted Carmelo Anthony, traded a 2004 second round pick for the rights to Xue Yuyang who may or may not exist. He's not listed on basketball-reference, so I'm assuming --if he is real-- that he was never actually signed. Carmelo is a good player, he fights like I would, and doesn't condone helping the police find criminals who break laws; in fact, he may condone making a hit on you if you told the cops that his main home-slice Big Stuey raped a girl at a party while she was ODing (and would subsequently die) from a bad batch (allegedly, and by "allegedly," I mean I just inserted him into a scene from The Wire, Melo's friends wouldn't do things like this). All of this is fairly old news.

August 1st: signed Andre Miller to a 6 year, $51 million deal. This was their big free agent signing. His best years were with Cleveland, but his first year with Denver almost stacks up (also, this season with Philadelphia). He's always struck me as someone that should be a good long range shooter and I have difficulty reconciling this notion with the reality that he isn't. Aside from his one season with the Clippers, he's posted a true shooting percentage above 51.7% (that being his rookie season), and often significantly higher, which is passable (at least it's not Kidd-like).

August 8th: signed Earl Boykins to a 5 year, $13.5 million deal. I'm taller than Earl Boykins. He loves to shoot. He never posted a FG% higher than 41.9 while with the Nuggets. Both of these are things I'm looking for in a back-up point guard. I'm lying, first and foremost, I want grit, guts, guile, and intestinal fortitude.

August 19th: signed Jon Barry to a 1 year, $3 million deal. Which is what they got here (I'm referring to the grit, guts, guile, and intestinal fortitude remark I just made), with Jon Barry.

September 5th: signed Francisco Elson. He plays for the Sonics now. He's Dutch. To my surprise, he kind of has a jump shot. If you're curious why I'm listing the amounts of some of the contracts and not others, it's not entirely random. In this case, it was around a $366,000 deal. Not all of the deals I'm listing were for the league minimum, but they haven't struck me as significant signings as they had little baring on Denver's long term cap situation. Elson averaged 14 minutes in the 61 games he played for the Nuggets. It was his only season with Denver.

September 12th: signed Voshon Lenard to a 3 year, $9.5 million deal. NBA teams like to space the floor, so they sign outside shooters and Lenard is a former winner of the NBA 3-point shooting contest at All-Star Weekend, so stick that in your pipe. Lenard was alright in this capacity in 03-04, shooting 36.7%. Unfortunately, he would play in a combined 29 games in the two seasons after that.

This was their last multi-million dollar signing in the off-season. Looking over the list of free agents that year who eventually ended up on different teams than they had played for the year before, available were (and what they signed for): Gilbert Arenas (6 years, $65 million), Raja Bell (2 years, $2 million), Antonio Daniels (2 years, $4.4 million), Stephen Jackson (2 years, the second being a team option, $2.1 million), Bobby Simmons (2 years, $1.5 million), Lamar Odom (6 years, $65 million), and Brad Miller (7 years, $68 million). The cliche is that hindsight is amazing and it really is, as are those contracts for Bell and Jackson (of course, Jackson would have made substantially more had he not been an idiot). It's hard to say with certainty --regarding the higher profile deals-- if Denver would've been better targeting Arenas, Odom, or Brad Miller (in this case, I can, the answer is "no") instead of Andre Miller, but it's interesting to think about. I plan on doing a lot of thinking about over the coming nights.

September 29th: signed Mark Pope for $689,000. Pope was never a good pro, if I had to guess as to why he lasted in the league as long as he did, it would either be great workouts or people remembering him winning a championship with Kentucky in college, which means he should have been a good pro, because American college basketball is like the NBA.

February 20th: claimed Michael Doleac off waivers. Still in the league and has always been better than Mark Pope. Side-note: if you lined them up and asked me to identify which was which, I might be able to do it.

June 24th: drafted and then traded Jameer Nelson for a future first round pick that would subsequently be used/wasted on Julius Hodge. Not a great move. Nelson may eventually be rounded into a plus point guard, while Hodge plays in the NBDL. They did receive Linus Kleiza from that same draft in a trade, so that's all right. I guess. I'm writing that reluctantly. Vandeweghe could have done better on draft day, and should have, quite frankly, that's part of the deal when you're in charge of rebuilding a squadron.

July 15th: traded three future first round picks that would be used on Joey Graham, Renaldo Balkman, and Marcus Williams for Kenyon Martin. This is the last move I'm going to post, because I think at this point the building of this team that loses in the first round perennially was complete (the Allen Iverson trade with Philadelphia would be six months after he was fired). It might be worth mentioning that one of those three first round picks was used as part of the package that brought Vince Carter to New Jersey. Then again, it might not. Martin, much like the superior McDyess, before him, has had serious, serious injury problems while being paid loads of money by an NBA organization based out of the Colorado metropolis of Denver and will never be the player he was early in his career (I'm going out on limbs this morning), but unless Vandeweghe was going to draft better players than the GMs who received those picks (given his track record, that seems doubtful), and not wasted $95 million over the course of 7 years on a player no one could have predicted those injury ailments --it's difficult criticizing this as a bad move at the time, considering what everyone knew about everything-- one can be, but doesn't necessarily need to be, super harsh on the move (that is, looking back on it in retrospect).

Ultimately, making a final decision after looking over his record: Vandeweghe succeeded in providing a stronger foundation by blowing up the roster, rather than attempt to build around the players he inherited (the bright spots: Nick Van Exel, Antonio McDyess, Raef LaFrentz), but considering the talented players taken with picks after his, it's difficult being too thrilled to see him taking over the rebuilding effort for any team not as destitute as the Knickerbockers. At the end of the day, he's better than a lot morons --like me or Bill Simmons, for example-- and maybe that's enough for all of the New York fans that search out my blog for Knick-related insight. Godspeed, all of you.

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