I was wrong. After watching Arron Afflalo a few times at UCLA, I had no opinion of him one way or another. Was he a solid college player? Of course. The Bruins had a nice little team and Afflalo was a former McDonald’s All American who eventually become a first-team AP All-America. Yet nothing stuck out about him. He was a decent shooter who had average skills, and played so hard I doubted he could hit another level in order to make it in the pros. Turns out, not only was I completely wrong about him, but he’s actually grown into one of my favorite players in the whole league.
Only the hardest basketball junkies really stayed in-tune with Denver once they traded their franchise away in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups last season. But an ironic scenario happened: they started playing like a college team, rolling 10 deep, no superstars, no one clamoring for more shots, everyone doing whatever they could to stay on the floor because no one had the gusto to make it on talent alone. If you didn’t, someone was already at the scorer’s table waiting to check in. They all played like Afflalo, whose attitude, toughness and aggressiveness seemed to rub off on everyone.
Before we start talking the kid up too much â€“ more than likely, he’ll never be an All-Star â€“ recognize his value. It’s more than 12.6 points a night or 50 percent shooting. He had an offensive rating of 122.8 (which accounts for the points he creates per 100 possessions) that ranked sixth overall last year. His effective field goal percentage was third in the entire league at 58 percent (this includes three-point field goals). Throw him onto any team and they instantly become better. You can also ask Kobe about Afflalo’s defense.
Nugget management feels confident they can get a deal done, while Afflalo told ESPN recently: “I’ve been thinking about this for 20 years,” Afflalo said with a laugh over the phone. “But I know I’m kind of towards the end of it. I was aware of the timing of free agency and the lockout, so I had mentally prepared for the situation that I’m in now.”
As Marc Stein tweeted recently, after the big men (Nene, Tyson Chandler & Marc Gasol), no free agent is getting as much love as Afflalo. As a restricted free agent, Denver can have Afflalo back if they really want him. We’ll just have to wait and see if they really do want to marry him.
With that, here are the five teams most likely to acquire Afflalo.
1. Denver Nuggets
Everything would be much more interesting if Afflalo wasn’t a restricted free agent. Since the Nuggets can match anything, it puts them in the driver’s seat. No Wilson Chandler and no J.R. Smith (both on their own Asian exodus) means Afflalo’s presence is more necessary than ever.
In a perfect world, Denver would do some Tebow-ing all over the globe if it meant they could re-sign Afflalo and Nene. More than likely, they’ll end up with just one of the two, and as a restricted free agent whose dollar numbers figure to be closer to reality, Afflalo is the more likely character to remain with the Nuggets.
2. Chicago Bulls
After the whirlwind of Dwight-to-L.A. and CP-to-N.Y. rumors died down, the Afflalo-to-Chicago storyline took center stage. Actually, I’m not sure any position in the league is being talked about right now as often as the one directly next to the reigning league MVP. The Bulls don’t necessarily need a new guard. But if they want to win a title, they have to do something. Miami’s only going to get better.
With only the mid-level exception available to them, the chances Chicago signs Afflalo outright are virtually zero. It’s going to take a sign-n-trade. Luckily, unlike the Lakers, Chicago has assets. Would they do a deal revolving around Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and a protected first round pick they’re owed from Charlotte?
Technically, the Bulls probably won’t be signing Afflalo. That doesn’t mean they still won’t land him very soon.
3. New Jersey Nets
The one team that might have an even bigger hole at the two (unless you’re counting Marshon Brooks as the answer already) is the one soon to be moving to Brooklyn. Deron Williams might be saying he’s 90 percent certain he’ll stay with the Nets, but Mikhail Prokhorov and the rest of the front office must be certain. They could have as much as $23 million in cap space if they use the amnesty on Travis Outlaw, which still isn’t a guarantee. $23 million is enough to get you a decent big man (David West anyone?) and still have enough left over to go after Afflalo.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Sounds crazy right? We’ve gotten so used â€“ become brainwashed â€“ into thinking every free agent is going to Miami or Chicago or L.A. or New York that we’re forgetting something. Ultimately, it usually comes down to money. If the money isn’t there, you normally don’t have a shot. The T’Wolves have the money and the motivation. Questions are already coming up about Kevin Love‘s future extension and whether he should stay with an organization that has a walking punchline as an executive. Minnesota has a glut of forwards. But they don’t have a single starting-caliber two guard on their team. Wayne Ellington is a backup. Wesley Johnson is a three. Martell Webster can get by at the two at times, but lacks the playmaking and foot speed to get it done full-time. If I’m the T’Wolves, I’m throwing $7-9 million at Afflalo and seeing where the Nuggets’ loyalty stands. With him, all of a sudden they have Ricky Rubio, Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Kevin Love and a few other halfway decent players. Not bad at all.
5. L.A. Lakers
The Lakers want Afflalo and are pushing hard to get him. While they don’t have the money to offer a contract that Denver wouldn’t match, they do have a few specific things that could appeal to Afflalo personally. First, they are home. Literally. Afflalo is from L.A. and went to college there. Second, they’re the Lakers, and they give him as good a shot as anyone at a title. Chicago is right on the cusp, but they could just as easily take a step back this year as they took five steps forward last year. The Lakers â€“ as long as they have Kobe, Gasol, Odom and Bynum â€“ will be in contention.
Okay, so what do they have to give Denver? They’re probably not trading one of their four best players. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace is more likely to get amnestied than traded. Other than that, nothing. Basically, the only reason the Lakers make this list is because they’re the Lakers and they always seem to find a way to get the guys they want. Afflalo and the Lakers make a great couple and as he told SI.com recently, he wants to win: “The bottom line is that if you’re a millionaire, you’re going to be fine.”
The motivation is completely there, and so is the fit (next to Kobe). But can they do enough to entice Denver? They have a minuscule chance of signing Afflalo outright. But their chances of landing him are a little higher.
And if you want a dark horse, look at Indiana. No, I haven’t heard anything confirming their interest. This is just a hunch. The Pacers are ready and willing to spend money (check the Marc Gasol rumors), could use another two guard who can score and defend and above all else, I think Larry Bird would love to have Afflalo.
Who do you think is going to end up with Afflalo?
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