NBA Free Agents: Nene Likely Leaving Nuggets, Could Push Team Into Contention

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23: Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets scores against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Nene isn't likely to remain with the Denver Nuggets, and he's drawing major interest from a number of teams.

It is not exactly clear why Nene is leaving the Denver Nuggets -- the back half of last season showed that the club is still pretty good, and with some cap space opening itself up now that Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are gone, the team could add a critical piece to renew its push toward the top of the West. But while the reasons remain vague, the result is crystal clear: Nene is probably not returning to the Nuggets.

He's drawn plenty of interest as one of four 2011 free agents who figure to sign deals worth an average of $10 million or more per season. Contenders like the Miami Heat have expressed interest, though pulling him would be mighty difficult given salary cap restraints. Teams seemingly on the cusp like the Houston Rockets have also made a push; the Rockets need help defensively in the frontcourt, especially with Chuck Hayes looking for a pay day on the market. 

But perhaps the best fit for a player of Nene's caliber is the New Jersey Nets, a team with cap space and the need for a big talent to both add on to the win total and help convince Deron Williams to stay with the club long-term. The Nets could essentially offer what any other team can by freeing up additional space with an amnesty waiver of Travis Outlaw, and actually represents one of the more attractive sign-and-trade partners for Denver given that the Nuggets desperately need bodies to fill out the roster. (The Nets have bodies.)

On the court, Nene is a solid scorer who has averaged just more than 14 points per game over the past three seasons since returning from testicular cancer surgery. Nene does that scoring efficiently; he's led the entire NBA in True Shooting percentage twice, was No. 2 last season and sits No. 13 all-time among those who qualify. He does not miss shots. Though he's not a huge shotblocker or rebounder, his defense is well-respected, though not nearly as good as fellow free agents Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol.

For more on the plight of the Nuggets and the Nene chase, visit Denver Stiffs and SB Nation Denver.

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