Arron Afflalo has long maintained solid production that lacks sizzle, and he’s been one of the NBA’s most reasonably priced players for most of the time that he’s been on the five-year, $38MM deal he signed with the Nuggets shortly after the lockout. He’s the sort of guy teams like to have around but wouldn’t mind parting with for the right return in the right circumstances. So, it’s not altogether surprising that he’s ping-ponged from the Nuggets to the Magic and back to the Nuggets while the contract’s been in effect, nor is it a shock to see reports that Denver is open to dealing him and that multiple teams have called the Nuggets about trading for him.
The end of Afflalo’s contract is in sight, as Afflalo holds a $7.5MM player option for next season, the final year of the deal. He sounded this past summer as though he intended to turn down the option and hit free agency at the end of this season, as Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post observed. Any team interested in trading for him will surely try to suss out his feelings about that option now. It wouldn’t be altogether difficult to find a replacement of Afflalo’s caliber were he to opt out and sign elsewhere, but if a team goes in believing he’ll come off the books this summer and he doesn’t, that extra $7.5MM could be crippling to a front office’s plans. The Hornets, one of the teams that Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com identified as a suitor for the 29-year-old shooting guard, already have uncertainties in the form of Al Jefferson‘s $13.5MM player option and a $6MM player option for Gerald Henderson. They’d have roughly $20MM in cap flexibility against a projected $66.5MM cap if both opt out, and virtually no cap flexibility if they both opt in. Trading for Afflalo would set Charlotte up for a worst-case scenario in which Henderson and Afflalo opt in and Jefferson opts out, leaving the team without the financial wherewithal to replace Jefferson if he signs elsewhere.
The Heat, another team Shelburne says has called about Afflalo, find themselves in a similar position with about $41.2MM in commitments, not including more than $28MM in player options for Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Danny Granger. Still, Miami’s primary focus is the summer of 2016, when Afflalo’s deal will be done regardless. The Clippers are also in the hunt, according to the ESPNLosAngeles.com scribe, but they have little chance of opening up any significant cap room in the offseason ahead, though Afflalo’s option would carry potential luxury tax consequences, particularly since the Clips are in line to pay the tax for the second year in a row this season. Another taxpaying year in 2015/16 would set the team up to pay the dreaded repeat-offender tax penalties that would test even Steve Ballmer’s deep pockets.
Afflalo’s play on the court makes him an intriguing option for a contender looking for a short-term upgrade on the wing. His scoring is off, predictably, on the Nuggets this year after the rebuilding Magic featured him in their offense the previous two seasons. His 15.2 points per game are identical to his scoring average from his last season in Denver, before the Nuggets sent him out in the 2012 Dwight Howard–Andrew Bynum–Andre Iguodala four-team blockbuster. More disconcerting is his three-point shooting. He’s taking more three-pointers than ever, despite his accuracy having fallen off last year’s 42.7% clip. He’s at 34.0% this season, below his 38.6% career rate. That suggests an uptick is in order for the second half of the season, particularly if he’s playing on a contender with better pieces to surround him than the Nuggets possess. Still, his increased emphasis on the three-point shot has cut his free-throw attempts to 3.1 per game, his fewest in four years, indicating that he’s more hesitant to drive and create contact.
John Hollinger’s PER metric has never been kind to Afflalo, who last year managed a number better than 15.0, the mark of an average player, for the first time. His PER has dropped from 16.0 this season to this year’s 12.1, a number beneath even his modest career 12.8 PER. Still, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Nuggets are 4.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Afflalo in the lineup compared to when he sits, per NBA.com, and only 0.6 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor. That net rating of 3.9 is almost equivalent to the distance of 4.0 between the Nuggets and Cavs in net rating this season, NBA.com shows.
It’d be far-fetched to suggest that Afflalo could turn a mediocre team into a contender, but he could help the Hornets and Heat make the playoffs and perhaps push the Clippers over the top in the Western Conference title race. Much depends on what cost Nuggets GM Tim Connelly would demand in return. Connelly reaped two first-round picks when they relinquished Timofey Mozgov, so he could be excused for setting a high price. Teams have nearly sworn off trading first-round picks in-season the past two years, but this year, they’re changing hands with more frequency.
Afflalo came cheaply this summer, when Denver sent little-used Evan Fournier and a late second-round pick to Orlando for him, and while Fournier has blossomed with the Magic, the trade looked quite favorable for Connelly at the time. It isn’t just Fournier’s play that’s haunting Connelly now; other GMs will surely wonder why he might ask for more in return for Afflalo than he got, particularly if the shooting guard’s numbers are down this year. Still, desperation drives deals, as Connelly surely knows from Cleveland’s desire for Mozgov, and as the trade deadline approaches and playoff races become more well-defined, Afflalo’s price will surely escalate. It’d still be difficult for the Nuggets to come away with another first-rounder here, but if they can find a younger replacement with the promise of someday playing at or near Fournier’s level, Denver would be wise to bite.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.