Nene and Tyson Chandler have more in common than being the top-tier big men in this year's NBA free-agent class: They both had their feelings hurt by their former team.
Chandler appears unlikely to return to Dallas, in large part because of the Mavericks' insistence on preserving their payroll for next year's free-agent crop and because of Chandler's increasing involvement in the Chris Paul saga in New Orleans. But a source with knowledge of the situation said the prospect of Nene's returning to Denver remains entirely possible -- if not probable -- for the exact opposite reason.
Nene, who recently expressed disappointment over the Nuggets' reluctance to offer an extension until late last season, met extensively with Denver general manager Masai Ujiri on Monday and had what was characterized as a positive meeting. And while a serious discussion on contract terms didn't transpire, the team -- which is likely to have more than $20 million in salary-cap room -- is in a prime position to land the nine-year veteran as long as it offers a five-year deal.
Per the new rules of the soon-to-be-ratified collective bargaining agreement, the Nuggets are the only team able to give Nene a five-year deal with 7.5 percent raises while the rest of the league could offer only four-year deals with 4.5 percent raises. Were he able to land a maximum-salary deal (which appears unlikely), that would mean about $102.8 million in Denver as opposed to the four-year, $75.7 million deal he'd sign elsewhere.
Nene's first meeting on Monday was with Houston and he met with Indiana officials on Tuesday. The Pacers -- who are also very interested in Memphis restricted free agent Marc Gasol, but are unlikely to pry the center away from the Grizzlies -- arrived with front-office members Larry Bird and David Morway as well as coach Frank Vogel and lead assistant Brian Shaw. The Warriors and Nets are interested in both Chandler and Nene too, but they have yet to meet with either one. The Rockets also met with Chandler on Monday and with another free-agent center, Samuel Dalembert, on Tuesday, according to a source. The meeting was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.
While it remains unlikely that Dalembert would consider accepting the mid-level exception (up to four years, starting at $5 million) from a contender like Miami, the odds of him landing in Houston appear to be on the rise considering the situation in Sacramento. While sources say the Kings want to keep Dalembert, there is a significant gap to bridge on the economics and Sacramento appears willing to lose Dalembert should the contract remain in the territory of $10 million per year. While the Rockets might not be willing to pay Dalembert at that rate, either, the absence of state taxes in Texas offers a slight edge over California, and Houston may see Dalembert as an attractive and cheaper alternative to Nene or Chandler.
Chandler's situation grew more complicated on Tuesday, when Yahoo! Sports reported that Paul would be more willing to stay long-term with the Warriors or the Clippers if his former Hornets teammate Chandler was signed as well. According to sources close to the situation, that dynamic is most likely to help Golden State as the Clippers aren't looking to go that route.