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Nuggets, Afflalo in flux

It looks like Arron Afflalo will be playing basketball next month, which is why he didn’t play basketball Sunday. That was the ironic twist to this weekend’s news of a potential lockout-ending settlement between the NBA and its players, which came the day before Baron Davis and Tina Thompson held their charity exhibition game in Los Angeles. Business came first for Afflalo, so rather than risk injury right before he enters free agency he watched from a courtside seat while DeMar DeRozan put on a dunking display and Craig Smith showed off his ballhandling skills.

Afflalo is a restricted free agent, meaning the Denver Nuggets can retain him by matching any offer made to him within a newly shortened three-day window. The Chicago Bulls keep popping up as a possible destination for Afflalo, but indications are that he’ll wind up back in Denver. It’s not so easy to make that prediction for the rest of his teammates.

Free agents J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin all signed to play in China, whose teams did not allow players to escape their contracts and return to the NBA if the lockout ended. If they hold them to that, the earliest they could come back would be March. Meanwhile, Nene is a free agent considered among the best in this class and is certain to draw big offers from other teams. It all makes the Nuggets the least stable team in the league when it comes to roster continuity.

“I hope for the best for Nene and hope for the best for me,” Afflalo said. “He’s not closed-minded to Denver, but it’s an important decision for him. Hopefully he makes the right one.

“I’m definitely going to be giving some of the guys and getting a feel for them and seeing how things work. I thought it was a great opportunity for us last year, really jelling, finding new leadership and finding new confidence within the organization. We’ll see what happens. If I’m there, we’ve got a team to compete. You can’t make excuses.”

At least the No. 1 issue that hung over the franchise at the outset of last season is resolved. Carmelo Anthony is gone. The trade with the Knicks made the Nuggets a deeper team and they wound up playing at a faster pace, with the ball distributed more evenly. Afflalo wound up taking the same number of shots per game pre- and post-trade, even though he played eight fewer minutes per game and was curtailed by a hamstring injury.

“I look at it as opportunity,” Afflalo said. “It was more motivation for me to work hard and be a better player. So if I am in that position next year I can fulfill a different role.”

He developed a reputation for hitting clutch shots and was a reliable from three-point range (42 percent).

The only other outside shooting threats the Nuggets currently have under contract are Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington. The Nuggets are fine at point guard, with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, but with Nene’s situation unresolved so is the team’s inside scoring.

That’s all beyond Afflalo’s control.

“I’m just so appreciative that we’re back playing,” Afflalo said. “So before I start making demands I want to start taking care of my situation and then move forward from that point.”