Denver Nuggets Resign Johan Petro

The Denver Nuggets have made another smart signing as it was announced today that they have resigned Johan Petro. There has been no word of what the contract terms are, but I would guess that it is a one or two year deal starting at the five year veteran’s minimum salary of $959,111.

The Nuggets have done a very good job of managing their payroll this offseason. No one is going to write a book about Denver’s 2009 offseason although I cannot fault them for anything they have done. Today’s signing of Petro is the perfect example of developing a plan and then executing it.

Early in the summer the Nuggets had to decide whether or not they would extend a qualifying offer (QO) of just under $2.85 million to Petro. All of us knew at the time he was not worth that much, but the Nuggets really needed to have a player like Petro, a legit seven footer who can bang in the paint, on the roster. Denver could have done the safe thing and given Petro the QO. No team was going to top it and it would have guaranteed that Petro would return to Denver although at an overinflated price tag.

Instead of wasting money and as recommended here they made the calculated decision to allow Petro to become a free agent and take the risk that someone would offer him a little more money. I thought it seemed like the right thing to do and the gamble has paid off. Denver will retain Petro’s services at nearly only a third of the cost of his QO.

In addition to the savings they earned with Petro they have also resigned Chris Andersen at a very reasonable first year salary, replaced Dahntay Jones with the cheaper and more talented Arron Afflalo and instead of meeting Linas Kleiza’s salary wishes they are likely to replace him with the cheaper and more sound Wally Szczerbiak.

That is good business and that is how you build a sustainable salary structure. The transactions Denver has made are not front page news, but they are crafty and full of basketball wisdom.

Looking ahead the signing now opens up two questions, will Malik Allen be relegated to the bench and will Coby Karl be in training camp?

Last season the Nuggets had primarily a three man rotation between power forward and center with Nene, Kenyon Martin and Birdman. Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman received the bulk of the remaining minutes at power forward. Before Petro was retained it appeared the Nuggets may have been planning on playing Allen as much as ten minutes a night. Petro is fully capable of filling that role and all three of the Nuggets other front court players can play power forward both offensively and defensively should they be on the floor with Petro. I suspect Petro will make Allen superfluous in the rotation, which I believe is a good thing.

From a roster standpoint Petro’s return may reduce Summer League Fan Favorite Coby Karl’s chances of coming to Denver. The Nuggets are only one player away from hitting the 13 player minimum roster requirement and as mentioned above that spot seems destined to go to Szczerbiak. I assume Karl the Elder will know if Stan Kroenke is willing to foot the bill for a fourteenth player or not. The answer to that question will determine if Coby is in Denver this fall.

Karl the Younger is undoubtedly an NBA player and will go to a team’s camp where he has a great chance to make the team. If Karl the Elder knows the Nuggets will not sign a fourteenth player Karl the Younger will go elsewhere, but if Karl the Younger is brought into Nuggets camp then I think that is a good sign that the Nuggets will carry a fourteenth player, at least to start the season, and Coby will be that fourteenth warm body.

The 2009-10 roster and rotation are taking shape and even though the Nuggets have not done anything dramatic, I think they are executing their offseason plans beautifully.

I love it when a plan comes together.

My Second Favorite NBA Team

Editor’s Note:  You all know I like love the Denver Nuggets, probably a little more than a psychiatrist would condone.  Well ESPN.com asked bloggers from the TrueHoop Network to weigh in on what team, other than the team we blog about, holds a soft spot in our heart.  If the Nuggets were no more, who else could suck me in?  Below is my submission, please do not think less of me.

Many people have a vice that they may not be particularly proud of. Some take drugs (I still love you mom!) others commit arson and of course there are the Kobe Bryant fans. My vice may not be illegal, but it is every bit as despicable.

I like the Golden State Warriors.

For years I have longed for the Denver Nuggets to pay half as much attention to defense as they did offense, work for good shots and take care of the ball. The Warriors do none of those things so why on earth would I fall for their no discipline die in a hail of bullets style the Nuggets used to drive me crazy with?

I love the back and forth games where no lead for either team is ever safe. The offensive talent comes at you in waves and when Stephen Jackson and/or Monta Ellis are on it is a thing of beauty. Youngsters like Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright and (future MVP candidate) Anthony Randolph are fun to watch and next season they get to add Stephen Curry to the mix. The icing on the cake is Don Nelson flipping out on the sideline, regardless of how correct the latest call might have been.

If the NBA decides the Nuggets should stay in Taipei this October and the Denver Nuggets cease to exist, I doubt I would latch onto the Warriors long term. After all, they are not the kind of team you bring home to momma and give access to your daughter (God created Kevin Durant for that). However, right now their freewheeling style where the big guns roam the court unfettered by the responsibility of taking quality shots is a perfect vice to indulge in late at night when no one else needs to know what is going on in the privacy of my home.

Update: Here is the TrueHoop post compiling all the various responses.  To my surprise there were a lot of Warriors supporters.  I expected quite a few to select the Oklahoma City Thunder, but no one did.  Sadly, none of the other bloggers are closet Nuggets supporters.

Anthony Carter – Still a Denver Nugget

Yahoo! Sports is reporting (via Twitter) Anthony Carter has signed his one year $1.35 million contract to continue his career with the Denver Nuggets.

I questioned if Rashad McCants presence in Denver yesterday was intended to induce a fire under some free agent.  I do not know of the two events are connected, but it would not surprise me if McCants visit did indeed scare Carter into action.

Big or Bigger?

Before we get to the promised big man post I need to pass on a HoopsHype report that the Denver Nuggets hosted Rashad McCants today. I have no idea how on earth he fits with this team, but hopefully it was just a ploy to motivate another, more roster appropriate player to sign. I know I would take Coby Karl over McCants any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays.

With that out of the way we can now move on to bigger, and hopefully better, things.

At this point there is some significant fodder for the Nuggets to sift through in the big man bin. I still believe there are a couple of decent players who could help the Nuggets.

The first player I will focus on is Joe Smith. Smith, who was briefly a Nugget three years ago, never lived up to his status as the first overall pick, but he is a decently skilled big man who has the reputation of being able to consistently hit the midrange jumper. He averaged just below 20 minutes a game last season and with the Nuggets would fill the important role of keeping Malik Allen on the bench.

Smith can rebound and is a decent enough defender. He is getting old, but would still be a very solid contributor as the fourth big off the bench. Cleveland is reportedly interested in bringing Smith back, Both Cleveland and Denver would have three bigs in the rotation ahead of Smith, but the Cavs also have a bevy of other players who could steal minutes from Smith in J.J. Hickson, Darnell Jackson and a theoretically healthy Leon Powe. Denver has no one other than Rolando Balkman as a potential minute stealer. Still, the money will be equal and it is possible Smith will prefer to stay in Cleveland, but if the Cavs go in another direction, Denver would be the next logical destination.

The bad news about Smith is in 2008-09 he shot midrange jumpers about as well as Kenyon Martin (check the HotSpots data for yourself) and I know none of us where jumping for joy when Kenyon lined one of his catapult jumpers up. However, in previous seasons Smith did indeed knock the midrange shot down very consistently. Should the Nuggets call on him, it is possible he could bounce back and return to form, but there is also the possibility he could be washed up at the age of 34.

There is no way to know which it is until he steps on the court next season.

The other potential direction the Nuggets could go is a true center. A big body to match up with the Andrew Bynum’s and Yao Ming’s Chris Kaman’s of the world. There has been some interest in Marc Gasol amongst Nuggets fans, but I think there is a similar player to be had for much cheaper. You are going to scoff at first, but hear me out. I think at this point in the summer the Nuggets should pursue Aaron Gray.

Gray is a restricted free agent who played his first two seasons with Chicago. He is a middle class version of Gasol the Younger. They are both basically the same size, both have good hands and neither is particularly fleet of foot. Gray has good hands and nice touch around the rim, he sets good screens and provides a big target in the lane on the roll, he is a very good rebounder and can pass out of double teams just fine. Gray is not going to blow anyone away, but he could be had for cheap and would provide a true seven footer for George Karl to call on.

As I mentioned above Gray is a restricted free agent and that complicates things. The minimum the Nuggets could sign Gray for as a third year player is $855,189 and that is significant. According to the ESPN NBA Trade Machine (as good a resource as any for current salaries) the Chicago Bulls are $858,926 away from the luxury tax line. Should the Nuggets sign Gray to the minimum allowable deal the Bulls could match it and still be $3,736 short of paying the tax. Of course there is a chance that an incentive could push the Bulls over the line and there is the chance the ESPN numbers are not entirely accurate. Still, no team wants to flirt with the tax line in this economy. Not only do they have to pay the tax, but they lose out on the tax disbursement payment that is sent out to non taxpaying teams.

The Nuggets should take advantage of the Bulls proximity to the tax limit and sign Gray to an offer sheet. However, the Nuggets can sign him to more than the minimum without digging into any of their mid level exception. They can do so by utilizing their biannual exception. The biannual exception can be split up into smaller amounts just like the mid level exception can. I am sure the Nuggets have accurate salary information on the Bulls and would know just how much to sign Gray for to push them over the top. Whether that number is $862,622 or $950,000 the Nuggets can potentially make things very frightening for the Bulls.

Once again Gray would not be an exciting signing, but he has a solid feel for the game and is a legit seven footer, which is good thing. You do not want Gray playing 20 or heaven forbid, 25 minutes a game, but as a filler and big body to toss out against the other big bodies the Nuggets struggle with he is not a bad option.

I have no idea if the Nuggets are going to sign another big man, I sure as heck hope they do, but as much as the Nuggets could use a power forward who can rebound and hit open jumpers like Smith, I think they could use a true center in order to give them some flexibility even more. Right now the only players on the roster who could be considered centers are Nene and Chris Andersen and Nene is the only one who has any kind of back to the basket game.

If Gray cannot be brought to town then Johan Petro is probably next on the list of true centers to bring to town. Petro would have the advantage over Gray in defending a player like Dwight Howard, but he has no post game and is not as good of a rebounder as Gray is.

It is probably not a great sign when two weeks into August I am forced to blog about a player that no one has thought of as a player to target in free agency, but when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, you can do worse than Aaron Gray.

Denver Nuggets 2009 Preseason Schedule

The Denver Nuggets have announced their 2009 preseason schedule.  Apart from the two games in Asia, there is not much to write about.

They kick off the preseason against the same team they will battle in game one of the regular season, the dimwitted Utah Jazz.

The second game is a tilt at the Pepsi Center against Partisan Belgrade.  At first I thought it would be a chance to see the Nikola Pekovic, the first pick in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but after some research I found he was yet another player who has chosen Greece as he now plays for Panathinaikos.  Feel free to check out Partisan’s roster here to see if anyone excites you.

They are the Boston Celtics of the Serbian Super Liga having won 25% of the league championships over the past 60 years.  Check out their roster here and see if anyone rings your bell.

Right off the bat, one of the two preseason games that you will pay regular season prices for to watch at the Pepsi Center is against a non-NBA squad.  The other team you will get a chance to check out live at the Pepsi Center is Minnesota.  So Nugget fans will not get a chance to see an NBA caliber team at the Pepsi Center until the regular season starts (I kid Timberwolf fans…but not really).  I realize teams probably do not want to travel very far during the preseason, teams fleeing the country excluded, but can’t we get a team outside the Northwest Division to play in the Pepsi Center?

Denver will play Portland at the Rose Garden and then wrap up the preseason schedule with a back to back, I guess the 22 of those they have during the regular season were not quite enough, against the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim and San Diego.

Half of the games are against playoff teams so there is a chance we can get a read on how prepared the Nuggets are to start the season.  If they are riding high on last season’s accomplishments, we should be able to tell in the contests against the Trail Blazers and Lakers.

Things That End in ‘K’

There has been no shortage of recommendations for players the fans think the Denver Nuggets should sign. We know the Nuggets will have to sign (or trade for) at least three more players. I am working under the assumption that Anthony Carter is going to return to his regular one year, veteran minimum contract. To fill the other two spots the Nuggets will likely sign an offensive minded swingman and another big. Today we will poke and prod two shooters that the Nuggets are undoubtedly interested in and tomorrow we will investigate a couple of bigs that may be on the radar.

At small forward there are two players that have received quite a bit of attention, and they are Steve Novak and Wally Szczerbiak. Novak is the people’s choice, but it is unclear if the Nuggets have made contact with him or his agent. Szczerbiak, who was featured in an article by the wild and wooly Woody Paige in the Denver Post, probably has the inside track with the team and in the aforementioned article claims they had shown interest in him more than a month ago. Which player should Denver choose? I am glad I asked.

Both players can shoot, but does one have an edge over the other in that department? Szczerbiak has converted over 40% of his three point attempts in seven of his previous eight campaigns (trust me, I did the math for the seasons he played for more than one team). Novak does not have quite the track record that Wally does, but he did hit 47.9% of his threes in 2007-08 while playing for the Houston Rockets, but he only attempted 71 three pointers that season. Last year with the Clippers he drilled 41.6% of his three point attempts on a much greater number of attempts. Plus due to the fact he was playing with the Clippers, they were not all open looks.

At this point in their careers, I think Novak is the better marksman. On a team like the Nuggets where open looks will abound thanks to the talent around him I suspect he would have a chance at hitting 45% of his threes. Wally would capitalize on his chances in Denver as well, but I do not believe he would convert quite as high of a percentage as Novak would although the difference would not be significant.

However, there is more to basketball than catching a pass and shooting an open three pointer. When it comes to the other facets of the game I believe Wally has Novak beat. Szczerbiak has carried the offensive load in the past and has a more diverse arsenal to call on. That is not to say Novak is not capable of adding a midrange game, or a post game or a pull up jumper to his quiver, but Wally already has those in the bag. Neither player is asked to do much more than shoot, but you want to be able to trust someone to do more than dribble away from the defense and pass the ball to the point guard to reinitiate the offense, Wally is your man. As soon as Novak dribbles he is looking for someone to pass off to.

Defensively both players are underrated. If you ask most fans to rank them both on a scale of one to 100 you would probably get a lot of zeros. Actually they are probably both twenty-fives, thus the underrated tag.

Novak is very attentive and does a good job of being in the right place on the floor and ready to help. Szczerbiak is also attentive, but as on offense, he has just a bit more to offer. Despite being six years older than Novak, Szczerbiak is still a slightly better athlete. Plus he has some craftiness on defense that Novak is lacking. For example when the Cavaliers played the Nuggets in Denver this season Wally drew two charges and a third offensive foul when he was boxing out Chris Andersen. Believe it or not, the Cavs played Wally at power forward for a few minutes in that game and Szczerbiak actually guarded Andersen. Novak has three inches on Wally, but Szczerbiak plays bigger and he moves slightly better too.

Even though Szczerbiak would appear to be the better player right now I still have a difficult time endorsing him over Novak. Maybe it is the thought of having to type his last name over and over again. The tipping point in my mind is their respective contract statuses. Szczerbiak is an unrestricted free agent while Novak is restricted.

The most the Nuggets can offer Novak would be the $2.1 million they have left over from their mid level exception although they could also use their biannual exception that starts at $1.99 million. The question is would either one of those be too much for the Clippers to match? Los Angeles is over the salary cap by around $3 million, but they are nowhere near the luxury tax line. Of course Donald Sterling has the reputation of being cheap, but he has proven he will spend money when he wants to. The kicker is the Clippers have about $21 million coming off their books next season from players they are unlikely to bring back. Adding around $2 million a year for Novak is not nearly as costly for the Clippers as it would be for Denver.

I have no idea how much Szczerbiak is expecting to sign for, but I bet Denver could sign him for the veteran minimum. That would clearly not be possible with Novak.

I believe when all is said and done the Nuggets will sign Szczerbiak to be their shooter off the pine, but before I offer the deal to him, and despite the fact my head tells me he is the better player, I would like to see Denver make a play for Novak.

I say sign Novak to an offer sheet using their biannual exception and dare the Clippers to match it. I think it would probably be a futile gesture because I do think the Clippers would match that offer. The good news is at this point Denver will get one or the other. If Los Angeles does not match the offer sheet, Denver would get the shooter they need to replace Kleiza. On the other hand if the Clippers do match, Wally will still be available. Szczerbiak has waited this long, and as I pointed out previously, there are no other contending teams with playing time available to be had. Wally waited Kleiza’s contract situation out, he would have no choice but to wait Novak’s out as well.

The bottom line is in Denver the bottom line is the bottom line (think it over, it makes sense, in fact, that should be the Nuggets marketing slogan this season) and I doubt the Nuggets are interested in offering anyone more than a minimum salary. That means no Novak, but do not fret. Szczerbiak will be just fine playing a handful of minutes off the bench. It is not a signing to jump for joy over, but I would take Szczerbiak’s savvy and shooting any day over Kleiza’s one track mind. You can complain and grouse all you want, but Szczerbiak would provide another small upgrade for the Nuggets heading into 2009-10.

There is a Silver Lining

For those of you who are really down about the Denver Nuggets losing Linas Kleiza to Olympiakos (I hate having to spell words that look wrong when they are right) I have come to share with you the really hard to see silver lining.

First of all, the Nuggets front office has experience in cutting payroll by eliminating players whose contribution is not equal to their compensation. I can still remember the nonsense that was pedaled when the Nuggets traded Marcus Camby. Frantic people were screaming that he was the only player who cared about defense and the Nuggets were going to give up 120 points a game without him. These guys are experts on the players on their roster. If you and I can see the holes in these guys games, you know they understand even better who is more easily replaced.

Secondly, they should be able to gather a pretty impressive group of players for training camp. Players know Denver has to add at least two players and possibly a third depending on whether Anthony Carter signs or not. With every other contending team having filled out their roster they will have their pick of who is remaining. Players desperate for a job know the best combination of a quality team and opportunity to play is with the Nuggets.

Third, I am beginning to doubt that Denver will take on a mid to high salary player over the next couple of seasons, but with the payroll they have slashed over the past few days, they could be capable of adding some salary before the trade deadline. Plus, at this point, they still have a chunk of their mid level exception, $2.1 million to be exact, remaining to sign a veteran who is bought out later in the season.

Fourth, the Nuggets are good enough to duplicate their success from last year as is. I do not think the teams in the west have improved as much as everyone believes, but we can delve into that before the season starts.

Let’s wait and see what the final roster looks like before we throw in the towel on the season.

I have one more stat to throw out at you before we close the book on Linas Kleiza for 2009-10. According to 82games.com Kleiza was terrible in the clutch. When protracting Kleiza’s performance during the last five minutes of a game or in overtime where neither team is ahead by more than five points over a full 48 minutes the Nuggets were outscored by 40 points. Basically when games were close and Kleiza was on the floor, bad things happened.

Bret Bearup has made two references on his Twitter account (Twitter.com/TheDenverKid) that sound promising.  Earlier this morning he mentioned working on the roster and tonight he mentioned he was making some calls.  I would not be surprised if the Nuggets sign a player or two in the next few days.

Chauncey reaching out to J.R. Smith

According to Chris Tomasson Chauncey is going to spend three weeks in Las Vegas and try to talk some sense to him. Apparently Billups agrees with my assertion that Smith has some growing up to do and Chauncey does not want to grow old wondering what would have happened if he had reached out to J.R. Smith has bought a house in Vegas, a dangerous place for a young immature man with money if you ask me, and his first housewarming gift is Chauncey. Now Chauncey has a wife and kids and it is a serious commitment to leave them for three weeks knowing he is going to be away from them quite a lot in the near future. We all know people who are teetering on the edge of taking a serious fall in their lives and I am guessing Chauncey believes J.R. is close to putting himself in that position.

Finalizing the Hunter trade with Memphis

I have asked around about what the details were of the second round pick the Nuggets will receive from Memphis and no one seems to have a good answer. I decided to stop being lazy and do some research for myself and what I found was not inspiring. According to both the Real GM and HoopsWorld listing of picks owed Memphis has traded the Los Angeles Lakers their 2010 second round pick and they have pending conditional deals already awaiting their second round picks from 2011-13. All of those picks are protected from 31-55 so unless Memphis gets really good very quickly they are holding on to those picks. I do not know if they can place two conditions on one pick such as Denver receives their 2011 second round pick if it is between picks 35 and 54, but Houston will receive it if it is in picks 55-60. Since those two options are mutually exclusive I would assume that kind of condition would be acceptable by the NBA, however, it is entirely possible that the Nuggets will just be added to the list and will receive the Grizzlies 2014 second round pick as long as it is higher than 55.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

Sprite and the NBA are conducting a nationwide dunk contest. They have narrowed the field down to ten and four of those ten will be selected to compete in the finals during All-Star Weekend. Go to NBA.com/dunk to view dunks from the ten semifinalists and vote for your favorite dunker to compete in the finals, but do it fast.  Voting ends on August 24 so do not miss your chance to crown the people’s champion of the dunk.

Real Life

Starting tomorrow things are going to get busy at work.  I have been lucky to have a job where I can spend some time on the blog during the day if I have to, but over the next 18 months we are going to be working on a massive project and there will be many a day where I will not be able to get a post up when you guys want one.  Hang in there with me and I will do all I can to keep giving you the coverage you all deserve.

Thanks for reading and I appreciate the fact that all of you choose to take time out of your life to check out Roundball Mining Company.

Carmelo Anthony vs Michael Jordan

Here is a video of Carmelo Anthony and Michael Jordan having a little shooting contest.

We can draw two conclusions from this video.  One, kids like Melo and two, whoever was holding the camera did a bad job.

Hat tip to TrueHoop for the link.

Linas Kleiza Agrees to Deal With Olympiakos

The Denver Post is reporting that Linas Kleiza will sign a two year, $12 million contract with Greek team Olympiakos.  (Update: The contract is reportedly for $12.2 million and does have an opt out after one season.)

I cannot blame Kleiza because no NBA team was willing to pay him nearly that much, but as I pointed out previously, it only delays his restricted free agency to next summer, assuming he triggers his opt out clause after the first year of the contract.

Whether you love Kleiza or hate him, you have to admit that this hurts the Nuggets’ depth.  I have no problem with Renaldo Balkman backing up Carmelo at small forward as an offense/defense combo like J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones last season at shooting guard.  Plus Balkman can fill in at power forward as Kleiza did when necessary.

Kleiza’s departure also saves the Nuggets an additional $5.4 million in luxury tax and salary and opens up another roster spot.  I am sure the Nuggets would have preferred to have Kleiza to sign the qualifying offer, but with the trade of Steven Hunter and now Kleiza heading to Greece, Denver has saved almost $10 million in salary and tax payments, which is significant.

Assuming Anthony Carter returns the Nuggets now have to add two players to their regular season roster in order to field the minimum 13 players.

Steven Hunter Traded to Memphis Along With First Round Pick

In a summer where their competition has made transactions that have been splattered all over the headlines the Denver Nuggets have made another low key move. The Nuggets have managed to coerce the Memphis Grizzlies to take on the final year of Steven Hunter’s contract in exchange for a future draft pick.

Dumping Hunter’s salary is no small accomplishment. It will save the Nuggets $3,696,000 in salary and an additional $3,696,000 in luxury tax payments for a total of $7,392,000. (Of course, in reality that amount is reduced by the salary and tax payment on said salary for whoever fills Hunter’s roster spot.)

While it is frustrating to see them give up another first round draft pick, keep in mind that they are getting a premium for what will, hopefully, be a late first rounder. The most you can “sell” a draft pick for is $3 million. For all intents and purposes the Nuggets received almost $7.4 million for one. That is pretty good business.

I have no idea if the trade was made as a salary dump, which is most likely, or if they did it to free up money they want to spend elsewhere, a small possibility. Regardless of the motive, this trade does make it more palatable to take on salary at some point this season.

This trade now leaves the Nuggets with only ten players under contract. Of course, they still have the qualifying offer on the table for Linas Kleiza and an outstanding offer to Anthony Carter. Even if both of those players sign, which I suspect they both will, the Nuggets will have to add at least one player to reach the 13 player minimum.

Who that player is can go a long way towards how successful this trade will be as a basketball transaction. Even though Hunter was trying to work his way back from his latest knee surgery with the intent to play in 2009-10, it has always been clear that George Karl never trusted him. If this trade is indeed a straight salary dump as it appears there can be a basketball component.  If the player who fills Hunter’s vacant roster spot is a player that Karl does trust and can play even a little bit, that will be a plus.

Denver still has not made any this offseason headlines, but once again as with the Lawson trade and the Afflalo trade I think they have made a very solid transaction that will further strengthen the franchise even if it only ends up strengthening the bottom line.

Update: The Nuggets did receive a future second round pick as part of the transaction.  There has been no information released as to whose second round pick it will be and when the Nuggets will receive it.  If the second round pick belongs to the Grizzlies as opposed to another better team whose pick the Grizzlies have the rights to, it could work out like the Atkins trade with Oklahoma City where the Nuggets only drop a few spots in the draft order.

For the Memphis perspective, check out 3 Shades of Blue.

Up-Update: Travis Heath of HoopsWorld, who lives in Denver, is reporting the first round pick the Nuggets traded was protected 1-14 in 2010 and 2011 and 1-10 from 2012 through 2015.  In 2016 it is completely unprotected so Memphis could get the number one pick from the Nuggets in 2016 if things fall apart in Denver.

Plus Travis points out that Denver received a trade exception equal to Hunter’s contract that is good until August 7, 2010.  I am usually all over the trade exceptions, but I forgot all about it today for some reason.

Linas Kleiza – Not Improving, Not Getting Paid

I have been planning on writing about Linas Kleiza for about two months now. I never would have guessed that I would still be doing player season recaps in August.

There are a few Nuggets players who will get fans blood pressure up as soon as they hear his name and chief among them is Linas Kleiza.

Some fans will point to how he runs the floor, his ability to hit threes and his 41 point outburst as proof of his talent. Other fans site his porous defense, his inconsistency from behind the arc, his one dimensional game and the fact he seemed to take a step backwards last season as proof that he needs to go away.

Before we look at what Kleiza did last season, we need to consider what did not happen before last season. There were reports that the Nuggets were going to sign Kleiza to a four year, $25 million extension, but when it came time to make everything official nothing happened. After the lack of news made it obvious there was no extension Chris Tomasson reported that Stan Kroenke squashed the deal, but I think another factor was the imminent acquisition of Chauncey Billups.

Trading Allen Iverson for Billups saved the Nuggets a lot of money in 2008-09, but they committed to an additional $15.4 million in 2009-10 between Chauncey’s contract and the buyout of Antonio McDyess. It did not make good business sense to give Kleiza an extension when they knew they were on the verge of adding so much salary by bringing in Billups. The Nuggets did what any smart team should and chose not to negotiate against themselves and they correctly projected that Kleiza would probably not get an offer in the same neighborhood as a restricted free agent.

Kleiza was undoubtedly disappointed that the payday he had been hoping for and appeared to be within his grasp disappeared and understandably he started the season out slowly. With Carmelo Anthony suspended for the first two games of the season Kleiza had additional pressure on him to produce on offense. The result of the loss of his contract extension and the absence of Melo only averaged five points a game in the two games Melo missed and was a putrid 0-11 from three point land over the first three plus games of the season.

Starting anything 0-11 is not a good sign and Kleiza experienced a very up and down season offensively. There were some ups as including his first made three pointer in game four he went on to make 53 of his next 120 attempts, a conversion rate of 44.2%. He had an incendiary stretch from December 15 through January 7 where he hit 29 of 52 threes, 53.7%. Unfortunately, his 4-6 performance against Miami on January 7 was the high point of the regular season for Linas. From that point on he shot an atrocious 34-134, an embarrassing 25.4%. In fact, from February 6 through the end of the season Kleiza was 17-83, a heinous 20.5%, from downtown. After making two or more threes in 21 of the first 49 games of the season, he made two or more threes in only five of his final 33 appearances.

For a player who depends on the three to remain relevant it was bad news.

If you look at his 2008-09 shot chart Kleiza does his damage either at the rim or from behind the arc. Only 90 of his 646 attempts came in the nether region between the rim and the three point line.

The fact that Kleiza treats the realm between the arc and the hoop as if it was the Somme in July of 1916 bothers me (sorry, I have to start putting that history degree to some good use) and the fact that he has never developed a midrange game is disturbing. Instead of getting better, Kleiza was worse from midrange than the prior season. Out of his 90 attempts he only hit on 21 of them, 23.3%. In 2007-08 he made 41 of 113 attempts that were not layups, dunks or these which equates to 36.3%.

When Kleiza’s shot is not falling his one dimensional game becomes a no dimensional game. He is not a willing or capable passer, as pointed out above he does not have any kind of midrange game to fall back on and he was the one Nugget player who did not consistently raise his performance on defense. He did have acceptable defensive games here and there, but as a whole, he was by far the worst defender out of the Nuggets rotation players.

Looking at advanced stats it is even more difficult to make a case for Kleiza being a high quality player. Kleiza was a respectable 14th in rebound rate among small forwards and 21st in true shooting, but he was 27th in turnover rate and 57th in assist rate. Overall his well below average PER of 13.20 rates him 29th among NBA small forwards. In case you are wondering how he rates as a power forward, he would actually show up lower in every category.

The truly damning statistic for Kleiza is on display at 82games.com. The Nuggets are much better when he is on the bench than when he is on the floor. The Nuggets offensive efficiency with Kleiza seated in a folding chair is six points higher than when he is on the hardwood, 114.5 to 108.5. The Nuggets defensive efficiency does not fall off as drastically as their offensive efficiency does with Kleiza on the floor, but it is still worse, 108.9 to 106.7. Add it all up and the Nuggets are a total of 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse (they give up 2.2 more points per 100 possessions on defense and score 6.0 points fewer per 100 possessions on offense) with Kleiza on the floor than when he is off.

If you want to ignore all the statistical and visual data against Kleiza you can still try to make the argument that he still has a lot of untapped potential. I have contended all along that his potential has been miscalculated based on his surprisingly good play in his second season. Little was expected from Kleiza, a college power forward from Missouri who was drafted late in the first round. When he shot 37.6% from behind the arc his second year in the league it was only natural to expect similar boosts year after year. However, I have always believed that Kleiza hit his ceiling, or was at least very close to it, in 2006-07. If that is true, it is much easier to see why he has not built upon his second season and instead has almost been haunted by it.

The frustrating thing is it is nearly impossible to see something Kleiza added to his game for 2008-09. The only positive observations I can make about his play is that he did increase the number of times he drove with his left hand from zero to three or four and he became slightly more adept at tossing in the little running hook he likes to shoot when he cannot get all the way to the rim on one of his drives. Other than those two minor changes, it was mostly downhill.

And it was not just last year. If this was just a one year dip in his stats, I could perhaps get on the bandwagon that he still has upside to develop. However, it has been two seasons now since his breakout campaign and in both of those seasons he has regressed in at least one area of his game.

There is no doubt that the front office and George Karl like Kleiza. Denver has reportedly had the opportunity to trade him for players like Ron Artest and David Lee and have decided to keep him. He was the only Nugget player to play in all 82 contests. He played more minutes than Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones. Even when he struggled during the second half of the season his minutes per game remained steady apart from a five game stretch in March where he was only on the floor for a combined 51 minutes.

By the end of the regular season it was difficult to build a case that the Nuggets should spend any of their limited resources on Kleiza. Then came the playoffs. I do not think there were any games that you could point to and say Denver would not have won that game without Linas, but he certainly shot the ball much better making 42.5% of his threes thus reasserting his offensive relevance. However, he did play in only 15.0 minutes a game and received the dreaded DNP-CD twice.

Fast forward to today and Kleiza is a restricted free agent. Despite the very real possibility that the Nuggets would choose not to match an offer nearing the mid level exception, not one team has made an attempt to try to pry him away. In fact only two teams have even shown interest in him. The Cavs, who have signed Jamario Moon to play small forward when LeBron is resting, and Toronto, who just signed Hedo Turkoglu to a massive deal last month. I guess I should say that there have only been two NBA teams that have expressed interest in Linas. Reportedly Greek powerhouse Olympiacos has an offer on the table to bring Kleiza to Europe.

Kleiza started playing up the European option as soon as his contract extension disappeared last October. I have no doubt that he will make the leap if the money is high enough. The problem is, as Josh Childress has discovered, going to Europe may make you more money in the short term, but it only delays your free agency issues to the next summer. Even if he goes to Greece and lights up every team he faces, he will still be a restricted free agent with the same one year, $2.7 million qualifying offer awaiting his return in 2010.

At this point the Nuggets seem content to call his bluff as there has been no indication that they have offered him a long term contract. There is a possibility that they have had sign and trade discussions with other teams, but if they have, I have not heard a peep about it.

In the end I think Kleiza gets a chance to earn his freedom and a bigger payday next summer by taking the qualifying offer. In this market $2.7 million is a nice contract, regardless of what you had hoped to get (check out item ten of this post, NBA jobs are drying up).

If Linas does come back to the Nuggets, he will get minutes and open shots. The front office likes him and George Karl likes him. Even if he ends up signing the qualifying offer and returning at the cheapest possible price, Denver has already invested heavily in him if only by holding onto him instead of trading him for a more talented player when the opportunity arose.

Even though it may be the worst case scenario for fans and player alike, look for Linas to be back in Denver launching line drive threes and attacking the rim with his right hand next season.

Further Disecting the Denver Nuggets Schedule

The day after the big schedule release and my running diary of discovery, I have a few more notes to add.

At first glance, I never saw an agonizing stretch of difficult games that I was dreading. After reflecting on it some more I think the most difficult stretch will be from March 23 through April 1. The Nuggets have a five game eastern conference road trip that takes them to New York, Boston, Toronto, Orlando and then drops them in Dallas. Five road tilts in seven days. Then as an added bonus they return home to play Portland on April Fools’ Day, although they do get two days of rest. That late in the season the pressure will be palpable and wins will be precious commodities.

I thought it was kind of odd that I could not find more imposing segments. When I reflected on why that was I came up with two reasons. There are fewer teams to fear. Heading into 2008-09 I did not look forward to playing teams like New Orleans, Utah, Houston, Phoenix and Dallas. Now, those matchups are not so scary. There are not eight 50 win teams in the west anymore. The road has become a little easier. The other reason for my lack of consternation is for the first time in a long time I believe the Nuggets are capable of being a top five team. That is a nice feeling to have.

There were two other things I noticed looking at the schedule that I thought were interesting. I had lamented the fact that the Nuggets had 22 back to back games and on only six of those occasions will they play a team who had played the night before as well. After a little research I have discovered there are 22 occasions where the Nuggets play an opponent who is coming off a game the night before. Lo and behold out of those 22 instances there are only six games where the Nuggets had to play the night before as well.

While 22 is a big number, it appears the league has kept things pretty even at least within the Nuggets schedule.

The other discovery I made was that this is the first season since 2000-01 where the Nuggets do not play a home and home series with someone. There have been times where there was a day off between games against the same opponent, but in every season since 2000-01 the Nuggets have played at least one team twice in a row. I am not sure what that means for the fans, but I guess the advance scouts do not get the benefit of a repeat game that does not require additional scouting.

J.R. Smith Misses a Great Opportunity

“ok people I love all of my fans im sorry but this will be my last tweet you know why but it is what it is love all an take Care!”

And like that, he’s gone. J.R. Smith has closed his JR_Smith1 Twitter account and in doing so has missed an opportunity to make a difference.

If you are not aware of the controversy that grabbed the attention of basketball fans everywhere, even Bill Simmons tweeted about it calling it a “crazy-bizarre” story, J.R. Smith had been tweeting gang style. The act of replacing the letter ‘c’ with the letter ‘k’ in his messages is reportedly something connected to the gang known as the Bloods.

J.R. could have taken this opportunity and used it to spread the news that he does not support gangs and would never again do anything that could be construed as supporting gangs. Unfortunately, there was a problem with that route. It would have required an apology or at least the act of admitting a mistake or error in judgment.

In place of trying to make a difference in the lives of young people who deal with the pressures of gang life he basically said, screw you to everyone with a capital ‘C.’ He took his Twitter account and went home.

This is not the first time J.R. has been accused of gang related activity. In the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers some people believed he was flashing gang signs after hitting a three.

At this point instead of making a positive impact J.R. is doing the exact opposite. The absence of an explanation or any kind of remorse only strengthens the belief that J.R. is at best supportive of gangs and at worst an active participant in one.

For all his improvement on the basketball court, it appears J.R. still has a great deal of growth remaining in his personal life. Coming from a young man who was just released from prison after serving time for the death of his best friend in an auto accident brought about by J.R.’s own irresponsible actions I hoped for more.

I have been one of J.R.’s biggest supporters and have constantly defended him.  Barring some kind of apology, it will be very difficult to do defend his hurtful behavior.

2009-10 Denver Nuggets Schedule Analysis

The NBA will release the 2009-10 schedule at 11:00 AM Mountain time.  Check back here soon thereafter for a complete analysis.

Sactown Royalty has posted a link to the Kings 2009-10 schedule and Sacramento is one of the Western Conference teams the Nuggets only play three times (twice in Sacramento (12/28/09 and 01/09/10) and once in Denver (02/01/10).  It took the NBA about 20 minutes to disable the link to the Kings schedule.  Some poor IT guy is getting fired over that one.

Denver Stiffs is reporting the Nuggets open up at home October 28 against the Utah Jazz on ESPN and then travel to Portland the next night to play the Trail Blazers on TNT.

Update: The Nuggets play at Portland on Christmas as the last of five games to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Update (11:16 AM): Denver has 23 sets of back to back games.  Update to the update (11:26): They actually have 22. Sorry for the mistake.  I have never seen a team have more than 21 sets of back to back games and my educated guess as to the league average would be around 18 or 19.  I have not looked at any other team’s schedule to see if other teams are playing more back to back games, but 23 22 seems like a very high number.

Update (11:18 AM): Here is the complete schedule for you to check out for yourself.

Update (11:32 AM): The four Western Conference teams the Nuggets face off against only three times are the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets, who they only play once at home, and the Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks who they only play once on the road.

Update (11:39 AM): There is only one home stand longer than three games and it is a four game sequence from November 27 through December 3 where the Nuggets will face off against New York, Minnesota, Golden State and Miami.  Denver has four road trips of four or more games including a six game trip in early November and a five game trip at the end of March that takes them through New York, Boston (back to back), Toronto and then finishes up with a back to back in Orlando and Dallas.  Ouch.  That five game trip lasts only seven days.

However, after that the Nuggets only have two more road games in April at Oklahoma City and Phoenix.

Denver is one of two teams, Sacramento is the other one, who will end their season on April 13.

Update (12:15 PM): The Nuggets have 22 games on ESPN, TNT or ABC and another seven on NBATV.

10/28 Utah ESPN
10/29 @ Portland TNT
11/13 LA Lakers ESPN
11/20 @ LA Clippers ESPN
12/03 Miami TNT
12/25 @ Portland ESPN
01/08 Cleveland ESPN
01/17 Utah ESPN
01/21 LA Clippers TNT
01/31 @ San Antonio ABC
02/05 @ LA Lakers ESPN
02/11 San Antonio TNT
02/18 @ Cleveland TNT
02/21 Boston ABC
02/25 @ Golden State TNT
02/28 @ LA Lakers ABC
03/07 Portland ESPN
03/18 New Orleans TNT
03/24 @ Boston ESPN
04/01 Portland TNT
04/08 LA Lakers TNT
04/13 @ Phoenix TNT

All four contests against Portland and the Lakers are on national TV as well as both games against Boston and Cleveland.  That accounts for 12 of the 22 games right there.

Update (1:28 PM): As I mentioned above the Nuggets have 22 games where they have played the night before.  From what I have heard that is tied for the fourth most back to backs in the league (Charlotte, Chicago and Detroit all have 23).  What makes it worse is on 16 of those 22 back to back sets the team Denver plays on the second night will have at least one day of rest.  That leaves only six instances of those 22 back to backs where the Nuggets are playing a team who played the night before as well.

The Nuggets have announced that all games broadcast on Altitude will be in HD apparenlty what few games are on Altitude 2 will not be in HD.  That means Nuggets fans will probably get 75 or so games in HD next season.  Last season most road games were broadcast in standard D.

Going Corporate

With the news that the NBA is going to allow teams to place advertisements on their practice jerseys and looking forward to the day where ads will show up on the game jerseys I decided to help match all 30 NBA teams with an appropriate corporate sponsor.

Atlanta Hawks – Gold Club (time for a comeback and if you do not know why, check out the link)

Boston Celtics – Cheers

Charlotte Bobcats – University of North Carolina Alumni Association

Chicago Bulls – Abe Froman Sausage King of Chicago (the first of the scenes missing from Youtube I was hoping to link to in this piece)

Cleveland Cavaliers – Callahan Auto Parts

Dallas Mavericks – Bob Loblaw

Denver Nuggets – Walmart (might as well make it official)

Detroit Pistons – Toyota

Golden State Warriors – Mopeds.com

Houston Rockets – M*A*S*H (believe it or not, this was the best Youtube had to offer, just criminal)

Indiana Pacers – Jenny Craig/Crest/Irish Spring (Hoosiers need more of all three of these things)

Los Angeles Clippers – Bluth Company

Los Angeles Lakers – MindHead (how is the “don’t show it to the Laker Girls” scene not on Youtube?)

Memphis Grizzlies – Spatula City

Miami Heat – Del Boca Vista

Milwaukee Bucks – Kohl’s Department Store (but somehow Herb has to show a loss for both the Bucks and the retail chain, actually half of that equation will probably be pretty easy)

Minnesota Timberwolves – Gustafson Oldsmobile (2:14)

New Orleans Hornets – City of Venice Tourism (when God puts water in your streets, make chicken salad)

New Jersey Nets – Febreze (my garden never smelled like New Jersey does!)

New York Knickerbockers – Kramerica Industries (I bet you thought I was going to go with Van de Lay Industries, sorry about the sound, but it was the only Kramerica clip I could find)

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thundercats (with a hat tip to Dante and Galante)

Orlando Magic – Universal Studios Disney World (don’t bite the hand that pays the interest on the second mortgage, get your free Disney Vacation Planning DVD)

Philadelphia 76ers – Dunder Mifflin (local paper company finally hits the big time, that Michael Scott is going places)

Phoenix Suns – Zastava Koral

Portland Trail Blazers – Apple (I bet Paul Allen loves his iPhone)

Sacramento Kings – Blue Oyster Cult (they need more cowbell in Sacramento)

San Antonio Spurs – Rascal Scooter (I think Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will be riding these on the court before the end of the 2009-10 season)

Toronto Raptors – Barney

Utah Jazz – Antonym Finder (brought to you by Synonym.com)

Washington Wizards – Red China

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