Mark Warkentien – In His Own Words

Editor’s note: Summer league may be over, but that does not mean we have to let it go. Bret Bearup, Mark Warkentien and George Karl were all interviewed during Denver Nuggets games. I was able to get very low quality recordings of the interviews so crank the volume on your computer and enjoy.

After listening to Bret Bearup we are moving on to Mark Warkentien, the front man for the Denver Nuggets management team. I listened to a great many interviews that were part of the summer league game broadcasts and I think Warkentien was the only guest who actually stayed after the end of the quarter and kept talking. He is definitely a gregarious guy and the announcers were clearly impressed with him.

Click here to listen.

I thought Warkentien’s comment that Coby Karl is better on a good team than a bad team was interesting. The Nuggets are clearly a good team. It was also good to hear him say that they have demonstrated that the organization is not afraid to make a big move and they will pull the trigger when the right deal comes along. I also got a kick out of how he insisted that Linas Kleiza when it seems pretty clear that they could have signed him to a modest long term contract by now. He also really talks up Afflalo, and I believe with good reason.

Another very interesting comment Warkentien made was how the Camby trade was an investment in Nene, which we all realized at the time, but also how when Denver passed on Ron Artest two seasons ago, he mentions that it was an investment in J.R.

Of course, the highlight was the dissertation on the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Huntsville Flight.

The third and final interview featuring George Karl will post this afternoon.

Bret Bearup Exposed!

Editor’s note: Summer league may be over, but that does not mean we have to let it go. Bret Bearup, Mark Warkentien and George Karl were all interviewed during Denver Nuggets games. I was able to get very low quality recordings of the interviews so crank the volume on your computer and enjoy.

We start our troika of interviews with Bret Bearup, the most mysterious of the Nuggets front office muckety mucks. No one really knows exactly what Bearup’s role is with Denver, but he clearly speaks with authority and claims that he recommended both Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman to Denver. I would think that gives him some serious pull.

During the interview Bearup talks about how he is pleased with the progress that Sonny Weems has made, the chances of Coby Karl making the roster and his opinion of George Karl.

Click here to listen.

Listening to what he says about Coby I would not be surprised to find out that the Weems trade was intended to clear up a spot for Karl the Younger. Regarding Ty Lawson, the way he describes the role they see Lawson playing it sounds a lot like what Anthony Carter has done for Denver in the past. I think the Nuggets brass is expecting Lawson to be the backup point guard for most if not all the season.

I also thought it was interesting to hear that he verifies that the room they budgeted for the Camby trade exception was eaten up by acquiring Chauncey Billups. Bearup verifies that the plan was to acquire a point guard with the exception, but once the Billups trade presented itself it plugged that hole in the budget and on the court. Even if they let the exception expire in November, I think everything has worked out pretty well.

Next up is an interview with Warkentien. Look for that tomorrow morning.

Sonny Weems – 2009-10 Rotation Player?

The Colorado 14ers are no more, but they did defeat the Utah Flash 2-0 in the D-League finals and I was there.

I will be honest, as cool as it was to watch the 14ers put the cap on a great season and to mill around on the court during the celebration afterwards I was there for one reason, to see Sonny Weems and assess his progress. I observed Weems when he played his first home game as a 14er (complete with a brief postgame interview) and I saw a very raw player. It was his first game action in almost eight months as he recovered from a groin injury and at the time he said his number one goal was simply to build stamina.

Weems posted some very solid stats since that appearance, including leading the team with an average of 22.0 points per game in the playoffs despite the fact the he played only the fifth most minutes per game. Needless to say I was excited to see how he had developed during that short time.

The Flash was a good team to observe Weems against. They had two wing players in J.R. Giddens (Boston) and Morris Almond (Utah) who had been assigned to the Flash by the NBA team who was holding their rights. Giddens is a good athlete who could possibly prove a solid foil as a defender and Almond was a scorer who could test Weems as a defender.

Before we get to Weems’ on the court performance, I have to comment about some of his off the court behavior. In pregame warm-ups he was content to stand under the basket and collect rebounds. With each catch he would fire off a strong and accurate chest passes to teammates. I thought that was interesting because he was the one player on the roster who had an NBA contract. If anyone on the team could big time anyone else it was Weems. What I saw before the game was also verified in my brief conversation with him following the game. He is very humble and the kind of guy everyone would like to have on their team.

Shifting to the action on the court Weems came off the bench as he had been doing for most of his time with the 14ers. When he entered the game for the first time with 5:01 left in the first quarter and the 14ers up 17-14. It did not take him long to adjust to the speed of the game as drives down the middle off a high screen and dropped in a nice left handed layup.

It was a good start and I was pleasantly surprised with the versatility Weems displayed on offense. He was much more than the player who relied on dunks to score his points earlier in the season. He showed the ability to drive with both hands into the lane from anywhere on the floor. He is very comfortable driving to his left, which is great to see in a young player.

He used a variety of finishing shots including straight pull up jumpers, layups with both hands, a spin to a fade away and of course a couple of nice dunks. He even finished a drive into the lane in the first quarter with a little right handed jump hook type effort.

When he collected a defensive rebound he looked to push the pace. If he had room he would race the ball up the floor himself. He did not always make the right decision, but did succeed in putting pressure on the defense, which of course the Nuggets love to do.

The one area of his offensive game that was not up to par was his three point shot. His inconsistent spin that I witnessed several times the first time I watched him play was gone. His spin was pure and consistent. Weems actually spent to terms with the 14ers. In first stint he shot only 7-39, 17.9% from behind the arc. In his second tour heading into the playoffs he was a much better 11-31, good for 35.5%. However, on this night he was a dismal 0-6 and the primary problem I saw was his shot was flat. In the four playoff games he appeared in he only made one of 13 three point attempts. He shows some promise as a solid three point shooter, but he clearly has a lot of work to do in that area. Thanks to his other talents he does not have to rely on the three in order to be effective.

From a passing standpoint Weems is solid. He ended the game with seven assists, and a couple of them were noteworthy. He made a nice entry pass into the post from well behind the three point line resulting in a bucket, he made a nice dump off pass to a big in traffic off a drive and converted a long outlet pass for one of the many dunks the 14ers converted. He even tossed a pretty alley oop that was converted for a crowd pleasing dunk.

It was rare that he received the ball in the post, but it warrants mentioning that he did display a very smooth turnaround jumper that he converted over Giddens. I even thought he could have gone to the line for getting bumped on the way up.

He had a few other offensive plays of note. He apparently picked up the quick jumper on the reach in from Chauncey Billups as he was awarded two free throws by swinging his arms up to shoot through the defender’s arms. He showed the ability to catch and shoot off an inaccurate pass. He runs the floor hard and clearly likes to dunk. In one instance he made a layup running off a make which was good to see.

Defensively Weems made some significant progress from earlier in the season although his defense is far behind his offense at this point. Weems did not get much of a challenge from Giddens as he was not a significant part of the Flash’s offense. There were a few occasions where he was matched up against Almond and he did a good job of staying in front of him.

At this point Weems simply is not a focused defender. He was caught ball watching as many players, young and old alike, are wont to do. The best example was on one occasion when the 14ers were switching screens Weems switched onto the big who set the screen and did not make a move to follow him rolling into the lane. He did realize his mistake and on the shot hustled into the lane and pushed the guy far enough under the hoop that he could not make an attempt at the offensive rebound. It was probably a foul, but showed strength and the desire to make up for his mistake.

Overall Weems does remind me quite a bit of a “young” J.R. Smith although it is strange to think J.R. is only ten months older than Weems is. He does not have the long range shooting ability that Smith does, but he has a very good midrange game and is a willing defender if not a highly competent one. I also have to stress once again how polite and humble he is. Based on the strides he has made he appears to be very coachable.

Weems will probably never be a star, but he absolutely has the talent and physical ability to be a number three scorer at some point in the next two or three years. The key will be whether or not he can raise his defense to the level where he can earn significant minutes.

At this point I can certainly see Weems in the Nuggets rotation as early as next season. There is reported some interest in Dahntay Jones around the league (Zach from Celtics Hub informed me there are reports the Boston might be looking at adding Jones) and if he is offered a contract much larger than the minimum I do not foresee Denver bidding to retain him. Weems is clearly not the defender that Jones is, but should Jones sign elsewhere I expect to see Weems backing up J.R. Smith.

The one thing Weems has going for him is his tiny contract. With the Nuggets are guaranteed to be over the tax level next season Denver will love to keep him on the roster simply to avoid having to play another player more whether he is in the rotation or not.

On the other hand, I would think with the solid play Weems exhibited in the D-League there may be other teams interested in him. It is possible Denver uses him in a trade with the logic that they already have a similar and more polished player on the roster in J.R.

One way or another, whether it is for Denver or another team, I think Weems will play in the NBA next season.

Click here to listen to my postgame one-on-one interview with Sonny. Sadly it was cut short by the call to head to the locker room. And he took my stat sheet (he seemed excited to see he ended up with seven assists). I did not even get to autograph it for him. Other than that it went pretty well.

Interview With Chris Tomasson

With the demise of the Rocky Mountain News we have missed the tremendous coverage of the Denver Nuggets provided by Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez.  Well, good news Nuggets fans, they are back thanks to InDenverTimes.com.

I was lucky enough to speak with Chris on a couple of occasions since the announcement that the Rocky was folding and he was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about InDenverTimes.com and how he will continue to cover the Nuggets.

Roundball Mining Company:  What is InDenverTimes.com? What is your vision for it? At the press conference announcing the launching of InDenverTimes.com Brad Gray mentioned that 70% of a newspaper’s budget is allocated to the physical production of the paper. Are online subscription based websites the future of journalism?

Chris Tomasson: The thinking is that newspapers, in their current model, are broken. With advertising declining, it costs so much to print and distribute a paper that newspapers now are laying reporters and editors off in masses. So they’re further weakening their product just to try to live another day. The thinking is that, with InDenverTimes.com, being an online publication, the bulk of the money will be spent on what’s most important: Having a staff of top-notch journalists delivering what people in Denver want to read. We hope we’re the future of journalism, although that future in journalism is already prevalent with sports sites such as ESPN.com. Nobody says, “Where’s my paper version of ESPN.com?” That’s because it never existed. People know they need to go online. As more and more people move away from the paper model of a newspaper, I wouldn’t be surprised if more sites like ours are cropping up in cities around the globe.

RMC:  The viability of the site has been tied to acquiring at least 50,000 subscribers by April 23, 2009. Will some content be free or will all content be available by subscription only? If the goal of 50,000 subscriptions is not achieved will the venture be restructured or will it be left for dead?

CT: The news on the site will be free. But a subscription will get a reader access to columns, analysis, chats and all sorts of other extra features. We’re fully confident we will get the 50,000 necessary by April 23. If, for some reason, that does not happen, our financial backers would look at all options and any decisions would be up to them.

RMC:  How will your ability to cover the Nuggets be different from when you wrote for the Rocky Mountain News? Is there a budget for you to travel with the team?

CT: I like to to think that, not only would I pick up right where I left off, there would be more coverage. With the newspaper, we were limited by space, especially in recent years, with the paper getting smaller due to the economic times. But there is an unlimited amount of space on the Internet. As far as travel, when InDenver Times hopefully starts May 4, this Nuggets season will be winding down, if not over. We would then have ample time to evaluate how best to cover the Nuggets in 2009-10.

RMC:  Is the editorial hierarchy of InDenverTimes.com organized in the same way as a newspaper? Will you have more latitude to write columns/opinion pieces in addition to news articles?

CT:  It will be similar. We will have editors and reporters organized much like they are at newspapers. As for the writers, a key word is analysis. My editors believe I know the doings of the Nuggets as well as anybody, so I’m sure they would trust my analysis on the team. I will be around the team regularly, and will look to present all sides of the story.

RMC:  Will you be covering other sports or news apart from the Nuggets?

CT:  While I’m not expecting to be sent to city hall for a story, I’m sure I will be helping out in other sports areas, which I don’t mind in the least. I’ve got plenty of experience covering all kinds of sports. I’ve even covered two Mr. Olympias, where I was the skinniest guy there, including the women.

RMC:  In your opinion will the Nuggets get past the first round of the playoffs this time around?

CT:  I sure wouldn’t mind if they do. InDenver Times is expected to launch May 4. On that day, it’s very possible the first big headline could be, “Nuggets finally win a first-round series.” Most first-round series end around that time. Those at InDenver Times certainly wouldn’t complain if we had a Nuggets second-round series to cover. As for my basketball opinion, I think they finally can win a first-round series. With their schedule easy down the stretch, the Nuggets look to be in great shape to win the Northwest Division and get a high playoff seed. And, while the West has depth this season, the only team that scares anybody a lot is the Lakers. And don’t count on Denver being the No. 8 seed and having to open against the No. 1 Lakers (good luck with that matchup, Mark Cuban). But it’s important to note that, even if the Nuggets win the Northwest Division, that’s no guarantee of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Nuggets need to win the division and make sure San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans don’t all have better records. If that happened, the Nuggets would have to open the playoffs on the road.

Chris’s first article is up on the site and I encourage everyone who has any attachment to the Denver area to head over to InDenverTimes.com and check out what they are doing.  I am not sure if this is the future of newspapers, but it is a very interesting endeavor.  Good luck to everyone involved and thanks to Chris for all his hard work in covering the Nuggets and whatever other types of sporting events may come his way.

Below is the promotional video explaining more about InDenverTimes.com.

2008-09 Game 59: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

The Denver Nuggets face their current nemesis tonight as the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town.  With the best team in the west in town we needed to do something special.

Instead of a regular preview I have sought out the thoughts of some of the best Lakers bloggers on the internet.  The Nuggets are clinging to the third seed in the west and they have been receiving some good press lately about how they are ready to contend for the Western Conference title.  I wanted to find out if those people who follow the defending conference champs, who are also the favorites to go to the finals again, are buying the Nuggets as a threat.

The contributors are Brian Kamenetzky from the LA Times Lakers Blog , Jonathan from Lakers Nation and hitting cleanup will be Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold.  Look for some content from me on each of these sites at some point today as well.

The rambling setup and question from Roundball Mining Company:  When the playoff seedings were set last season and it was determined the Lakers were going to be playing the Nuggets in the first round it was almost as if the Lakers received a bye. Fans and media alike instantly began talking about the second round before the series even tipped off. The general consensus this season is the Nuggets are a much improved team, but the Lakers easily defeated Denver in their sole meeting since the Billups trade. In your opinion would the current version of the Nuggets be able to compete with the Lakers in a seven game series any better than they did last season? Do Lakers observers take the Nuggets seriously? Should they?

Brian Kamenetzky:  I don’t know if it’s a sagging economy grinding up newspapers and those who work for them like corn meal, global warming, or a potentially nuclear Iran, but these days it seems like everything has me worried. When it comes to the Western Conference, that includes the Nuggets. Denver ’08-’09 deserves to be taken seriously (certainly moreso than last year’s group, which had all the cohesion and unity of Fleetwood Mac), primarily because they’re (I almost said “again,” but I’m not entirely sure it’s ever happened) playing defense.  Fourth in opponents FG%, a respectable eighth in defensive efficiency.  Nene is making a big impact- his on/off court splits are impressive- and Chauncey is certainly an upgrade over A.I. in that regard.  On the other side they still can fill it up, except with Billups there’s more method and less madness.  Plus, Melo has been playing, at least in my intermittent viewing, a more complete floor game.

That said, I don’t think Denver is one of the two teams in the W.C. that could knock off LA in the playoffs, especially if the Lakers have Bynum back.  (My list is comprised of the Spurs and a newly healthy Jazz squad. With AK47 and Boozer back, they’re scary, and create some interesting matchup issues for the Lakers.)  The Nuggs are in that second tier with Houston and Portland. I admit, though, my view could still be colored by biases towards previous incarnations of the team.  Those can be hard to shake.  I’d say that’s a pretty common thing across the media, and certainly among fans.  Denver’s current winning percentage isn’t light years ahead of last year’s pace, but the team’s ability to compete in the postseason is much stronger and they probably don’t get the respect they deserve.

In fact, you’ve inspired me with your question.  Unless you tell me different, I’ll start adding “…and don’t sleep on Denver” to my Western Conference evaluations.   

RMC:  In your opinion would the current version of the Nuggets be able to compete with the Lakers in a seven game series any better than they did last season?

Jonathan:  Potentially this Nuggets team could be a tougher match up this year than last year, but I’m not entirely sure about that. 

A healthy Nene has done wonders for your interior D, and that was probably where the Lakers most took advantage of the Nuggets in the playoffs. I mean, God bless Marcus Camby and all, but Nene and K-Mart are doing a much better job of.. you know.. playing defense.

However, that doesn’t take into account what the Lakers were able to do defensively in the playoffs last year, and have continued to do this year. 

Last year Luke Walton and Vlad Radmanovic were able to do a much better job on Melo than we could have possibly hoped for, holding him to 36% shooting. This year he’s shooting an even more abmysal 29%(!). in two losses, he’s shot 5-15, and 5-19. For the Nuggets to have a shot at beating the Lakers in a 7-game series, he’ll have to play a lot better than that.

RMC:  Do Lakers observers take the Nuggets seriously? 

Jonathan:  I don’t think so. Lakers fans are an arrogant bunch to start out with, so I doubt any of them/us really consider the Nuggets a threat at this point.

Also of note, Derek Fisher does a lot better guarding bigger point guards like D-Will, J-Kidd and Billups, and so Lakers fans really weren’t too concerned by AI leaving in that trade (let’s all stop and laugh at the Pistons for a moment =D).

RMC:  Should they?

Jonathan:  I think so. Billups on Kobe is a lot more plausible than K-Mart on Kobe, that’s for sure. This year’s Nuggets are better than last year’s Nuggets, but at the same time, this year’s are better than last years Lakers as well. I wouldn’t put too much stock into Denver’s Billups Era loss, as we had Bynum then and it doesn’t look like we’ll have him for this playoff run either. Truely, the game on the 27th will be a more accurate reflection of how these two teams match up.

I expect that a 7-game series would ultimately end with the Lakers being victorious, but it wouldn’t be considered a bye.. not anymore.

RMC:  Can the Nuggets compete with the Lakers and do Lakers observers/fans take the Nuggets seriously?

Kurt:  There are two questions in there that get different answers. Yes, this Nuggets team can compete much better with the Lakers than last year’s version, and the Lakers had better take them seriously. With Billups at the point this just appears to be a smarter, more controlled team that plays better defense, picks its spots and attacks mismatches better, not to mention can shoot the three ball better. The pushing of the pace last year seemed to lead to almost reckless play, now things appear more steady. That is why if the Lakers and Nuggets were to meet this year it would be in the second round, the Nuggets are a better that nobody wants in the first round. I will add, I don’t think there is a team in the West that can beat a healthy Lakers squad, they are too talented and too deep, not to mention they can play good defense when they want to. But certainly a series between these team’s this year would be more competitive.

However, to your second question, I don’t think most casual Lakers fans and observers think of the Nuggets differently than last year. I think for much of the fan base the expectations would be a sweep going in, and some media members would happily feed into that. But the Nuggets will change that perception this playoffs, both for Lakers fans and anyone thinking that league wide. They are a legitimately good team and people will get to know that.

Prior to the first matchup between these two teams with Chauncey Billups leading the way for Denver I was very excited.  After the game I was much less so.  Due to the Nuggets poor play as of late coupled with their inability to defeat the Lakers I have already marked this game down as a loss.  Any assistance Denver hoped to get from Phoenix did not materialize as the Suns were not able to challenge the Lakers when they played last night in Los Angeles.  The Lakers were not overly taxed and the fact that the Lakers are playing on the second night of a back to back set will probably not be a factor.

Right now the most recent news we have on whether or not Nene will play is a quote from George Karl provided by Chris Tomasson, “there’s a chance he will play.”  Check out the article to see what Lakers players are saying about the Nuggets and whether or not they have closed the gap between the two teams.

Update:  As Stumbleweed told us in the comments, Benjamin Hochman from the Denver Post is reporting Nene will play, but he will come off the bench leaving Petro as the starter.

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