Joey Graham to Sign With the Denver Nuggets

Chris Tomasson is reporting that the Denver Nuggets have agreed to a one year non-guaranteed $884,881 contract with Joey Graham, not to be confused with Stephen Graham.  Graham has played with the Toronto Raptors for all four of his NBA seasons.  He is a solid player and has played in at least 16 minutes a game in three of his four professional seasons.

Graham is a solid player who will not try to do too much.  Graham is not a three point shooter having only attempted 50 over the past three seasons making only 14 and he does not appear to offer a specific NBA skill that will be useful to Denver.

With James White and now Graham on board Denver may be done shopping and as Tomasson writes the two “can fight it out in training camp for a possible roster spot.”  Both are listed at 6′ 7″ and can play shooting guard or small forward, but Graham is considerably more bulky and the two are completely different types of players.

I may be barking up the wrong tree, but the fact that both of these guys have non-guaranteed contracts leads me to believe that if Wally Szczerbiak is still interested the Nuggets will have room for him.  However, as of now it appears either White or Graham could be the backup small forward while the other will be looking for work.

Update: Tomasson is kicking butt today as he is also reporting that Coby Karl is heading to Cleveland despite George Karl pushing for the Nuggets to bring him in to Denver.  All I will say is Cleveland is crazy if Coby does not break camp with the team.

Denver Nuggets Acquire James White

The Denver Nuggets are under compliance. They have acquired James White from the Houston Rockets in exchange for the rights to Axel Hervelle (remember him?) and now meet the league minimum of 13 players on their roster.

White is a high flying shooting guard who has played ten career NBA games between stints in San Antonio and Houston. I have always thought of White as all athleticism and little game, but he did post some impressive numbers last year with the Anaheim Arsenal in the D-League including a 47 point 11 rebound effort on 18-24 shooting.

This is another high upside, no downside deal that the Nuggets are becoming known for. Hervelle was selected in the 2005 draft and played in Summer League one year for the Nuggets to little acclaim. It is clear he will never be an NBA player. White on the other hand has shown growth over the previous two or three seasons. His three point shooting improved to 36.8% and his free throw shooting to 85.6%.

With White landing in Denver it puts an end to the Flip Murray and Keith Bogans (who agreed to terms with the Spurs today) speculation. I suspect White will provide some scoring off the bench over the first seven games of the season during which J.R. Smith will be sidelined. However, could he also fill the role that Wally Szczerbiak was hoping to fill? I think White and Renaldo Balkman could provide a nice offense/defense combo off the bench at small forward. He is undersized, but can run the floor and hit the three. Sounds similar to Linas Kleiza’s old job description, doesn’t it?

To me the big question is can White play defense? Seeing as how he played for the Spurs and Rockets, two of the more sound defensive teams in the league, he should be at least competent. Should he prove to be anything more than that he has a very good chance to care out some minutes in the rotation.

If you are not familiar with what White can do check out the video below. Some of these dunks are just stunning.

Mid September Hodge Podge

It has been a while since I have posted anything and I apologize. I guess the good news is I really have not missed anything. Still, there has not been a word on this blog about J.R. Smith slated to miss the first seven games of the season, former Nugget Allen Iverson signing with the Memphis Grizzlies, the potential referee lockout, heck, I never even finished my player by player recap of the 2008-09 season.

I have made it through another hectic week of work, pieced together two potentially dominant fantasy football teams and I finally have some time to discuss the Nuggets.

Where’s Wally?

Nuggets fans received some good news yesterday as it was announced Desmond Mason had agreed to sign with the Sacramento Kings (read about it at Cowbell Kingdom). The bad news for Nuggets fans is that it reduces their leverage with Wally Szczerbiak.

However, there are still several names on the list as the Nuggets have been linked with Rashard McCants, Flip Murray and now Keith Bogans, but I still think Wally is the guy who will end up in powder blue next season. With Chanucey Billups, J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Anthony Carter I do not see how McCants or Murray help this team. Chris Tomasson has an excellent article on Fanhouse outlining how J.R. Smith’s suspension (discussed below) is playing a role in who the Nuggets bring in to fill the 13th roster spot.

If the front office signs a player simply because the Nuggets will be short handed for the first seven games of the season, I think it is an overreaction. However, Tomasson reports that Denver offered Murray a minimum deal already. Murray is a nice player and I have no problem with Bogans either. Murray can score and Bogans is a very good defender, but what do you do with them once J.R. returns? Over the long haul Denver will be better off with a player like Szczerbiak who can really help for all 82 games than someone who will only provide a significant boost for seven.

Getting back to Wally, should Szczerbiak end up in Denver both he and the Nuggets are playing things cool. With the Nuggets’ commitment to saving every possible penny they are not about to toss Wally, or anyone else, a salary figure higher than they are willing to pay just to seal the deal. The Nuggets remain the best match for playing time and competitiveness. The only team who could I could see offering anything better than Denver would be the Lakers who have a couple of open roster spots and might not be planning on giving their spare minutes at small forward to Adam Morrison, plus it was announced today they will bring in.

I do believe Wally would be a very good fit in Denver, but if he ends up signing elsewhere, it is not the end of the world. It would actually clear up some playing time at small forward for Renaldo Balkman. I believe Balkman is at his best playing small forward as he struggles to defend many power forwards due to his slight stature.

Denver can also go small with J.R. or Afflalo sliding over to the three. Backing up Carmelo Anthony only assures you about 12 or 13 minutes of floor time anyway.

If the Nuggets sign Murray and Szczerbiak then I will be ecstatic, but they are serious about minimizing their tax payment and carrying more than 13 guaranteed contracts into the season is unlikely.

Training camp starts in less than a week and Denver has to sign someone. This cannot drag out much longer. Denver has options and the race may come down to which player will agree to play in Denver for the minimum.

The Least Popular Number 7 in Denver

For the third season in a row the Nuggets will be short a player to start the season due to suspension. J.R. will miss the first seven games of the 2009-10 season because of the reckless driving incident that resulted in the death of his friend and passenger Andre Bell. Smith was suspended by the Nuggets for three games to start the 2007-08 season because of the accident and last season Carmelo Anthony missed the first two games as punishment for his drunk driving arrest near the end of the 2007-08 season.

My initial reaction when I heard J.R. had been suspended for seven games was that it was far too severe. With the Nuggets likely locked in a tight battle for playoff position again those seven games could be very hurtful. Three of those seven games are back to back sets and the Nuggets will need all the fresh pairs of legs they can afford, even early in the season.

After reflecting on the situation I cannot argue that seven games is too severe. In fact, it is possible J.R. got off easy. I do not mean to keep dwelling on this, but a person lost his life because of J.R.’s actions. How can you say any amount of games is too steep a penalty?

I realize it is not the NBA’s job to punish J.R., after all he spent 24 days in jail isn’t that enough? On the other hand, who among us would still have a job, let alone a multimillion dollar paycheck waiting for us after incarceration?

Seven games is significant suspension, but is it excessive? I do not think so.

A Grizzly Outcome

I wrote a little last year about how interesting Allen Iverson’s free agency would be. I could not imagine him playing for a non contending team, but I could not imagine a contending team being interested in him.

Now he is a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

What?

I think I am a pretty astute observer of the NBA, but the Grizzlies would not have been a team I would have pictured AI playing for and honestly with players like O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph all wanting the ball, especially Randolph he really wants the ball, I have a difficult time envisioning the partnership panning out.

Iverson signed a one year deal and I doubt AI expects to finish that deal in Memphis. I believe he plans on coming out and proving that what happened in Detroit was not his fault. It was the Pistons that made him look bad, not his declining abilities. If he can play at the level he expects he can, there should be playoff caliber teams banging down the Grizzlies’ door at the trade deadline to add a player that can give them a major boost at a low cost.

I never doubted Iverson’s ability to score, but we have all been waiting for the day when his body would betray his spirit. The Nuggets clearly decided that he had reached that point during training camp last year and what we saw from Iverson in Detroit certainly made Denver look prescient.

Now that his free agency has played out I think what happens from here will be more entertaining than the process that brought him to of all places Tennessee.

Check out the coverage of AI heading to Memphis over at 3 Shades of Blue.

What’s Black and White and Sweaty All Over?

I refereed a few intramural games in college. There were three leagues, A, B and C. I refereed C league games. As you probably figured out A was the top competitive league and C was the recreational league full of people who may or may not have played before. You would think that the C league would be pretty laid back and easy to ref. Some of the guys on my floor played on a team called “Wish There Was a D League.” I am pretty sure they never got on the refs.

On some nights you had teams like my floor mates who just wanted to run around and were happy to make fools of themselves, but on other nights the participants seemed to think they were battling it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy and as a result I took quite a bit of abuse. I remember being glared at days after a game when a guy from one of the games I worked passed me on the sidewalk.

The whole point of this is I do not know who on earth would want to be a referee.

Right now the NBA and the referees union are heading towards a lockout and we are facing the specter of replacement referees. David Stern reportedly pulled out of negotiations on September 8 because the referees backed out on an agreement for pension reductions. The league has agreed to a reduced two year contract instead of the regular five year deal, which means the refs can get a better deal sooner as long as the economy turns around by then, and the referees have agreed to $2.5 million of the $3.2 million in reductions requested by the NBA.

David Stern consistently refers to NBA officials as the best in professional sports and brags about their accuracy. If they are truly only a few hundred thousand dollars apart, how is this deal not done? The union is promoting the idea that Stern is trying to make an example of the referees to try to send a statement to the players heading into their upcoming negotiations.

The NBA is moving forward with bringing in replacement referees and things have the potential to get a little ugly.

Whether we are talking about NBA referees or C league referees, they are whipping boys (and girls). I honestly believe the NBA referees have been doing pretty well the past couple of years. Even so, I am willing to bet the majority of fans would disagree with me. If fans are upset with referees that are supposedly the best, how much more upset will they be watching lesser officials?

I doubt the NBA will let this drag out until the regular season, but when you start posturing, if that is indeed what Stern is doing, disagreements can take on a life of their own. How tough will Stern look if replacement referees are a disaster and he has to cave to the union’s demands?

Denver Nuggets Check Out Desond Mason

Chris Tomasson continues to keep us informed of what is going on in Denver and he has reported on FanHouse that Desmond Mason was in Denver earlier this week. From all accounts Mason is a tremendous individual and with the issues the Nuggets have had and are still having that is nothing to sneeze at. The fact that Mason ever played in the NBA at all is a miracle.

Mason made a guest appearance at the Alliance’s summer camp for burn-injured youth at the Timber-Lee Christian Center in East Troy, addressing close to 90 campers ages 7 through 17. His message hit home, because when he was 3 years old, he felt their pain.

His story originated 27 years ago when he was in the back seat of his father’s car. There was a radiator explosion in an adjacent car, and the radiator fluid flew through the open window of Mason’s father’s car and into the back seat, where Desmond was sleeping. He was scalded. His legs had sustained most of the burns.

Mason spent the next six months or so in a hospital, where he underwent skin grafts, plastic surgery and rehabilitation. His doctors told his parents that he would never be able to run again.

They obviously underestimated Desmond’s determination. Within a year, he was not only running, but playing football and basketball.

Mason not only told the children at the burn camp the story of his traumatic ordeal, but showed them his scars and said, “Look at me now!”

His young audience, according to one observer, was awestruck. Anyone else who witnessed his presentation probably was, too.

“I told them about what I had to go through when I was young and I got burned,” Mason said. “It was in the same situation, and it’s something that kind of messes with your head a little bit. Kids are so young, and they can be brutal and say whatever and make you feel like an outcast sometimes.

“When I visit these camps, I’m around people who are in the same situation I was in.”

Mason told the campers to enjoy their time at the camp, look past their painful experiences and focus on the future. And he stressed to them the importance of working hard and believing that they could accomplish anything they set out to do.

His story is inspiring and I hope he can continue to provide hope to children who have suffered from similar tragedies.

There has been some good discussion here on whether or not Denver should sign Mason. I will only add one thing and that is Mason’s career three point shooting percentage. 26.0%. Ouch.

I believe we can explain Mason’s presence in Denver by looking back to a visit by Rashad McCants. When McCants came to Denver last month it seemed like an odd story. The result of McCants’ trip to the Mile High City was that Anthony Carter realized that there were other players who wanted to play in Denver and he signed his contract soon after.

I believe Denver’s interest in Mason is for him to play the role of McCants in the hopes that Szczerbiak responds the way Carter did. I am sure the Nuggets are hoping to sign Wally to a minimum contract while Wally is hoping to get the $2.1 million balance of Denver’s mid level exception. The thing is both sides know the other side needs them so they are in no rush to act. The Nuggets desperately need a shooter to come in off the bench and there is no contending team with minutes available left for Szczerbiak to sign with.

I do not know what Szczerbiak’s starting salary will be. I would guess that he gets a big chunk, if not all of, the bi-annual exception, which is capped at $1.99 million this season. The bottom line is regardless of who else comes to town, I firmly believe Wally will be the Nuggets’ man.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Free Agents are Dropping Like Flies

My August Free Agency Update post was a big hit around the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves have signed Mavericks center Ryan Hollins to an offer sheet, reportedly $7 million over three years, and as I surmised with 15 contracts on the books for 2009-10 the Mavs will not match it. Cuban tweeted the following:

“congrats (sic)to ryan (sic) hollins (sic). wish (sic) him the best w (sic) twolves (sic).”

Now there are reports that Shelden Williams is going to sign a one year minimum salary contract with the Boston Celtics.

Either the Nuggets have something up their sleeve or they are bound and determined not to spend money this offseason.

August Free Agency Update

There have been a great many free agents who have been named on this site as players one or more of us would like to see the Denver Nuggets pursue. Out of all the players who have been bandied about the Nuggets have not signed…not a one of them. In fact, the Nuggets have only been mentioned in discussions for two that I can remember, Grant Hill and Channing Frye.

The market is thinning and players I thought the Nuggets might have been able to go after in August on the cheap are getting snatched up. Players like Drew Gooden, who received a much nicer deal from Dallas than I expected him to get, and even Ike Diogu are getting snatched up left and right. Today Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Cavaliers have offered Leon Powe a contract. Powe is injured and likely will not suit up until after the New Year. I was hoping he might be a guy the Nuggets could have looked at signing not long before the season, yet he is up in the free agent queue before we hit August.

The bargains come out of the woodwork after everyone else has spent their money and we have reached that point. The only teams who have not used their mid level exceptions that still appear willing to do so are the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets did a pretty good job in late July last season signing Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntay Jones and trading for Renaldo Balkman all after the twenty-fourth.

I think we can all agree that the area the roster is in most need of a boost is the fourth big man, no offense intended there Malik Allen. There are still a bevy of big bodies available, but not just any large man will do. We do not need or want Pavel Podkolzin. The chances of the Nuggets nabbing a player who can pull off a Chris Andersen resurrection type season are slimmer than Andrei Kirilenko, but it is still a possibility.

I have already mentioned Shelden Williams in previous posts as an option for a bargain basement big who can rebound as well as anyone having posted a rebound rate of 17.3 or better in two of his first three seasons. As a point of reference Birdman led the Nuggets in rebound rate last season with a 17.6. Williams’ biggest problem is he does not have great hands and has little offensive game. With the lineups the Nuggets can put on the floor I do not think a lack of scoring from their fourth big will be overly damaging.

A player that intrigues me who I have not mentioned as of yet is Ryan Hollins. Hollins is a very active, although slight, big man. He is not a scorer, but does have very good hands and brings great energy. Above all, he is long, athletic and only 24 years old. The bad news is he is a restricted free agent whose rights are owned by the Dallas Mavericks. The largest first year salary the Nuggets can offer anyone is $2.1 million and I suspected the Mavericks would match that in a hear beat. However, the Mavericks have painted themselves into the corner after signing Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas. They now have the maximum 15 players under contract. Greg Buckner does reportedly have a partially guaranteed contract, I do not know what date that contract becomes fully guaranteed, but I have seen in a couple of places that the guaranteed portion of his salary is $1.06 million. The Mavs may want to hang onto Buckner though as a de facto expiring deal as it is only partially guaranteed for 2010-11 too.

If Denver signs Hollins to an offer sheet Dallas would have seven days to either waive/buy out a player or pull off a two for one trade to clear up a spot in order to match the contract. Mark Cuban has certainly shown his willingness to spend is back and he may bite the bullet and pay 16 players this season. Then again, he might decide that Hollins is not worth it. Also, the Mavericks have James Singleton and Gerald Green as free agents from last season who they may be interested in retaining. Hollins may be getable.

Moving further down the list we have Johan Petro. Petro showed flashes of competence and I have yet to hear his name surface in any rumors…at all. Denver should be able to get him at a significant discount from his qualifying offer of $2.85 million.

After Petro we get down into the Mikki Moore/Brian Skinner/Sean Marks/Stromile Swift territory and that is a place I do not want to go although each of those guys have at least a little something going for them (Moore – energy, Skinner – beef, Marks – smarts, Swift – athleticism).

The only other “big man” I would be interested in for Denver is Steve Novak. Novak is 6’10”, but there is no way he can be considered a big. The only evidence we need to prove that is to look at his 6.2 rebound rate in 2008-09. As a comparison J.R. Smith posted a 7.7 rebound rate. Case closed. However, Novak does one thing that gets your attention, drain threes. He broke into the Clippers’ lineup in January and hit some very big shots over the second half of the season. He had a four game stretch in March where he made 24 of 40 attempts including two 7-11 games.

In my mind Novak could be a cheap replacement for Linas Kleiza, he does not run the floor like Kleiza does (although Kleiza frequently does not run the floor like Kleiza either), but he is a much better three point shooter and I think would be a nice end of the rotation specialist. Novak is a restricted free agent, but no one knows how much Donald Sterling will green light to keep him in L.A. My guess would be not much especially if the Clippers sign Allen Iverson or Ramon Sessions.

While it is frustrating to watch the other teams in the west adding players to their rosters, there is still hope for the Nuggets to add a meaningful piece to the roster so do not lose hope.

We need better from the Denver Post

After going eight days without a peep about the Nuggets we get this. The headline of the article is “It’s Down to Kleiza or Carter.” Chris Dempsey never says anywhere in the article that the Nuggets can or will only sign either Kleiza or Carter. They might retain both or they might let them both, but apparently the headline writer has it all figured out.

The sad thing is Dempsey is the one that is made to look bad as his article is branded by the inaccurate headline.

Anthony Carter Contract Update

Chris Tomasson, writing for Pro Basketball news, is reporting that the Denver Nuggets have an offer on the table for Anthony Carter to return to Denver in 2009-10.

The deal is reportedly a one year contract for the ten plus year veteran minimum of $1,306,455.  At this point Carter is hoping to find a team willing to offer him a multi year contract and has yet to agree to return to Denver.  From a cap standpoint, because it is a minimum contract his salary will not count against the $2.1 million remaining from the Nuggets’ mid level exception.

When the Nuggets acquired Ty Lawson on draft night many fans thought that was the end of Carter’s time in Denver.  As good as Lawson is, and he is very good, you never know how a rookie point guard is going to handle the step up from college to the NBA.

One of the primary concerns about Lawson is his ability to defend.  I thought he played very solid man to man defense in Las Vegas during the NBA summer league, but he struggled fighting over screens and I doubt he is ready to chase someone like Jason Terry all over the floor and around screen after screen.

Anthony Carter has proven he can do that and Denver may need him to do it again next season.

I think we all know that the chances of Carter getting a multi year contract offer are only slightly greater than my seven year-old daughter realizing that Hannah Montana is not actually funny.  If he was going to get a two or three year contract, it would have happened last summer.

As much as I would honestly like to see Carter get a nice fat contract from somewhere, it just is not going to happen.  There were rumors that Memphis was interested, but as Tomasson reported in the article linked above, they have decided on Marcus Williams.  I am not sure what other teams have made overtures to Carter, if any, and I honestly do not think it matters.  Carter is a good fit in Denver.  He has a strong advocate on the bench in George Karl and depending on how Lawson adjusts, Carter’s skills may be dearly needed by the Nuggets for at least one more season.

There are few things we can count on in this world, but if you want to bet on something, bet that Carter will return to Denver.  He will have basically the same contract as last season, but heading into camp his role is nowhere near as defined.  The really good news for Nuggets fans is if Lawson plays as well as I expect him to, Carter will be by far the best third string point guard in the NBA.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Report

I finally was able to finish watching the last three summer league games for the Denver Nuggets and I think Nuggets fans should be very pleased. The one player on the summer league team who will be in the 2009-10 rotation played very well.

Even though Ty Lawson did not shoot the ball well in his first two games, highlighted by the numerous rejections he suffered near the rim, I thought he did everything else well. Little did I know that it would only take him two games to adjust to the increased size and athleticism of the summer league.

Lawson continued to control the tempo, make great decisions and play solid defense. He also greatly reduced the number of shots he had blocked by using his body to create contact with a potential shot blocker to get his shot off, using a little floater in the lane and he also became more creative as evidenced by a beautiful reverse layup he made after jumping from the left side of the rim and scoring on the right side. In addition to that he started taking, and making, more jumpers. The result was a combined shooting percentage of 57.1% on two point attempts and 60.0% on threes.

The one thing you hate to see is a quick player who can shoot. If you lay off he will kill you with the jumper, however, if you come out on him, it is even easier for him to drive past you. Lawson accentuated that defensive conundrum by showing off a great pump fake to get his man in the air. He used it several times and it worked every time. The only person who even had a chance to keep Lawson out of the lane was Jerryd Bayless of Portland who did a pretty good job on Lawson in game three. Still Ty posted 26 points on 11-16 from the floor and tallied five assists.

I also loved seeing the accuracy on his passes up the floor. Nuggets players love to launch a three quarter court pass about five feet too high, but Lawson connected perfectly on nearly all of his attempts to get the ball ahead to a teammate.

He also reduced his turnovers from four in the first game to two or fewer over the next four contests.

As I mentioned in my review of games one and two, we cannot draw hard and fast conclusions from five summer league games, but if you combine what we knew about him during his three seasons at Chapel Hill and now in summer league, I think we can be assured that Lawson will be a very good efficient backup point guard. You can see his intelligence and experience in the ways he does little things such as drift to one side of the floor or the other based on where he expects the rebound to come off the rim in order to be in position to receive the outlet pass. His intelligence is off the charts and I love how he was able to adapt to the talent and athleticism of the competition after only two games.

Sonny Weems showed just enough to entice us for what may come in the future. His best shooting performance was a 10-23 (43.4%) night in game five that brought his overall shooting percentage up to 32.6%. He also shot poorly from the three point line dropping onto three of his fifteen attempts (20.0%).

Sonny never made the adjustment to use his talents to set up his teammates when his shot was not falling and he continued to force his offense throughout the five games never attempting fewer than 15 shots. He averaged slightly more than one shot for every two minutes he was on the floor. That is a little too aggressive and as George Karl said when he was interviewed during game five, Weems does not recognize the difference between a good shot and a bad one. He can get his own shot whenever he wants, but settled for a contested midrange jumper far too often.

His defense was very up and down. You could see how good he could be on occasion when he would come out of a time out or a quarter break and really play strong focused defense. Unfortunately that focus came and went. His biggest weakness is getting around picks. Instead of fighting over them he tries to slide around them as if attempting to avoid contact. By the time he would clear a screen and be ready to recover his man was usually already in the lane if not at the rim.

I had hopes that Weems could play the role of providing scoring off the bench, but he is clearly not ready to fill that role. If he is the third option on the floor and the defense is not keying on him, he could be effective and he showed he was much more accurate on catch and shoot opportunities than shooting off the dribble, as most players are.

Even with his shortcomings, he is an intriguing talent and I think he is just a year or two away from being a good NBA player.

The other player I really enjoyed watching was Coby Karl. He is a player who can do everything. He is a very good passer, can handle the ball, knows where to be and when he needs to be there and he can shoot. Karl converted on 61.5% of his shots and made half of his 16 three point attempts. His points per shot is off the charts. He scored 19 points on seven shots in game one, ten points on four shots in game two, 16 points on six shots in game three, 11 points on nine shots in game four and 19 points on 13 shots in game five. Do the math and the result is an astounding 1.92 points per shot. Put him on the floor with players like Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Nene and he will drain open shots all day long.

Defensively he is a little slow laterally, but his understanding of how to play defense somewhat compensates for his lack of speed. Add in the fact that he does not fall asleep on his man or his help responsibilities and he will not kill you defensively.

He plays hard every second he is on the floor and always provides some positive benefit. I do not care what it looks like to have his dad as coach. I want him on the regular season roster.

Looking at the other players, I mentioned C.J. Giles previously as an active shot blocker and athletic defender. I do not think he has NBA talent, but he is right on the borderline. I could see him getting a chance to show what he can do in camp. Ronald Dupree did his best Dahntay Jones impersonation. He is an aggressive defender and showed he can score at the rim. His jumper is creaky and he would provide little help on offense. Still, he plays hard and can play defense. I would not be surprised if the Nuggets brought him into camp. Derrick Byars passes the eyeball test, he is a solid athlete and has good size for a long range sniper. However, he is pretty one dimensional and does not offer much more than long range shooting although he is a decent defender for a shooter. I doubt he will be invited to camp.

The only player I have not mentioned yet that I thought played well was Dontaye Draper. He is small, but plays hounding defense. He also pushed the pace well and shot the ball well (50.0% overall and 40.0% on threes), although he did so on a very small number of attempts. I thought he ran the team well and took his shots in the flow of the offense. His stature will probably keep him out of the NBA, but if the Nuggets do not bring Anthony Carter back, I could see them bringing Draper into camp to provide depth for practices.

With the early progress Lawson displayed, the potential of Weems and the gritty efficiency of Karl I think the Nuggets could have three solid players who are on the regular season roster off this summer league squad. For a team with a solid veteran core, it is important to find players to fill out the roster and I think there is a good chance they have accomplished that in Las Vegas.

Update: Interview with Lawson following the final summer league game on NBA.com.

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