Anthony Carter – Creating Anger or Value?

There are two people who are part of the Denver Nuggets that some fans just love to hate. One is George Karl. Even if Karl were to lead the Nuggets to the next five championships would have some fans complaining about him and proclaiming that Denver made it that far despite him. The other is Anthony Carter.

The strange thing is Carter is the kind of player every team needs. Someone who is completely unselfish and does his best trying to do what the coach asks of him. So why are so many of us, myself included, so hard on him?

Maybe a more important question is what should we expect from a backup point guard? What does that job description look like? I believe a backup point guard needs to be able to run the offense, take care of the ball, play defense and hit open shots.

Did Anthony Carter run the offense? He absolutely did. He was the point guard in charge of pushing the pace and he did a good job of it. When the second unit was running Carter could compile assists as quickly as anyone. He may not have been a coach on the floor like Chauncey Billups is, but he was not afraid to run something and get his teammates organized.

Did AC take care of the ball? That is not an easy question to answer. If you look at his overall performance, I think you have to say that he took care of the ball almost as well as any of his reserve counterparts did. One of my main criticisms of Carter’s play during the season was that he did not take care of the ball. Carter definitely had some poor outings. He had a seven turnover game and a six turnover game. That is not acceptable. In the month of February he averaged 2.5 turnovers a game in less than 25 minutes a night. That was not acceptable either. However, he realized it was a problem and over the last three months of the season was able to turn things around. In the month of March he only turned the ball over 1.3 times a game and in the playoffs, when possessions are most precious, he was even better as he dropped his turnovers down to an amazing 0.7 per game.

Carter posted an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3. To put that in perspective Chauncey had a turnover to assist ratio of 2.8 last season. The only back up point guards in the NBA who had a better assist to turnover ratio were Ramon Sessions (3.0), Keyon Dooling (2.6), J.J. Barea (2.6), Delonte West (2.5) and Sergio Rodiguez (2.4). Carter had a better assist to turnover ratio than Kirk Hinrich (2.26), T.J. Ford (2.2), Bobby Jackson (2.2), Jordan Farmar (1.8) and Ronnie Price (1.8).

Ultimately, as a backup point guard, Carter does take care of the ball. Does he make some absolutely terrible looking turnovers? Sure, he does, but also keep in mind his job is to push the pace and apply pressure on the defense. Turnovers come with the territory.

Carter is also a good defensive guard. Look no further than the job he did on Dwyane Wade in Miami this season. It did not matter who George Karl asked him to cover, Carter would go after him as well as he could (it was not Carter’s fault he was sent out there to cover Kobe Bryant). Carter also did a very good job in the playoffs on Jason Terry. On the other hand, I believe we did see some slippage from Carter on defense last season. There were some nights where he was wildly ineffective. Needless to say I am concerned about what will happen now that he is 34.

Even the most ardent Carter supporter cannot argue against the verdict in the final category. Carter is not a good shooter. Carter made only 23.9% of his three point attempts in the regular season and that fell even further in the playoffs where he made only two of his 12 three point heaves for a startlingly bad 16.7%. His effective field goal percentage on jump shots was 40.8%. For comparison Nene’s shot 43.8% on jumpers.

So I ask again, why do so many Nuggets fans love to hate Anthony Carter? Maybe it is because he reminds us all a little too much of ourselves. We watch the NBA to see world class athletes do things that we could never dream of doing. When we see Carter, he rarely does anything fancy and he always seems to be a heartbeat away from getting embarrassed. Maybe watching him play is a little too personal for many of us.

Not only does Carter get the job done, but his real value is that he is a real value. It is amazing that Carter does what he does for the league minimum. That makes Carter almost invaluable for a team that has very little wiggle room when it comes to finances.

With the presence of Ty Lawson next season Carter’s place on the Nuggets roster could be in jeopardy. I thought there was a very telling quote, which I cannot seem to find, where Chauncey said that with Lawson on board maybe he can play fewer minutes. That was a pretty big condemnation of Carter. Even though Carter played well over 20 minutes a game Chauncey had to be on the floor for over 35 minutes a night. I think both Chauncey and the Nuggets would love to get that average down to the low 30s next season and Anthony Carter is not the player who can accomplish that.

However, the primary area of concern with Lawson is his defense. If he cannot get the job done on the defensive end the Nuggets are going to have to have another option. Even coming off a season where he was the starting point guard for a 50 win team after the 2007-08 season Carter’s only good option was to sign a one year deal with Denver. I doubt Carter is going to have any better option than Denver again this offseason. If the Nuggets want Carter, they can have him and they will be able to bring him on board for a minimum salary one year contract.

Until we see what Ty Lawson can do, I think it is a no brainer that the Nuggets bring Carter back for next season and there are few players that bring as much value as Carter.

Looking for Signs

The pilot episode of Seinfeld was called The Seinfeld Chronicles and it surrounded a crisis of conscience where a woman Jerry recently met called him to say she was coming to New York and she asked if she could stay at his apartment. Jerry had only met the woman once and even though they got along very well, he had no idea what her intentions were. Did she want to stay in his bed? Did he need to bring in an extra bed? He had no idea.

If Jerry does not have an extra mattress for her to sleep on he ran the risk of looking like a presumptuous pig. On the other hand, if he brought in an extra mattress he may miss an opportunity to, well, you know.

The only option at Jerry’s disposal was to try to read the signs she gave him. Needless to say this strategy provided little assistance starting with her unorthodox greeting after deplaning at the airport.

In the end Jerry finds out she has a fiancé.

Why do I mention this? The Nuggets have this player named Chris Andersen and we really want him to be more than an acquaintance. We want him to be part of the family. Right now he has the freedom to join anyone’s family and we are left to look for signs that indicate he will stay here with us.

So far we have seen a few promising signs. Andersen has said he wants to stay with us and the family acquired $2.25 million to keep him here.

I just received another sign in our favor in the form of a press release. Andersen will be holding his first annual “Birdman’s Back to School Camp” this August for kids between the ages of seven and 18. Click here for information on the camp itself.

I think it is promising that Birdman is planning a summer camp in Denver. I doubt he would be doing so if he thought there was much of a chance that he is playing somewhere else next season. On the other hand, he loves Denver and it is likely that no matter where he signs he will still summer right here in Colorado.

Still, I am looking for signs and whether it is right or not, I am going to take any sign I can as the gospel truth and I encourage all of you to do the same.

Dahntay Jones – Is it Enough to Be Chris Paul’s Least Favorite Person?

He was the only player in the NBA to start more than 35 games and average less than 18.4 minutes a game. There were eight Denver Nugget players who averaged more minutes per game than he did (nine if you include short timer Allen Iverson). On the other hand no Nuggets player seemed to frustrate opposing coaches than he did in the playoffs.

Well, if you read the title to this post you already know I am talking about Dahntay Jones.

When I found out the Nuggets had added Jones to their summer league roster last year I thought it was a big waste of everyone’s time. Jones was clearly a poor offensive player and had never been worth much on defense either. That is not a good combination. Jones took advantage of his time in Vegas and earned an invite to training camp thanks to his ability to play solid defense. He even scored a few points on offense thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line.

It seemed clear that Jones would not have such an easy time putting points on the board facing off against the increased talent level of the NBA. Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets had plenty of scorers, including explosive shooting guard J.R. Smith who played the same position as Jones. With the Nuggets looking to become more of a defensive squad there was a clear opening for a shooting guard who was dedicated to being a stopper.

George Karl knew the Nuggets needed a player like that too and Jones was one of only two players in camp who could fill that role with the other being self proclaimed Kobe stopper and former Nugget Ruben Patterson. I honestly do not know what the deciding factor was, perhaps Patterson at the age of 33 had lost a step or possibly Karl and Patterson still did not quite see eye to eye on some things, but the player with the defensive reputation was let go and Jones made the team.

Not only did Jones make the team, he found himself a regular starter as Karl was still not ready to hand the reins over to J.R. Smith who was not quite as interested in defense as Denver needed him to be.

As is the case with every mediocre player Jones had a few good moments and a few bad ones mixed in with a bunch of forgettable performances. Even as a player whose sole purpose on the floor was to play defense Jones was pretty inconsistent with his focus night in and night out. Plus he seemed a little too interested in shooting early in games as he forced shots on several occasions, probably because he knew after the first few minutes he would not see much more playing time.

Despite his special purpose there were only a handful of games where his defense was exceptional and those efforts largely came against point guards. There were two players in particular that he hounded above and beyond any others and they were Jose Calderon and Chris Paul.

Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs which gave him a chance to take on a marquee player under the national spotlight. Jones did a tremendous job defending Paul. He did such a good job that Byron Scott called him a dirty player, which I hope Jones took as a compliment. Jones did not do anything dirty to Chris Paul, he simply played him physically. He bodied him up and did not play intimidated. He also received plenty of help defending the pick and roll as Paul’s teammates pretty much made a bunch of nests around the court and started laying eggs. In a series where the Nuggets advanced out of the first round for the first time in 15 seasons and with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony playing very well Dahntay’s play was one of the top storylines in the series.

Jones was much less important in the second round series against Dallas as Anthony Carter was a much better matchup against Jason Terry than Jones was. Jones went from playing 20.6 minutes a game against New Orleans (a number that was reduced by the wide margin of victory for Denver in four of the five games) down to 16.6 minutes per game against Dallas.

With Denver facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals it appeared Jones’ talents would once again be of great value to Denver as they needed someone to slow down Kobe Bryant. Instead of playing a bigger role as expected Jones saw his playing time decrease yet again, this time down to only 15.5 minutes a gam,e as he was largely ineffective against Kobe.

Instead of proving how indispensible he was Jones may have proven that the Nuggets can get along without him just fine.

Jones deserves credit for remaking himself into a capable defensive player. He certainly did not display much competency in that area during his first couple of go rounds in the league. He possesses the quickness and strength to be a good on the ball defender, but he is not great at chasing players off of screens, which is pretty important when defending shooting guards.

Offensively he is still almost completely helpless unless he has an unimpeded track to the rim. Surprisingly, Jones shot 64.7% from the three point line during the regular season, but he only attempted 17 three point shots. That percentage definitely carried the stench of flukiness especially after he shot 3-12 from behind the arc in the post season. Still he showed the discipline to only attempt corner threes, which is a sign he was not trying to do too much. His lack of scoring is only made worse by his below average passing ability and ball handling.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned is Jones certainly seemed to be a good teammate. He was always up and applauding when he was on the bench and even though he took a few more shots than necessary on multiple occasions he was mostly content to play defense and let others shoot.

As of July 1 Jones is an unrestricted free agent. Thanks to his defense against Chris Paul there is bound to be interest in him (Boston has already been tied to Jones in the media) and it may be his one and only chance to cash in on a long term contract.

I am not opposed to having Jones come back to Denver next season, but there is no way Denver should pay him much more than minimum money. He will undoubtedly want a multiyear deal and I have no problem with that as long as the annual salaries are low.

Karl has already made references to the fact that J.R. should probably be starting at shooting guard for Denver from here on out and as I have already written I think Sonny Weems is deserving of some regular playing time next season. Denver may not need a defensive oriented shooting guard as J.R. has significantly improved his defense each of the previous two seasons. By the end of the season I do not think there is a significant difference between he and Jones when it comes to guarding shooting guards. In fact when Denver played the Lakers it was Smith, not Jones, who did the best job between the two on Kobe.

Denver can afford to play a waiting game with Jones. Even though he is unrestricted I think they can let the market fall into place and see if he is affordable or not. They definitely should not be knocking on his door at 12:01 AM on July 1 offering three years and $9.0 million and I doubt anyone else will be either. However, if some comes forward and offers three years at $4.5 million (or less) I have no problem if Denver matches it to keep Dahntay in the Mile High City.

It is not fun to have to watch every dime that is paid to free agents, but one of the good things about being pressed up against the luxury tax level is it makes it impossible to overspend for average or below average players. We do not need to worry about Jones getting a Tariq Abdul-Wahad contract. That may not be good news for Dahntay, but it is good news for Nuggets fans.

Johan Petro – To Qualify or Not to Qualify

Heading into the season without Marcus Camby many Denver Nuggets fans were worried about the rotation at power forward and center. Nene and Kenyon Martin were considered health risks and it was impossible to know what we would see out of Chris Andersen. Juwan Howard was on the roster, but he was let go shortly after the season started.

Denver had big men Nick Fazekas and James Mays in training camp, but they were both waived prior to the start of the season. They did acquire Cheikh Samb in the Billups trade on November 3, 2008, but he was clearly not ready to contribute. As the season wore on and Nene, Kenyon and Birdman starting missing a couple of games here and there with bruised ribs or calf strains Denver realized they had to get another big man even for no other reason than an insurance policy against a serious injury.

Enter Johan Petro.

The Nuggets sent Chucky Atkins to Oklahoma City and swapped their first round pick for the Thunders’ second rounder in tomorrow’s draft to acquire Petro. The common analysis of the deal was if Petro cannot get on the floor for OKC how is he going to play for Denver?

Well, the plan never was for Petro to play much, just to hang out in a box with a hammer tied to it and that said “Break glass in case of emergency!” Petro came to Denver with 45 games left in the season and George Karl broke the glass on 27 occasions although Petro only played more than eight minutes on 12 occasions and those situations were comprised of either blowouts or a handful of games where Petro filled in due to injury or suspension.

Petro was as advertised on offense. He has little post game to speak of, he likes to take jumpers and it is difficult to discern why when you see the result and he is not what you would call a great finisher as the roll man off of ball screens. Most Nugget players would not even think about passing him the ball except for Carmelo Anthony. For some reason Melo fed Petro all the time. It may have been simply because he was open or it may have been because Melo just liked seeing how Petro would fumble the pass away. It could be through his hands, between his legs off his chest, the possibilities were numerous.

Fortunately for Petro offense is only half the game. Petro did prove to be a very good rebounder and he had his moments on defense as well. The highlight of Petro’s season as a Nugget had to be in Orlando when he did a solid job guarding Dwight Howard due to the Birdman sitting out with a bum wrist. Petro only played 15 minutes, but without him Denver would have had to go small and Howard would have just demolished them on the boards.

There may not be many true centers in the NBA anymore, especially ones that can dominate games on the block, but at some point you are going to need a seven footer like Petro to come in and prevent you from getting abused in the lane.

It may seem like Petro is expendable, but I believe the Nuggets have to have a player like him on the roster.

Denver seemed to get better at defensive rebounding as the season wore on, but there were nights where they were dominated on the boards. If you just look at total rebounds Denver appears right in the middle of the pack. However, if you judge them by their defensive rebound percentage, which adjusts for the number of shots that are hoisted up, the Nuggets were tied for 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

Petro had the second best rebound rate on the team at 16.3, just behind Birdman’s 17.6 rate. For comparison Nene had a rebound rate of only 13.8 and Kenyon was even worse with a rate of 13.7. The Nuggets are going to need someone who can come off the bench or fill in when needed who can rebound and not kill them on defense. They also need that player to be relatively cheap. Petro is a restricted free agent and in order to maintain the right to match any offer he receives Denver will have to offer him a one year qualifying offer that is reportedly $2,849,703.

Petro is not worth nearly $3 million for a team who will surely be looking to cut corners where possible, but with the Nuggets desperate for a big man insurance policy it would be difficult to let Petro walk. Denver would love to sign a competent big man for the minimum, but there are no Chris Andersen’s out there in the free agent market this summer. There are a couple of intriguing free agent big men that can be had, but I am not sure they will be in Denver’s price range (we will get into that another day).

The Nuggets do have the option of playing a dangerous game with Johan. They can decline to present a qualifying offer, making Petro an unrestricted free agent, and try to sign him for much less than the $2.8 million he would be guaranteed under the qualifying offer. There is no way anyone offers Petro $2.8 million for next season and one of the ways teams get into salary cap hell is paying players above their market value (see the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Clippers).

The question then becomes would Petro as an unrestricted free agent sign with someone else just to spite Denver for not making the qualifying offer? Also, by making Petro an unrestricted free agent Denver would have to either sign him to a minimum deal or dip into their mid level exception money if they need to go above the minimum.

It is difficult to say this with Denver being so hard up for big man depth, but I think the Nuggets need to roll the dice and not extend the qualifying offer to Petro. There is still a chance they can retain Petro as Nene/Birdman insurance at a much lower price and it will also free them up to bring in a better big man that could fit into their budget. If Petro were to sign the qualifying offer it would further crimp the Nuggets cap and tax situation.

If the plan fails and Petro walks away for nothing at least the Nuggets have a $3.24 million trade exception left over from sending Atkins to Oklahoma City which would be a valuable tool to find someone else to fill Petro’s emergency role. After all, the Pistons just traded away Amir Johnson for cap relief. There will be more deals like that out there.

Jason Hart – Making Denver Nuggets History

Jason Hart will always hold a special place in my heart as the report that the Denver Nuggets were going to sign him was shared with the world by Nuggets bloggers. Due to the closing of the Rocky Mountain News Chris Tomasson had no place to report the story so he turned to Andrew at Denver Stiffs and myself to get the news out. It was the first, but hopefully not the last time Nuggets news broke over the blogosphere.

As exciting as his arrival was Hart made very little impact on the Nuggets. He only more than four minutes on two occasions and never played more than eight minutes.

I was a fan of Hart’s when he came out of Syracuse. I thought he could be a serviceable backup point guard in the NBA and he was a solid contributor for a couple of teams earlier in his career. When we found out he was going to be a Nugget I wondered if the plan was to have him take over as the backup point guard for Anthony Carter in the 2009-10 season.

At this point I think the chances of that are unlikely. The only area Hart would provide an upgrade over Carter would be with his shooting ability, but that would be like trading your walkie-talkie for a vintage 1985 25 pound cell phone. Sure the cell phone is better, but not nearly as well as you need it to and good luck keeping up with the folks using BlackBerries and iPhones.

As with Sonny Weems, Hart has value simply due to his ability to fill a roster spot at a cheap price, but I do not expect to see him back with Denver next season.

Hart is a part of Nuggets history, but I bet he was hoping for being remembered for his play on the court instead of how the news of his signing broke.

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.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Schedule

The NBA has announced the schedule for the summer league games held in Los Vegas and the Nuggets will be playing six games.  Games are played at either the Cox Pavilion or the Thomas & Mack Center.  Games begin on Friday July 10, but Denver does not see the court until July 14.  I am guessing the start times are Pacific.

Denver vs. San Antonio – 7:00 PM Tuesday,  July 14 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. Washington – 7:30 PM Wednesday, July 15 – Thomas & Mack

Denver vs. Portland – 7:30 PM Friday, July 17 – Thomas & Mack

NBA D-League Select vs. Denver – 7:00 PM Saturday, July 18 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. New Orleans – 5:30 PM Sunday, July 19 – Thomas & Mack

The Nuggets have had some good talent on their summer league roster in the past, but it is difficult for even a good player to make the jump from summer league standout to earning a spot on the regular season roster.  Last season Dahntay Jones was able to do just that and depending on what Denver does with players like Linas Kleiza, Anthony Carter, Johan Petro, Renaldo Balkman and Jones there could be a chance for someone to follow in Dahntay’s footsteps.

Steven Hunter – A Story of Surgery and Salary

No offense to Steven Hunter, but we are going to start off our offseason analysis with him. Hunter is first up partly because his future as a contributor to the Denver Nuggets is tenuous at best and partly because I need to crank out a quick post.

Hunter was acquired in September of 2007 in the trade that ended the Ricky Sanchez era in Denver. Since that day he has played a total of 120 minutes in a Nugget uniform. In 2008-09 Cheikh Samb played 24 more minutes for the Nuggets than Hunter did and Samb only played 24 minutes as a Nugget.

Hunter had surgery on his right knee during the season and has struggled to return. In fact his playing days may be over. I always thought Hunter was a very serviceable big man, but even when he was healthy George Karl clearly had little faith in him.

The reality of the NBA is Hunter is now more valuable for his contract than his talents as a cager. Hunter has a player option for the last year of his contract at a salary of $3,696,000. It is not a large amount, but any expiring contract has value in the current economic state of the NBA. It is currently the only expiring contract the Nuggets have on the payroll for next season, but players like Anthony Carter, Dahntay Jones and Jason Hart are all candidates for one year deals and Linas Kleiza and to a lesser extent Johan Petro could provide sign and trade options that could be combined with Hunters’ expiring deal to bring back an important piece.

There is also a possibility that Hunter’s injury could lead to the Nuggets receiving an injured player exception up to half of his salary. I do not think that route would be very likely due to the fact that the Nuggets would not only be responsible for Hunter’s salary, but also the salary of the player they sign to replace him. However, if Hunter is unable to return it is possible that his salary could be removed from the Nuggets’ books as long as a league doctor verifies that he is physically unable to play.

Hopefully, Hunter can regain his health and return to action, but regardless of whether or not he can return to the court, he provides ever important salary cap flexibility. Healthy or not, do not expect to see Hunter on the court for Denver in 2009-10.

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