2009-10 Denver Nuggets Preview – TrueHoop Network Style

Every TrueHoop Network member site will be posting their season preview today so make sure you check out as many as humanly possible either via the the drop down menu up above or the blogroll along the right sidebar.

Last Year’s Record: 54-28

Crystal Ball
The consensus prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of Roundball Mining Company.

Crowd Says: 53-29
RMC Says: 58-24

Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

It is easy to be down on the Denver Nuggets’ chances heading into the 2009-10 season. Their response to this summer’s Western Conference arms race was to continue to slash their payroll.

Some of you may think the Nuggets were disappointed that Linas Kleiza will play in Greece next season, but I suspect the front office was sending Linas bro­chures from the Greek department of tourism. Then again maybe it was the fact they never offered him more than the $2.7 million qualifying offer. Whatever they did, the ploy worked, as Kleiza signed with Olympiacos and will not be on the Nuggets’ payroll this season.

The Nuggets also were thrilled for Dahntay Jones when he signed his four year, $11 million contract with the Pacers. I think Mark Warkentien showed up the next day and personally carried Dahntay’s piano into the moving truck.

It might be difficult to be impressed with a team whose primary goal is to save money, but the Denver Nuggets are becoming quite adept at bolstering the roster while cutting costs. Last season they rummaged through the bargain bin and came up with Chris “Birdzilla” Andersen and Dahntay Jones. This year they brought in more cheap talent in Aaron Afflalo and Joey Graham. They are both cheaper options and better fits than Jones and Kleiza were. Plus the addition of Ty Lawson to backup Chaunc­ey Billups will pay dividends as soon as George Karl chooses to give him the job over Anthony Carter.  Above and beyond the players currently on the roster and even though it appears the Nuggets have passed him over, until he signs with another team I continue to think that Wally Szczerbiak might find his way to Denver.

If the upgrade to the bench is not enough to sway you, here is an interesting little fact to keep in mind. The only players still on the roster who exceeded expecta­tions in 2008-09 were Nene and Birdman. It is reasonable to expect every mem­ber of the Nuggets, other than thirtysomething Chauncey Billups, to improve on their performance next season. Carmelo struggled with injuries, Nene was still feeling the effects of his chemo treatments in the fall of 2008, Birdman had not played regular minutes in over two years before last season and J.R. Smith is still learning how to exploit opposing defenses with his array of diverse talents.

For those who still doubt me, hear this. The number one reason why Denver will be better next season is they have learned how to win. The team made a commitment to play better defense heading into last season, but they were still a work in progress. They now have a year of playing a more balanced style of basketball under their belts and they experienced how far it can take them.

This Nugget team is hungry and ready to prove their Western Conference Finals appearance was not a fluke like Utah’s was in 2008. Common NBA knowledge dismissed the Nuggets prior to last season. Do so at your own peril this season.

No You Can’t
A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

Fun fact: No team has ever won a championship while featuring a power forward with a woman’s lips tattooed on his neck. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kenyon Martin.

– Matt McHale, By the Horns

All-A-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

Here are two tweets from @BirdmanAndersen:

Spent some of my signing bonus. Got a boat. If I was on drugs? A flamethrower. A purple one…with an Ipod dock.

Porn gets a bad rap. It’s essentially Discovery Channel for humans. I know I’VE learned stuff from it.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

For me averaging 28 points or something like that against the Lakers in this series, that’s tough to do. I do not know if you wanted me to average 30 or 35, I really don’t know. I am thinking there is nothing else that I can do.

– Carmelo Anthony following the Nuggets’ Game 6 defeat to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 7th
Defense: 8th
Pace: 6th

Team Factor Strength(s): Free Throws (1st), Shooting Allowed (5th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Turnovers (25th), Free Throws Allowed (25th), De­fensive Rebounding (23rd)

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Even with players like Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith, who can make any shot at any time, you give the ball to Carmelo Anthony and clear out. I might even run seven more seconds off the clock and call a timeout just to increase the level of difficulty. Carmelo has developed a well-earned reputation in the NBA as a Defiler of Dreams. He broke hearts in Oklahoma City twice last season and I am sure you all remember the 3-pointer in the playoffs to beat Dal­las in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. Having Melo means you never have to run a play, just get the ball inbounds.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Karl has said he does not trust Renaldo Balkman because he cannot hit a jumper — although Karl does not seem to mind playing Kenyon Martin. The truth is Balkman brings energy and makes plays that do not show up in the box score. He helps Denver win games and fans cannot get enough of him.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

The Denver Nuggets have done a great job of cutting payroll while still improv­ing the team the past two seasons. The real trouble is going to come in 2010-11 when the Nuggets’ current starting five will make about $65 million. As John Hollinger has pointed out, those five players may put Denver over the luxury tax line by themselves with at least eight more players to pay. There could be a fire sale in Denver next summer.

Denver Nuggets Drop a Stink Bomb on Taipei

There were two things I could not wait to end tonight. One was the 31-6 beating my less than stellar coed softball team endured and the second was the replay of the Denver Nuggets third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers.

After watching the Nuggets’ 22 point loss I am reconsidering my stance on demanding all of their preseason games available for consumption.

Denver dumped one of the most disjointed (or would it be least jointed) efforts I have seen from this team in a long time. Aside from some early offense from Carmelo Anthony they were basically run off the floor by the Pacers.

Offensively the Nuggets looked like they did two seasons ago. A lot of one on one play complete with wild forays into the lane with a healthy dose of take the first open jumper you see. There was not much passing, very little movement and no discernable purpose to anything the Nuggets did.

As insipid as the offense was, the defense was worse. The Pacers killed the Nuggets on open threes and open layups. The rotations were nonexistent on the perimeter, no help came on drives and the Pacers were regularly able to get open looks in transition. In the second half George Karl tried to invigorate his players by having them trap on the pick and roll, but it only served to further expose their lack of help and defensive rotations.

In all honestly, it is difficult to come up with anything positive from that game.

To make things worse the two players I was most looking forward to seeing, James White and Ty Lawson, did not see one minute of playing time. The Nuggets also held Nene out of action.

Individually Carmelo had some nice moments on the block as the Pacers chose not to double him in the post and he tallied 17 points, but it took him 15 shots to do so and he was credited with five turnovers. J.R. was second on the team in scoring with 16 points, but it took him 16 shots to get there. On one hand I liked J.R.’s aggressiveness as he drove into the lane repeatedly and tried to attack the basket. On the other hand, he was driving to score too often and the result was a hoard of misses and blocked shots. He only dished off a couple of times that I remember and as a result the Pacers knew they could collapse on him and force a miss.

Joey Graham was one of the few Nuggets with an efficient offensive night. He showed he is capable of dropping in mid-range jumpers and if he is on the court with players like J.R., Chauncey and Nene he should get plenty of open looks. Other than that Graham is not very adept at creating his own shot and he does not provide much assistance other than his scoring, which is dependent on being set up by other players. Still, he does not force shots and is a smart player. If the Nuggets keep 14 players, he is a lock to stay with the team and due to the fact both he and James White have non-guaranteed deals, it is possible the Nuggets keep both of them for the first month or two of the season until their contracts become fully guaranteed.

Kenyon Martin displayed what was advertised as a new and improved jumper. His stroke is still far from textbook, but he certainly seems to have moved his left hand further back on the ball and as a result his release is not dependent on the same awkward twisting motion by his left hand and wrist that has plagued it in the past. The good news is he should make a few more jumpers than he did last season. The bad news is that may motivate him to take even more of those types of shots.

In the box score Anthony Carter was only assigned two of the Nuggets 21 turnovers, but it sure seemed like he was responsible for at least four. If it were not for a couple of nice plays in the fourth quarter, a clean pick and lay up going back the other way and a drive and kick out to J.R, for a three, his night would have been a complete disaster.

If one player was a bright spot for Denver it was Renaldo Balkman. He just makes things happen. Although he only shot 1-4 he was very active garnering two steals and collecting five boards, which is another stat along with AC’s turnovers that I have to question the veracity of. It appeared Balkman had that many boards in the first half alone. ‘Naldo was the only Nugget to depart the game with a positive plus/minus with a +3.

Malik Allen continues to move well, but he is so limited on offense. He did squeak in a follow dunk that barely slid over the rim, other than that he too is dependent on teammates to set him up with an open look in order to score.

Arron Afflalo forced his offense a couple of times with poor results. He too needs to work on spacing the floor and only attacking the basket when he can exploit a crack in the defense.

Chris Andersen was fine, but clearly struggled with the size of Roy Hibbert who had a dominant showing.

The only other things worth noting are Karl seemed pretty disinterested in the proceedings as well. I would have hoped that regardless of whether it was a preseason game or not that he would get on the Nuggets for playing with such a lack of focus and purpose.

It is easy to dismiss the Pacers’ hot shooting as just one of those nights as Troy Murphy was 4-8, Brandon Rush was 6-12 and A.J. Price was 4-6. I could buy into that if almost every single one of those makes was off a wide open attempt. If you are rotating and closing out shooters and they do that, I am not going to get too upset, but when known shooters like Murphy are consistently left alone I am not going to be very sympathetic.

I get a kick out of watching games where the announcers are not at the arena, but they are clearly not supposed to admit it. The team of Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe did a good job although there were a few too many comments along the lines of, “Another three by the Pacers” instead of “A.J. Price hits another three for the Pacers.” At one point Hastings slipped up and commented on how the Nuggets were “there” instead of “here” which of course I found wildly entertaining.

The replacement referees did a very respectable job. There were not nearly as many fouls called as there have been in other games and at no point did I think they were having a negative impact on the proceedings. There were no calls where I had to wonder how they missed it. If anything, there were a couple of occasions where the whistle came a second or two late as they reacted more to the aftermath of a play instead of officiating the initial contact. All in all, they were not a story and that is what you want.

In conclusion I want to thank Mike Dunleavy, Jr. for wearing a hideous yellow jacket at the end of the bench. The combination of where he was sitting and the angle of the camera put the yellow monstrosity directly in line with the net on that side of the floor. It took me a little bit to figure out why the net had a pea green hue to it, then once I realized it was Dunleavy’s attire it was difficult to ignore.

I realize it was just a preseason game, but there are little bits of evidence here and there that are causing me to be concerned about the mental state of this team. We can delve into that as the preseason rolls along, but for now it bears watching. With the difficult opening schedule the Nuggets face and with J.R. suspended the first seven games Denver is not going to simply flip the switch once the games start counting. We need to see something from this team soon.

The Nuggets will play the Pacers one more time, this time in Beijing, on Saturday and it will be broadcast on NBATV and Altitude at 10:00 PM Mountain time. It will give us a nice potentially divorce inducing double header with the Rockies and Nuggets.

Denver Nuggets PER Projections

John Hollinger might be the most decisive NBA analyst in the business. I assume most NBA fans either think he is a stat geek who does not actually know anything about basketball, or he is one of the most astute observers out there.

I fall under the latter camp. I think Hollinger really knows his stuff and is the only member of the national media who is really attuned to the Nuggets. Sometimes I think he is in my head as I read his commentary on Denver. It almost makes me wonder if he reads my posts although if he were to ever stumble upon RMC, I imagine he would think in some situations I was copying his work. The truth is he watches a lot of basketball with unbiased eyes and that is why he can draw the same conclusions as someone like me who attempts to do the same thing.

Despite his impressive anecdotal insights he is best known for his statistical analysis, which brings us to today. It is a day that is widely anticipated by many NBA fans as Professor Hollinger has released his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) projections for the upcoming season. If you do not know what PER is, here is an explanation. The short definition is PER is a statistical per minute measurement of a player’s effect on a game and the average performance is set at 15.00. Anything higher than 15.00 is solid and anything lower is suspect.

You can see the list from of projections from one through 333 or check out a summary of the Nuggets as a team.

Some quick observations are that Chauncey is slated to play at the same level this season as last season, 18.85, which is promising. Hollinger projects a slight bump up for Carmelo Anthony, although if you read his scouting report (insider subscription required) it sounds like he expects his computed projection to be low as he expects a big season from Melo.

The player who Hollinger expects to make the largest leap forward is J.R. Smith who is projected to climb from 16.84 in 2008-09 to 18.15. Hollinger’s system has always been kind to a player like Smith who can get his own shot whenever he wants (usage rate) and score in bunches. However, reading the details it is clear the Professor has a very good read on what J.R. is capable of, primarily his playmaking abilities that most members of the national media have yet to fully recognize.

It is not all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows for Denver. Arron Afflalo has a disappointing projected PER of 9.40. Also, remember how there are 333 player projections? Malik Allen is number 331 with a microscopic projected PER of 6.52.

However, more concerning than that is the play of the Nuggets three key big men is expected to drop off a bit as Chris Andersen, Nene and Kenyon Martin are slated for dips in their statistical production with Andersen slated for the most precipitous drop from 18.16 to 16.58.

Most fans look at these projections and complain that their favorite player or players are not ranked higher. Keep in mind this is all automated based on almost every imaginable statistic and a detailed comparison of similar players performances at similar ages. Because it is stats based I will point out for players like Carmelo (who by the way is ranked 21 overall), Birdman and Nene is that all three are dealing with either an injury related drop last year, Melo, or very poor supporting statistics from previous seasons (Birdman and Nene) that all work to pull down the current statistical projection. This does not mean Birdman and Nene are not capable of playing up to the level they established last season.

Most of Hollinger’s player summaries are only available through ESPN Insider. I strongly recommend signing up for Insider so that you can access Hollinger’s data. It is amazingly thorough and intriguing to read. You also get a great deal more than just Hollinger’s work. Nevertheless, I understand not everyone can though so here are some of the more interesting quotes pertaining to the Nuggets.

Arron Afflalo (Projected PER 9.40): He’ll take over Dahntay Jones’ role as the top perimeter defender, and considering he costs less and is a far better shooter, he should be an upgrade for the Nuggets — provided that Afflalo sticks to his knitting as a shooting specialist and takes half his shots behind the arc.”

Malik Allen (6.52): Allen’s primary skill is his midrange jump shot, and he did that well enough by making 42.0 percent of his long 2s. Unfortunately, he was terrible at everything else.

Chris Andersen (16.58): “[Signing the new contract with Denver was the right move because] the support network he has in place was more important than the money. Even if he can’t replicate the ridiculous block rate of last season, it should be good deal for the Nuggets as well.

Carmelo Anthony (19.36): “While he hit a career-best 37.1 percent on 3-pointers and attempted more than ever, he had trouble when there was more company around. Anthony slumped to 48.2 percent on inside shots after hitting in the mid-50s the three previous seasons. From the right side of the floor, where he prefers to operate on isolations, he hit just 33.8 percent of his 2-pointers — the fifth-worst mark of any player with more than 100 attempts.”

“Anthony appears poised to have his best season. The improved 3-point stroke and strong finish last season both point in that direction as well, as do two other factors: He’s now 25 and should be hitting his prime, and he didn’t suit up for Team USA for the fourth straight summer.

Renaldo Balkman (15.83): Balkman attained a career-best 16.85 PER by playing with his usual boundless energy, ranking fifth among power forwards in offensive rebound rate and leading his position in steals per 40 minutes with 2.4. Only five players in the league had a better rate of steals, and none were frontcourt players.”

Chauncey Billups (18.85): Last season, Billups was once again the only member of the league’s “40-40″ club — 40 percent of his shots originated from beyond the 3-point line, but he still averaged more than 0.40 free-throw attempts per field goal attempt. Usually players who draw lots of fouls rarely shoot 3s and vice versa, but Billups is the exception: He was the only non-center in the league to finish in the top dozen at his position in both categories.

Anthony Carter (9.61): Carter finished 67th out of 69 point guards in turnover rate, and it made him marginal, at best, as a role player. Surprisingly, he still played over 22 minutes a game, as he became something of a security blanket for George Karl. But combine a miniscule 9.2 points per 40 minutes with a penchant for costly miscues, it’s tough to see why.”

Joey Graham (11.21): No player comment, which may be a comment in and of itself.

Ty Lawson (-): “Concerns about Lawson’s size (6-0) undoubtedly hurt, as did some worries about his practice habits and a tendency to sprain his ankles. Nonetheless, he was the top-rated player in my Draft Rater – even edging out Blake Griffin – and the Nuggets absolutely stole him by nabbing him at No. 18 in a trade with Minnesota.

Kenyon Martin (13.36): “More than a third of his shots came outside the immediate basket area, and he was abysmal at them. Historically, he’s converted from these distances in the high 30s or low 40s, but last season he made only 32.1 percent, the worst percentage in the league of anyone with more than 200 attempts.”

Nene (17.89): Nene is still raw enough to envision him improving in coming years. That said, there were elements of last season’s performance that look a bit fluky, so we might expect some regression to the mean in his immediate future. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll shoot 60 percent from the floor again.”

Johan Petro (8.65): “He ranked 65th out of 67 centers in true shooting percentage and 66th in field goal percentage. For a 7-foot center to shoot 41.9 percent and 41.5 percent in consecutive seasons is remarkably awful, and a troubling sign that his offensive development has not only ground to a halt but actually been thrown into reverse.

J.R. Smith (18.15): “Smith lobbed nearly half his shots from behind the 3-point line and made 39.7 percent — many of them from well beyond the arc — but still finished in the top third of shooting guards in free-throw rate. Unfortunately, his concentration lapses at the stripe hurt him. He made only 75.1 percent of his free throws, good for 51st among shooting guards, and that’s inexcusable given how well he strokes it from outside.”

James White (-): He’s a spectacular finisher on the break and he’s slowly but surely figured out how to use his athleticism at the offensive end. He turns 27 in October, so it’s taken a while, but he’s an NBA-caliber athlete and, at 6-7 with a decent jump shot, a prototypical small forward.

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.

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.

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.

The Denver Nuggets Trade for Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe

The Denver Nuggets front office has pulled off another spectacular trade as they have acquired Arron Afflalo and Walter Sharpe for a second round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That pick is slated to be the lower of the two second rounders the Nuggets currently own in 2011, their own and Portland’s. Unless both of those teams fall apart over the next two seasons that pick should be in the fifties.

When news broke that this trade was a possibility I figured Denver would have to give up the Clippers second round pick they own an option on in the 2010 draft. The fact they took on not only Afflalo’s salary, but Walter Sharpe’s salary too it lowered the price to what will likely be one of the final picks in the 2011 draft plus Detroit threw in $350,000 in cash. Denver was able to land a replacement for Dahntay Jones and a cheap end of the bench prospect in Sharpe for virtually nothing.

Over the previous three summers the Nuggets have acquired J.R. Smith, Renaldo Balkman and now Afflalo and Sharpe for nothing but second round picks, nonguaranteed contracts and/or trade exceptions. Obviously the Smith trade with Chicago was one of the best trades in recent NBA history. Balkman is a very intriguing player who will possibly fill a greater role in 2009-10 and now Afflalo is another rotation player that Denver has brought in at little to no cost. As much attention as the Chauncey Billups trade received it is smaller deals like these that can round out the roster of a contending team.

Afflalo is not a supremely talented player, but he is very solid. He is a very good defender and in his two seasons with the Pistons has adapted to the NBA three point line very well. His rookie season Afflalo only made 20.8% of his 48 attempts. Last season he more than doubled his three point attempts to 107 and despite taking more shots he nearly doubled his percentage as well to an impressive 40.2%.

The difference between the two seasons was Afflalo’s ability to hit the three from the left corner. In his rookie season of 2007-08 Afflalo was 0-9. In 2008-09 he shot 24-44 which equates to 54.5% (you will have to pick the criteria yourself to see his percentages as the URL does not update when you make your selection). Strangely, he only shot 9-31, 29.0%, from the right corner. The two shots are not exact duplicates of each other, but they are close and over time I suspect his percentage from the left corner will drop a bit while his percentage from the right corner will rise. Nevertheless, it is significant that he was able to show such strong improvement between his first and second seasons. If he can continue to improve, he will be a very good offensive weapon.

As we all know there is much more to offense than just shooting open jumpers. So far Afflalo has not shown much more than an ability to catch and shoot. He has not posted very good assist numbers, but I believe that is more due to his role as a catch and shoot player than an inability to pass. He does not have blazing speed, but is a decent drive a kick player. He can dribble with either hand and I believe can answer the call if asked to fill a more significant role on offense. The good news is with players like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Billups and Nene, Denver does not need Afflalo to come in and light up the scoreboard.

Defensively Afflalo is not great, but can certainly fill the role of the defensive oriented shooting guard. In Detroit he guarded point guards, shooting guards and even small forwards from time to time. He works hard and is very focused. He fights over screens well and has shown the ability to chase players around screens. The one thing he needs to work on is his strength at the point of contact as he tends to give up too much space when the offensive player bumps him to get a shot off.

Afflalo will never be a star, but he is the kind of highly competent player that championship teams need. He may never drive Chris Paul as nuts as Dahntay Jones did, but he has the ability to be just as good a defender game after game while providing much more punch on the offensive end.

There has been some great discussion the past couple days as to whether or not J.R. Smith or Afflalo should start. The good news is we do not need to have an answer for that question yet. While there is no doubt the Nuggets were much worse with Jones on the floor than J.R., I do not think that is a fair argument for keeping Afflalo out of the starting lineup. Afflalo is a much better all around player than Jones and I do not think he would be as much of a drop off from J.R. as Jones was. Personally I would start J.R., but it would not surprise me, especially if Denver loses Linas Kleiza, if Karl decides he needs Smith’s offense off the bench and Afflalo takes the court to start each half.

One interesting tidbit that was pointed out by reader Ky Davis is according to John Hollinger the player Afflalo is most like is none other than former Nugget stalwart Bryant Stith.  I think most Nugget fans would gladly take a player of that caliber.

The one man who may be in trouble with the addition of Afflalo is Anthony Carter. Afflalo can provide that end of game defense that Karl craves, but until the Nuggets know they can count on Ty Lawson, Carter will probably still be in their plans.

In the next day or two look for some video of Afflalo to give you all a better idea of what he is capable of. Plus Afflalo is not the only player involved in the trade. Look for a post on Walter Sharpe, with rarely seen footage from the 2008 summer league, in the near future as well.

By the way thanks to those of you who emailed me news of the trade while I was fighting off rain and near hurricane force winds at Water World with my family.

Denver Nuggets Free Agency News – July 2, 2009

We are a day and a half into the free agency negotiating period and so far only two players have been locked up as Detroit has verbal agreements with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (didn’t Detroit win their title largely due to their stellar team defense?).

At this point the only news out of Denver is Mark Warkentien was in Los Angeles to talk contract with Chris Andersen. I do not think there is any doubt at this point that Birdman returns to Denver.

That leads up to a big question. Denver can sign Andersen for up to six seasons. Do you give Chris Andersen a five or six year deal? I say no. The primary reason is Andersen turns 31 in five days although he is certainly not your typical 31 year old big man.

Birdman set a career high for playing time this season having logged 1,460 minutes on the court. For his career he has accumulated 5,692 minutes. That may sound like a lot of minutes, but consider that over the previous two seasons LeBron James has played the fewest minutes of his career. However, LeBron has still totaled 6,081 minutes over those two seasons. LeBron has played almost 400 more minutes since November of 2007 than Andersen has played over his seven year career.

Even with Andersen’s low mileage you have to be wary of signing a player so dependent on his athleticism into his mid thirties. I think the perfect contract for Andersen would be a three year deal with a team option or non guaranteed fourth season.

As a sidebar, team options/non guaranteed seasons can be used as a de facto expiring contract and I think they give teams a great deal of flexibility. If I were a GM I would tack on an extra season to every contract that starts at $4 million a year or higher where only $250,000 is guaranteed. The player then gets an additional $250,000 and I get a potentially high value trading chip. Of course, you open yourself up to having some dead money on your cap so it would be important to make sure you only have two or three non-guaranteed seasons coming up at the same time, but that would be easily manageable. The benefit would far outweigh the cost in my mind.

Apart from meeting with Birdman the Nuggets have been very quiet. The only player I have seen them linked to consistently in published reports is Grant Hill. There is no mention of Denver being involved with Rasheed Wallace. San Antonio, Orlando and Cleveland are all hot for Sheed, but Boston has been the most aggressive suitor. It will be interesting to see what Wallace does. Boston is the only team for which he would not start, unless they decided to bench Kendrick Perkins, but they are probably the best fit as Wallace can do many of the same things Garnett does. Wallace would make Orlando much more traditional with Rashard Lewis moving back to small forward, but he would still give them the three point threat from the power forward spot. Should he go to San Antonio it would allow the Spurs to bring DeJuan Blair along more slowly and he and Duncan would be possibly the best interior defensive tandem in the league.

From a Nuggets perspective I think it would be most interesting if Wallace signed with Cleveland because it would put Anderson Varejao in play. Cleveland would probably want to bring him back, but I doubt he would want to back up Rasheed. Varejao is the kind of team defender Denver needs. He is always amongst the league leaders in charges drawn (2006-07 stats were the most recent I could find) and he is a great pick and roll defender. I am not sure if Denver would pursue Varejao, but the Nuggets have fellow Brazilian Nene on the roster and Varejao could probably be had at mid level exception money. Of course, Varejao would not be a full time starter in Denver either with Nene and Kenyon on the roster, but I think if Rasheed is in Cleveland he would want out.

I did stumble across a sentence in this article that says the Nuggets are interested in Channing Frye. Frye is not a great individual defender, but I do believe he can be effective as part of a solid team defensive scheme. The Nuggets are missing a big man who can consistently shoot from the outside and Frye would fill that role as the fourth big. He is also an underrated rebounder. Should the Nuggets swap Kleiza for Hill and Petro for Frye there will not be dancing in the streets, but I think those two players would be positive upgrades and both would come relatively cheap. Add in Ty Lawson and that is a pretty good boost in talent from last season.

Shifting to the Nuggets’ free agents, I think the silence surrounding Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Carter is deafening. At this point I would be very surprised if Kleiza or Jones are back in Denver next season. If the Nuggets miss out on Hill I think LK is their fallback option, but I think they would probably still rather sign and trade him than keep him around.

I have read that Cleveland is interested in Kleiza and this morning I saw Indiana has made a call to his agent as well. The report that links Kleiza to Indy was same report also claimed the Pacers are looking at Jones and Carter too. If you are Anthony Carter how much more would the Pacers have to offer in order for you to move from Denver to Indianapolis?

Other big news includes David Lee losing almost all of his leverage now that Memphis has acquired Zach Randolph, which brings a possible sign and trade back into play. The Knicks probably do not want to add his contract to their summer of 2010 payroll, but they have offered him a four year, $32 million contract. Now Toronto is tossing their name in the hat although they are also looking at using their limited resources on a small forward such as Hedo Turkoglu or Trevor Ariza.

Speaking of Turkoglu, it appears Portland is going to add him to their stacked roster, but I am not sure how much of an upgrade that will be for them. Turkoglu does a lot of the same things that Brandon Roy does, especially at the end of games. I think Hedo definitely makes them better, how much I do not know. Dave at Blazer’s Edge looks at what Hedo might do or not do for Portland What would scare me is if Portland adds Turkoglu and then pulls off a sign and trade for Andre Miller.

Ariza’s agent apparently is saying that the Lakers need to reward Ariza with a contract over the mid level exception. If they do not he claims Ariza will take someone else’s mid level offer out of spite. So far the Cavs have joined the Raptors as potential destinations.

Finally, we are getting some good comments from readers. One name that keeps popping up is Hakim Warrick. I believe the Nuggets are going to continue to bring in players who can play great team defense and Warrick does not fit that mold. Plus his qualifying offer is for just over $3 million and that is too much for what he would bring to the table.

Finally I will leave you with some big time breaking news from the Denver Post. Chauncey Billups is switching his uniform number from 7 to 1. J.R. Smith was number one last season, but will wear an as of yet undetermined number. Apparently J.R. just surrendered the number 1 to Billups without so much as a dinner at Sizzler.

The Denver Nuggets, NBA Free Agency and You

With the 2009 NBA meat market known as free agency kicking off tonight at midnight eastern time we need to once again interrupt our individual player evaluations to look at what kind of options are out there for the Nuggets.

Before we get started, familiarize yourself with who is available with this team by team list of free agents.

A quick look at the Nuggets’ finances shows that they are already over the projected luxury tax limit of $70-71 million with the contracts of Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman, Sonny Weems, Ty Lawson and the $3.0 million they owe Antonio McDyess based on the buyout they agreed to last season (all totaling roughly $73 million). That is ten players and you must carry a minimum of 13 players on your roster.

Now add to that at least $4-5 million to resign Chris Andersen and another million plus for Anthony Carter and/or Dahntay Jones. Suddenly they only have one or two spots with which to upgrade the roster and probably not too much financial wiggle room to play with.

Priority number one has to be to resign Chris Andersen. The question is how much will it cost? If Denver has to come up with $7 or $8 million a year to bring Andersen back it will be very difficult for them to afford to beef up their roster. However, in order for Andersen to get a big offer like that a team who wants him would have to be far enough below the salary cap to offer that kind of cash. So are there any teams who fit that mold?

Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento are the only teams capable of making a significant offer to any free agent above the midlevel exception. I think we can scratch teams like Atlanta, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento off the list because of either a lack of interest from the team in question or from Birdman in playing there.

That leaves Detroit and Oklahoma City. I think Detroit has quite a few players on their list before they get down to Andersen and most likely they will spend their money elsewhere. To me the only team to really worry about is Oklahoma City. They need a shot blocker and rebounder as evidenced by the fact they acquired Tyson Chandler from New Orleans at the trade deadline before their doctor nixed the deal. The one thing Sam Presti has to worry about is the money he is going to have to shell out for Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in two or three seasons.

Ultimately, I believe the Thunder will not offer Andersen a big contract and that will allow Denver to only have to deal with midlevel offers from other teams. In fact as we saw with J.R. Smith last season teams usually do not bother even offering the mid level exception when the know it will be matched. J.R. did not receive any offer sheets last season and I suspect Birdman should not expect any this summer either. Why waste your time signing a player to an offer sheet when you know the team will match it as soon as the offer sheet showed up on the fax machine.

I expect Denver will be able to resign Andersen with a three year $15 million deal with a starting salary in the $4.0 million range. Maybe Andersen leaves some money on the table, but he would still receive over a 400% raise and keeps him in Denver, where he wants to be. Not all athletes feel a sense of loyalty to a franchise, but Denver not only gave Birdman his first chance to play in the NBA, they also gave him his second chance at real playing time following his suspension.

Birdman deserves a lot of attention, but Andersen is only one of six free agents the Nuggets have to worry about. Do not expect Jason Hart to return. Johan Petro has been allowed to become an unrestricted free agent which does not bode well for his return, although there is a chance Denver could bring him back. As we discussed yesterday look for Anthony Carter to return for one more season in Denver.

The two great unknowns are Linas Kleiza and Dahntay Jones.

Denver is expected to extend the one year, $2,705,724 qualifying offer to Kleiza although as of yet there has been no official word that they have. Kleiza quickly became a favorite of George Karl as he improved quickly in his second and third seasons. I was of the opinion that he was overvalued by the Nuggets, as well as other teams around the league, because his rapid improvement convinced them that his ceiling was much higher than it actually is. In his fourth NBA season he appeared to have plateaued. His three point percentage dropped, his defense is still lacking, he passes only begrudgingly and still rarely goes to his left. The one thing Kleiza does well is rebound. His rebound rate was comparable to Kenyon Martin’s (10.4 to 10.9). Kleiza can run the floor very well, but he does not do it consistently game to game and Denver’s slightly slower pace impacted his ability to provide an impact on that area of the game.

When looking at Kleiza’s roster spot one of the players that the Nuggets have been rumored to be interested in is Grant Hill. Hill played for less than $2.0 million last season and I think he would be a very good fit in Denver. Hill is just as good of a shooter as Kleiza, if not better, but offers a creative playmaking ability that Kleiza will never be able to match.

Apart from Hill there are not many options who would be as cheap and as effective as Kleiza. Trevor Ariza is an intriguing option, but I doubt the Nuggets would be able to pry him away from the Lakers. Some people have mentioned Ron Artest as a potential option for the Nuggets. It would be a bold move, but a risky one too. He displayed his combustability again in the playoffs against the Lakers and he would not come cheap. If Denver wants to bring him in, they would most likely have to offer their full midlevel exception in August or September when all of Artest’s other options have been extinguished. With the health of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in question, Houston may cling to Artest as their best healthy player or they may let him walk in order to restructure the team after the season.

It is certainly possible that Kleiza will not get any good offers and have to sign the qualifying offer. If that is the case, I would not be overly upset. However, if the Nuggets manage to sign Hill, I imagine they will pull the qualifying offer and Kleiza might be forced to play overseas in order to make any money.

The final question mark for Denver is Dahntay Jones. Jones is the player who is likely to increase his salary the most from 2008-09. Everyone saw him give Chris Paul fits in the playoffs. With his atrocious offensive game his price will not get too high, but if he makes much more than he did last season his salary will quickly exceed his usefulness. Rumors are that Boston is interested and I do not think the Nuggets will go too deep in the pocketbook to bring Jones back.

With J.R. and possibly Sonny Weems playing much of the minutes at shooting guard I am not sure Denver needs to spend much money on a third shooting guard. Plus a player like Hill could spend some time filling in at shooting guard as well. There are some other price efficient players that I think might be good additions to the Nuggets. Flip Murray was very good for Atlanta last season and he played for only $1.5 million. Plus he helped Denver by missing a game winning shot at the Pepsi Center last season so he clearly is pro Nuggets. Fred Jones had his moments with the Clippers at a bargain basement price and I think he is worth a look. My favorite option would be Shannon Brown. He is a restricted free agent and I doubt the Lakers would let him get away, but if they sign all their big salary free agents, it may decrease their motivation to pay him what it takes to bring him back.

If the Nuggets are not able to bring in Hill and/or Brown and they bring back Jones and Kleiza for bottom dollar, it will not be the worst thing in the world. What would be the worst thing in the world is if they combine to play 40 minutes a game again.

Whether Denver boosts their talent level at the swing positions or not, the one thing they must accomplish before next season is to add a quality fourth big man.

There are a couple of nice options available to the Nuggets. First and foremost in my mind is Rasheed Wallace who is an unrestricted free agent. Sheed saw most of his numbers fall off this past season, but I think a good portion of that was due to the fact he did not buy into the Pistons and their chances to succeed. Maybe the most startling thing about Wallace’s game was 89% of his shots were jumpers. However, Denver needs a big man who can shoot and Wallace is still a good post defender. I think pairing him back up with Chauncey on what I think would be a championship caliber team could squeeze another good season or two out of him.

The good news is Sheed might not cost an arm and a leg and Denver may be in a position where they do not necessarily need to be the high bidder to earn a player’s services. When the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals I wrote that it would make Denver a legitimate destination for players who want to win a championship. With teams like San Antonio and Cleveland reportedly interested in Wallace, if the Nuggets want to go after him it will prove a good test of that theory.

Wallace is not the only free agent that would fit well in Denver. Wallace’s former teammate, Antonio McDyess (unrestricted) would be a good option, if he could be convinced not to hate the Nuggets so much. It would be interesting to have a player who Denver is paying twice. They owe him $3 million as part of the buyout they agreed to with him last season and then if they sign him he would have a current contract on the books as well. What is the old science fiction rule, two instances of the same matter cannot occupy the same space? Perhaps if Denver signs McDyess the universe would collapse upon itself.

I have heard some Nuggets fans hot for Paul Millsap (restricted) and with Carlos Boozer deciding not to opt out of his contract today Utah will be in a tough spot should someone give Millsap a big offer. However, he is not coming to Denver. The only way the Nuggets could bring him on board would be via sign and trade and Utah will put a hit on Millsap before they send him to the Nuggets.

David Lee (restricted) is another player who has been linked to the Nuggets and rumor has it they had worked out a deal for him with the Knicks at the trade deadline but Karl did not want to give up Kleiza. Again, Denver would have to pull off a sign and trade, but with the Knicks looking to create as much cap space as possible for next summer they are not going to want to give Lee a big contract. Would a trade exception and a couple of first round picks get Lee to Denver?

Should the Nuggets fail to nab one of the high profile guys there are a couple of cheap options who could provide some assistance. You may laugh when you read this, but if Denver needs an emergency fill in on the cheap I believe Shelden Williams (unrestricted) would be a good option. He cannot shoot, but he is a big boy who can rebound and block shots. Channing Frye (unrestricted) is a big man who seems to play well with consistent minutes. He is a great midrange shooter and can rebound when he is asked to. One final player who may be of interest is Drew Gooden (unrestricted). He has become a very good rebounder even if he is still a bit rough around the edges.

If Denver does not bring in an exciting free agent all is not lost. They still have two big trade exceptions, $9.8 million (expires November 3, 2009) and $3.24 million (expires January 5, 2010), that they can use to basically buy a player or players from another team. If they cannot sign a free agent they want, they would certainly be able to acquire a player to help via trade.

The big question is will Denver spend what it takes to add to the roster? There has been some consternation that because they are already over the luxury tax limit and with the reduction in spending last summer that Stan Kroenke would not allow the front office to spend any additional money to augment the roster. Kroenke has paid the luxury tax before and I do not think he will say no now as long as doing so makes sense.

For anyone wondering how the world financial crisis is affecting Kroenke I think it is safe to assume he can spend as much money as he wants on the Nuggets. He seems to be taking advantage of the economic recession instead of hoarding his cash in mattresses. He spent over $60 million to increase his ownership in Arsenal of the English Premier League just three months ago. Does that sound like he is freaking out over his Walmart stock?

I think you can count on Denver boosting their talent level and spending the money necessary to do it. Sports Illustrated’s Scott Howard-Cooper seems to be convinced that the Nuggets are going to be aggressive in the free agent market. I expect the same thing. I am convinced Denver wants to make their playoff run a launching point for something better instead of a onetime high point.

Denver did a good job of targeting high energy, athletic and cheap free agents to build a team that can run and play solid team defense.  Hopefully the Nuggets will continue to build a roster of players who can play great team defense, can shoot and play to win and not just for themselves.

Other free agents who I like (are either really good or would be cheaper than they are worth), but are either not going to change teams or Denver would have no interest in:

  • Josh Childress (Restricted – Atlanta Hawks/Greece) – Multi talented
  • Andersen Varejao (Unrestricted – Cleveland Cavaliers) – Scrappy big, great team defender
  • Ersan Ilyasova (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks/Turkey) – good rebounder and shooter
  • Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted – New York Knickerbockers) – Athletic and possibly cheap
  • Steve Novak (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Clippers) – Deadly shooter
  • C.J. Watson (Restricted – Golden State Warriors) – I like the way he plays
  • Lamar Odom (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Lakers) – No duh
  • Matt Barnes (Restricted – Phoenix Suns) – A more athletic version of LK
  • Hedo Turkoglu (Unrestricted – Orlando Magic) – Versatile, big shot maker
  • Ramon Sessions (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks) – Can score and distribute

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.

Denver Nuggets 2009 NBA Draft Preview

As exciting as it is to have your team in the NBA Draft Lottery with a decent shot at landing the first pick and watching them make a selection in the top five or six picks of the draft, I sure hope to get used to having the Denver Nuggets picking late in the first round.

As I am sure you all know by now Denver does not have a first round pick in the 2009 draft. They dealt what would have been the 26th pick in the draft as part of the Atkins for Petro deal, but they also received the Thunder’s second round pick, number 34, which is where they currently stand.

It is pretty clear that the Nuggets have two areas that are in need of an upgrade. One is finding a backup point guard who can fill in for Chauncey. Most Nugget fans have had a love/hate relationship with Carter, but the truth is he has been one of the more solid back up lead guards in the NBA. When you factor in his minimal salary he quite honestly has been a Godsend. However, Carter just turned 34 and you have to be concerned about him showing up to training camp having lost a step or two.

This draft is full of point guards from top to bottom and there may be a decent point man or two who go undrafted. The two mock drafts I trust the most, Chad Ford’s at ESPN.com (subscription required for picks 6-60) and DraftExpress.com, have all of those players being selected by pick 24. That is not to say someone will not fall, but if Denver wants to get a point with a decent chance of succeeding, they will probably have to move up.

I think if one of the point guards they want drops into the mid to late twenties there is a good chance the Nuggets make a deal to trade up. So the big question is what players are we talking about?

If Denver jumps up a few picks players like Eric Maynor, Jeff Teague or Darren Collison could be the target. Maynor is a senior out of Virginia Commonwealth University who has made a name for himself thanks to a couple of nice moments in March Madness. In 2006-07 Maynor made a name for himself when he picked the George Mason point guard clean on back to back plays scoring five points all by himself in seconds to tie their conference championship game at 57. VCU went on to win the game (I think Maynor had 11 points in the final two minutes) and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Maynor hit the game winning shot to knock Duke out, which may have been one of the happiest moments of my life. See all three plays starting at 2:17 of this video.

VCU missed the NCAA Tournament the following year, but came back in 2009 and fell one point short of upsetting UCLA. Maynor is a point guard through and through. He has a slight build, but can play defense and he knows how to run a team. He has been tagged to go to Philadelphia for weeks now by both ESPN and DraftExpress, but if Philly does something else or if one of the higher rated point men drops to them Maynor may be available for Denver in a spot where they could possibly trade up.

Jeff Teague a sophomore from Wake Forrest, but he is more of a scoring point guard. He is a very good three point shooter converting 39.5% as a freshman and 44.1% as a sophomore. He has tremendous quickness and Chad Ford compares him to Devin Harris. The bad news is Teague averaged roughly one turnover per assist, which is not what you want out of your point guard. His defense is a big question mark as well.

Collison was a decent college point guard and if Denver is not able to move up to get Maynor, Teague or another top rated point, the Nuggets may have to take him. He has tremendous quickness and Ford has compared him to Aaron Brooks who drove the Lakers crazy in the playoffs. I have seen Collison play on several occasions and have never been blown away by him, but to be fair the past couple of season he has shared the backcourt with a couple of lottery picks in Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holliday so his getting overshadowed is understandable. He is a good defender, but is small even compared to skinny players like Maynor and Teague.

Another name that keeps popping up around the Nuggets’ pick is Patrick Mills. Mills is an Australian who played at Saint Mary’s. He made a name for himself in the Olympics when his quickness was too much for the United States’ guards to handle. He can get in the lane at will, but he is not a very good shooter and he needs to ball in his hands to be effective. He is another player that was helped by Brooks’ performance against the Lakers. However, he is not the shooter that Brooks is and he lacks the finishing prowess of a Tony Parker when he gets in the lane. I would not be upset if the Nuggets plucked him at 34, but I see him as more of a taller Earl Boykins than a Chauncey Billups.

If the Nuggets are really feeling gutsy there is a possibility they trade away the Charlotte Bobcats’ first round pick they own along with pick 34 to jump way up to try and draft Ty Lawson or one of the other highly ranked point men who might be available in the early teens. I think that is a distinct possibility, but that Bobcats pick is a lottery ticket. As with any lottery ticket it may be worthless, but the chances it might pay off big makes it difficult to give up.

The other obvious area of need for Denver is their big man depth. Unlike the point guards that may be available, there are no big men who get me excited. DeMare Carroll of Missouri has been linked to the Nuggets, but with him I see a player who at best is Renaldo Balkman with a better jumper, and it is not just because of the hair. I realize the knock on Balkman is he cannot shoot, but if Denver is going to draft a power forward he needs to be a bigger power forward, not a small quick one in the mold of Carroll and Balkman.

Taj Gibson of USC is another big that is mentioned in the late first and early second round. He is taller and more explosive than Carroll, but he is very lean and I am not sure he will be able to rebound consistently in the NBA. He did pull down 9.0 a game last season at USC and rebounding is a skill that translates very well from college to the pros.

Derrick Brown from Xavier is a very good shooter and is athletic, but is not a real banger and as with Gibson I am worried about his rebounding. He only averaged 6.1 boards a game last season.

Chad Ford actually has the Nuggets drafting Jeff Pendergraph of Arizona State. Pendergraph is one of few big men with any beef projected to go in the second round, but he is still listed just an inch taller than Kenyon Martin at 6’10” and he weighs the same as Kenyon at 240. Quite honestly, I may have seen Pendergraph play, but if I did, I sure do not remember it. Based on his profile he would appear to be more of an offensive player than a defensive one. Offense on the block is nice, but not if it is not backed up with good defense and the ability to rebound.

Typically I would never lock in on a single position, but the Nuggets need for a young back up point guard and the plethora of such players available makes it safe to lock in on that position. The only way I would rather see Denver draft a big man instead of a point tonight is if someone like DeJuan Blair falls into the mid twenties and Denver is able to jump up and grab him. Other than that, I have no desire to see Denver draft a big just to add depth. I would much rather see them bring in a guy like James Mays who was in cap last year than take a flier on a someone they hope can play.

Denver is always unpredictable. They have made quite a few moves over the previous few years either leading up to the draft or on draft day itself. We also never know who they like and who they do not. Last year they claimed to have Sonny Weems in the top ten of their draft board so who knows what player they really like who will be sitting there at 34. Of course, if there is no one they like they will probably trade out of the draft and move on.

Quite honestly no one knows what will happen tonight and that is why the draft is so much fun.

Update: Andrew at Denver Stiffs is on board with the idea of Mills at 34 as is Brian at Nugg Love.

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.

Game Day Link Dump

It is game day for the first do or die contest of the 2009 playoffs for the Denver Nuggets so why not throw out some links to get everyone in the mood?

There has been a lot of talk about officiating following game five.  Bill Simmons lambasted the NBA in this article for making a potentially great product merely good.  John Hollinger added his two cents.  Lakers Blog also has a good post on the topic complete with a link to this article by Charlie Rosen on FoxSports.com.

ESPN Insider (subscription required) has a report from Stephen Jackson on how to guard Carmelo and Kobe.

The Denver Nuggets in the Rose Bowl (hat tip to Forum Blue and Gold for the link)?

A video from Bryan Roy discussing game six with OC Register columnist Jeff Miller.  Both like the Nuggets’ chances.

Andrew at Denver Stiffs has some news from Chris Tomasson that Karl envisions J.R. Smith as the starter at shooting guard next season.  Is it true or just a negotiating tactic to drive the price of Dahntay Jones’ next contract down? 

At least one man thinks Anthony Carter was the thirtieth best player in Miami Heat History ahead of such talents as Billy Owens, Gary Payton, Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner and Alan Ogg (hat tip to TrueHoop for the link).  No word on if that is because his agent’s inability to trigger his player option on the final year of his contract ultimately led to an NBA championship (the mishap gave them enough money to sign Lamar Odom who was part of the package traded for Shaq).

Here is a hilarious picture of George Karl from The Chris Andersen Files.  One question, if the Lakers fans are happy and Karl is trying to hide in his coat, what is Melo smiling about?

Apparently actor/singer Tyrese Gibson altered the words of the National Anthem prior to game five in Los Angeles.  Probably the first time the fans in Staples Center have ever booed at the mention of the Lakers (hat tip to Lakers Blog for the link).  How dare this guy try to give me a reason not to see Transformers 2!

Nuggets Nugetz is all about the playoff ‘stache.

Look for another live blog tonight featuring Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold and of course one of the top ten Nuggets bloggers in all of creation.  

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