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Changes likely coming soon for Nuggets

Dec 31, 2014 -- 9:21pm

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

Magic Johnson is one of the greatest athletes in history, a fierce competitor who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five world championships and was named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA three times. That’s what made this recent comment so alarming:

"I hope the Lakers lose every game. Because if you're going to lose, lose. And I'm serious.” - Magic Johnson

Johnson wasn’t being overly-emotional, he was being logical and honest in assessing the status of his former team. In the NBA, the worst position to be in is the middle. A position all too familiar for fans in the Mile High City.

The Denver Nuggets find themselves looking up in the standings at a handful of other teams... before their eyes even reach the eighth and final playoff spot in the west. At the same time, they’ve managed to win more games than nine other teams in the Association. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton may have said it best in ESPN: The Magazine’s NBA preview prior to this season:

"Once again, as has been the case for the last decade, the Nuggets are talented enough to compete for a playoff spot, but not bad enough to truly begin a rebuild. NBA purgatory, thy name is Denver.” - Kevin Pelton, ESPN The Magazine

With a payroll exceeding $73 million, owners Stan and Josh Kroenke are not getting a return on their investment. Attendance at Pepsi Center has waned steadily while the true lifeblood of the NBA, television ratings, are also down according to a source close to the situation. The Nuggets have slipped into irrelevance in a community that only supports one franchise with unconditional love: the Denver Broncos. If Denver’s other teams want attention, they better be winning. At a minimum, they need to be entertaining. The current Nuggets don’t fit into either category. They’re not winning, and they can be brutal to watch at times. 

When George Karl was let go, it appeared the franchise was committed to building a legitimate title contender.

Unfortunately many fans didn’t receive the change the same way Nate Kreckman did. Karl had become the face of the Nuggets franchise following the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011. That’s what made firing him so confusing, especially on the heels of a team-record win total and the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.

Brian Shaw was hired to replace Karl and during his introductory press conference, the focus of his message was to improve the team’s half-court execution. This, of course, in hopes of breaking through the recent run of first round playoff failures.

“With my experience with the Lakers playing and coaching against the Phoenix Suns when they won 60 games in a season, playing the up and down style doesn't necessarily translate well when you get to the playoffs.”- Brian Shaw, 6/24/13

Despite the implied focus on playing a postseason style, Denver did not heavily adjust their roster, which was tailored towards running. Like any coach, Shaw wants to win games and that led to new messages.

“We want to get out and run. We played at a fast pace last year, we want to play at an even faster pace this year.” - Brian Shaw, 9/29/14

The coach has pointed out he doesn’t have all of the same players who excelled at running during the team’s 57-win season in 2012-2013.

"This team was, long before I got here, constructed to run. This is not the same team that ran. Two of the elite lane-runners in this league, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, are not on this team anymore.” - Brian Shaw, 11/13/14

While the Nuggets were public with their desire to keep Iguodala around, they never made an offer to re-sign Brewer. This according to a source close to the forward who say his first preference was to return to Denver. Instead, general manager Tim Connelly stocked the roster with players on short-term contracts for reasonable salaries. While veterans like Nate Robinson have provided decent value for their relatively low-cost, it’s fair to question how committed “rental players” can be.

So what’s the next step? Ownership had shown a commitment to the pieces on their roster, hoping they develop or become a part of a larger trade to bring a marquee player to Denver. With the likelihood of those options eroding, reports of possible changes began a few weeks ago.

While it’s generally easier to change one coach rather than several players, expect moves to the roster first. The franchise has publicly backed Shaw every step of the way, through the growing pains that come with a first-time head coach. It’s also clear he’s coaching players that largely lack the professionalism and accountability he became accustom to with Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers. Throw in a slew of injuries and management has enough reason to point the blame away from their coach, who has another year on his contract (with an option for an additional year after that).

Ownership would love to shed payroll, but it's not that easy in an NBA where so many teams are over the salary cap just as the Nuggets are. They could look to deal some players with large salaries for expiring contracts, but that strategy has it's challenges as well. JaVale McGee ($11.25 million) and Danilo Gallinari ($10.85 million) would be prime candidates, but both are injured and wouldn’t draw much interest until they can show they’re healthy. Gallinari’s recent knee injury has many skeptical if he'll ever return to 100 percent. However, when he’s played well, the Nuggets have been good. Denver is 7-2 this year in games when he scores in double-figures.

Could Denver part ways with Ty Lawson? Issues with his ankle still exist and for a player whose game is almost exclusively reliant on speed and athleticism, his success is married to health. While he may be Denver’s best player, he’s just the seventh best player in the western conference… at his position. Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker have all been All-Stars at point guard. Still, Lawson is putting up good numbers and with two seasons under contract following this one, the Nuggets could maximize their return by dealing him now.

The Thunder have been rumored to have interest in Wilson Chandler while the Cavaliers have been linked to Timofey Mozgov for months. Fresh off signing a new contract, Kenneth Faried has struggled this season until recently following a heart-to-heart with Shaw. With that, his status with the team has constantly seemed in question since the Nuggets made their coaching change to Shaw. Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post has stated on 102.3/105.5 ESPN that the Nuggets attempted trading Faried to move near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft. Realistically, no player should be off-limits in trade talks although it'd be hard to imagine Denver parting with rookie Jusuf Nurkic whose flashed great potential at times this season.

As for Shaw’s security there are areas of fair criticism, and he’s acknowledged that.

“If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then my head is going to be the one that’s on the guillotine. I understand that. I accept that. It’s all part of this whole thing in what we do. As long as I’m willing to accept that, I’m going to go out swinging.” - Brian Shaw, 11/13/14

As the #FireBrianShaw crowd on social media will be quick to remind you, his conflict with Andre Miller led to the veteran’s suspension and subsequent exit from Denver. There’ve also been philosophical disagreements with Faried that led to speculation of a rift between the two, although neither have claimed the issues ever became personal. Shaw’s honest, but very public, disappointment of his player’s effort bring to question if he can properly motivate the team.

Whether you think Shaw deserves to stay or needs to go, there is indisputable disinterest from a fanbase that was largely skeptical from the moment Karl was fired. That may be one reason that, according to two NBA sources, the name to keep an eye on in the unlikely event the Nuggets move away from Shaw would be Mike D'Antoni.

D’Antoni’s system is an entertaining, fast-paced attack that inspired the book, :07 Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns by Jack McCallum. His tenure in Phoenix included a record of 253-136, two appearances in the conference finals and Coach of the Year honors in 2005. If declining consumer interest is a concern to ownership as one would expect, D’Antoni’s philosophy could help in that area.

His first NBA head coaching job was actually with Denver during the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, before the Kroenke’s owned the team. His stops with the New York Knicks and Lakers following the glory days in Phoenix were much less successful, finishing 188-254.

D’Antoni does have familiarity with a few players on the Nuggets roster from his days in New York. At times, he’s spoken very highly of GallinariChandler and Mozgov although D’Antoni did go away from Mozgov in favor of a smaller lineup like the ones he had success with in Phoenix. Robinson, on the other hand, had a well publicized clash with the coach. In a unique twist, it was D’Antoni’s Phoenix squads that Shaw used as an example of running teams not translating well to the playoffs.

Again, a coaching change is not expected anytime soon as the Nuggets are more likely to begin making changes to their roster first. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com documented many of the other issues facing the organization. For now, ownership and managment can only hope the team improves enough to help regenerate interest locally by the time the Broncos playoff run is over.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

Report: Nuggets agree to extension with Faried

Oct 06, 2014 -- 3:18am

UPDATE: To comply with the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, the extention had to be re-worked so that it is less than five years.

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

Kenneth Faried

As reported by Yahoo! Sports, the Nuggets have reached an agreement on a five-year, $60 million extension with power forward Kenneth Faried. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Both Faried and general manager Tim Connelly had publicly stated their desire to reach a new deal before the October 31st deadline.

Last season began with Faried’s name uttered in trade rumors among speculation he didn’t fit in new coach Brian Shaw’s system. But by the end of the season he was one of the league’s most improved players and over the summer became a valuable piece of the U.S. Men’s National Team that took in gold in the FIBA World Cup.

Faried’s reward is a raise from the $3.436 million qualifying offer he’d be eligible for next season to a $12 million salary that will equal JaVale McGee as the team’s second-highest paid player behind Ty Lawson. The extension also means Faried joins Lawson and rookies Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Erick Green as the only players Denver has under contract following the 2015-2016 season.

What is uncertain is how this contract could be affected by the NBA ’s massive new television-rights deal, which should be announced this week. The salary cap should jump considerably, as the NBA’s new agreement with ESPN and Turner is expected to be worth nearly three-times their current amount. For that reason, some players (namely LeBron James) specifically structured their contracts to end before the new salary cap goes into effect. If existing contracts are left in their place, Faried’s contract would be valued as a huge bargain in the new marketplace.

However, there has been discussion the association and the player’s union may agree to a blanket increase in value for all existing contracts. For example, if the cap were to increase thirty percent, Faried’s contract would jump that same thirty percent from $12 million to $15.6 million. This idea is not only designed to be fair to all players, but to avoid a huge discrepancy in player value.

Regardless of the uncertainty of his future wages, Faried can be certain he’ll be making much more than he has under his rookie contract as Denver’s 22nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. As for the Nuggets, they now have another asset in the fold for the foreseeable future. Both sides will likely tout Faried’s place as a part of the team’s nucleus moving forward, however the extension also allows Connelly greater flexibility in future trade proposals as Denver continues to seek out that elusive franchise player.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

George Karl gives his thoughts on the Nuggets

Oct 03, 2014 -- 3:22pm

Former Nuggets head coach George Karl joined 102.3/105.5 ESPN to discuss the 2014-2015 outlook of his former team. Here are some of the highlights:

Karl discussed the return of Arron Afflalo.

Karl on the improvement he expects from Ty Lawson.

Karl on how he'd split time between Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee.

Karl on how Kenneth Faried may see his minutes cut.

Karl on what area the Nuggets need to improve in.

Karl believes the Nuggets can make the playoffs.

Media Day in Tweets

Sep 29, 2014 -- 3:45pm

Hickson suspended five games

Sep 17, 2014 -- 4:56pm
J.J. Hickson (Getty Images)

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

The NBA has announced J.J. Hickson will be suspended the first five games of the regular season for violating the association’s Anti-Drug policy. The unpaid suspension will force him to miss games against the Pistons, Thunder, Kings (twice) and the Cavaliers. The NBA only reveals specifics of performance-enhancing violations, meaning Hickson likely failed his test due to the presence of a recreational substance.

Hickson is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in March, the team has been optimistic he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. He would currently project as Kenneth Faried’s backup at power forward, although he can play center as well. In his absence, Darrell Arthur could see increased time while small forward Wilson Chandler has some experience at the four position as well. Denver also has plenty of depth at center with JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Jusuf Nurkic.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

Billups announces retirement

Sep 09, 2014 -- 10:04pm

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider


The face of Denver basketball, Chauncey Billups, is hanging up his sneakers. After playing 17 seasons in the NBA, he told Yahoo! Sports “it’s just time.” Billups played last year with the Pistons who declined his option for this upcoming season, he says he had opportunities to continue playing but declined.

Nicknamed “The King of Park Hill,” Billups attended George Washington, then played two seasons in Boulder at CU. He was the third pick in the 1997 NBA Draft by the Celtics before making nine stops with seven different teams during his career. While he may have racked up a lot of frequent flier miles, Billups was far from a journeyman.

After playing with the Celtics, Raptors, his hometown Nuggets and the Timberwolves- Billups found the right fit with the Pistons. He led them to the NBA Championship in 2004, culminating in an NBA Finals MVP award. Billups would go on to make five All-Star teams and his propensity to make clutch shots would earn him another nickname, “Mr. Big Shot.”

In 2008, he was traded back to the Nuggets and became the leader of the best team in franchise history, helping transform Denver into a Western Conference finalist. He’d later go to New York as a part of the Carmelo Anthony trade before finding his way to the Clippers and finishing up last year in Detroit, where he enjoyed his greatest NBA success.

Billups now looks forward to retiring here in Denver with his family. He’s expressed interest in working for an NBA front office or in media, but doesn’t appear to be in any rush.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

Faried makes final roster for World Cup

Aug 23, 2014 -- 9:47am

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

Kenneth Faried (Getty Images)

Following USA Basketball's 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico in an exhibition Friday, they announced the final 12 players who will represent the country during the FIBA World Cup. Kenneth Faried is one of them. 

Originally thought of by some as a camp body, Faried's presence became more essential following Paul George's gruesome injury and the withdrawal from competition by Kevin Love and Kevin Durant. It didn’t take long for the Nuggets' young forward to eventually find himself starting at power forward for Team USA.

The final four players cut Friday were headlined by Damian Lillard (Blazers), however the other three cuts were arguably more intriguing. Efficient outside shooters are typically high value players in international play; which is why the omission of Chandler Parsons (Mavericks), Kyle Korver (Hawks) and Gordon Hayward (Jazz) is surprising. There may be a method to the madness.

It's believed the host nation, Spain, posts the biggest threat to the United States due to their size. Pau Gasol (Bulls), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) and Serge Ibaka (Thunder) form a formidable front line for the Spainards. Coach K can now counter with a bigger group than originally expected including Mason Plumlee (Nets) who was a late addition after being promoted from the Select Team.

Back to the Manimal, it's a great opportunity for the Nuggets' youngster to improve on a large stage while learning from some of the game's best players. He's also hoping for a new contract soon, so the exposure isn’t a bad thing either.

Here's a projected depth chart heading into the August 30th opener against Finland. Expect players to play several different positions as is the norm in FIBA games:

Center: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee
Small Forward: James Harden, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan
Shooting Guard: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson
Point Guard: Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

Nuggets to sign Jerrelle Benimon

Aug 14, 2014 -- 5:25pm

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

Jerrelle Benimon

ESPN Denver can confirm, accoring to league sources, the Nuggets will sign undrafted forward Jerrelle Benimon out of Towson. The deal contains a very small guarantee as the team wants to see how he stacks up against NBA talent.

Nuggets scouts were impressed with Benimon during the summer and he was brought in for a workout which led to a place on Denver's summer league team. In those three games he averaged a double-double with 10.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest. 

The move brings Denver's roster to 16, it will need to be trimmed to 15 by the start of the regular season.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

Nuggets schedule released

Aug 13, 2014 -- 5:16pm

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider


LeBron James

The NBA’s 2014-2015 schedule was released Wednesday with the Nuggets opening the season at home against the Pistons on October 29th. Denver fans won’t have to wait long to see LeBron James and the Cavaliers who visit Pepsi Center on November 7th, the Nuggets’ fifth game of the season. Other notable home games include top pick Andrew Wiggins and the Timberwolves visiting Denver on December 26th and January 17th; Kobe Bryant and the Lakers coming to town December 30th and April 8th; and Carmelo Anthony returning to Pepsi Center on March 9th with his Knicks.

Denver’s longest road trip on the season is five games as they visit the Hornets, Grizzlies, Rockets, Heat and Magic in May. They also have a five-game homestand from late February to early March when the Nets, Suns, Jazz, Hornets and Bucks come to town. The Nuggets biggest schedule concern should be 21 back-to-back games, up from 14 a year ago. That trend extends across the league due in part to an extended All-Star break which now stretches one week.

Denver will be featured on national television 12 times: on ESPN for the aforementioned Cavaliers game on November 7th; on NBA TV when they visit Indiana November 14th and when they visit LeBron, Kevin Love and company on November 17th. The Nuggets are back on NBATV for trips to Washington on December 5th and Toronto on December 8th. Denver welcomes the Heat on December 10th which will be broadcast on ESPN, as will a matchup with the Rockets on December 17th. After the New Year, the Nuggets are on NBATV to host the Wizards January 25th. Denver makes their only appearance on TNT February 10th in Los Angeles against the Lakers. NBATV will also broadcast Denver’s visit to Oklahoma City on February 22nd and Portland March 28th. The Nuggets final game of the regular season is in Golden State April 15th and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Here is the complete schedule from Nuggets.com

Tags: Nuggets

Nuggets roster now at 15 with Nurkic and Harris signed

Jul 31, 2014 -- 4:38pm

By Raj Sharan
Nuggets/NBA Insider

Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris (Jennifer Pottheiser, Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Nuggets officially signed both of their first round draft picks. The 16th pick Jusuf Nurkic, will receive a four-year deal worth $7 million per the Denver Post. The third and fourth years of that contract are team options. Also according to the Post, the 19th pick Gary Harris signed a four-year deal as well. His contract is worth $6.1 million with the final two years also being team options.

These signings bring the roster to 15, the maximum amount allowed by the NBA. Here’s a look at your 2014-2015 Denver Nuggets:

Ty Lawson - The most important piece to the roster needs to stay healthy and continue to grow as a leader. As Brian Shaw says, the Nuggets go as he goes.

Arron Afflalo - Shaw will love this tough-nosed competitor who brings strong defense and outside shooting to the backcourt.

Nate Robinson - Denver missed his ability to catch fire offensively, he was a major factor in the team’s two winning streaks before his injury. Shaw calls him a freak of nature.

Randy Foye - A year ago, Foye was a trooper for the Nuggets playing way too many minutes and out of position at point guard. Now, he’s a nice three-point threat off the bench.

Gary Harris - If he can consistently hit shots from the outside during camp, his defense and toughness might make Foye expendable. More likely, he redshirts his rookie season.

Erick Green - His year abroad and summer league experience impressed the front office enough to sign him to a multi-year deal as insurance for Lawson and Robinson.

Kenneth Faried - Currently practicing with Team USA, the Nuggets were public about their desire to lock him up with a long-term deal. That said, no deal has been announced and his name also came up in trade rumors for Kevin Love.

Danilo Gallinari - The Nuggets sound confident he’ll be 100 percent this year. Denver needs him to be, but there could also be rust.

Wilson Chandler - After another season battling injuries, can he stay on the court and become more consistent in his play?

J.J. Hickson - Have to wonder if he’ll be ready to go by the start of the season considering his ACL tear was sustained in March.

Darrell Arthur - Also returning from injuries, Arthur is a favorite of Shaw because of his defense and shooting touch which stretched to three-point range last year.

Quincy Miller - He showed improved range during summer league, but he’ll need to show massive improvement to find time behind Gallinari and Chandler.

Timofey Mozgov - Finished last season as one of the most improved players in the NBA, goes into camp as odds-on favorite to win starting job.

JaVale McGee - One of the great talents in the entire league comes with lots of questions. Is he healthy? Is he focused? Can he finally realize his potential?

Jusuf Nurkic - Barring a rash of injuries as we saw last year, the 19 year old is expected to spend his rookie season learning the NBA game and assimilating to the United States.

Follow Raj Sharan on Twitter @Raj_Sharan

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