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NBA Preview: Denver Nuggets

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Last season: 53-29, tied them for the four seed in the West, but without George Karl on the sidelines (due to cancer treatments) they got bumped off in six games by a Mehmet Okur-less Jazz team.

Head Coach: George Karl is back after missing the second half of last season ad the playoffs battling throat cancer. There is nobody in the league we are all happier to see back and working than him.

Key Departures: Carmelo Anthony… wait not yet. Soon the court just Johan Petro and Joey Graham, which are not really that big a loss.

Off the court the changes were big — gone are Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman, who were the decision makers. In their place comes Masai Ujiri. But the real power is Josh Kronke, the former Missouri basketball player and son of current owner Stan Kronke. Stan is buying the St. Louis Rams and has to sell the Nuggets, so Josh will get them. Josh worked his way up through the Nuggets front office and he (along with advisor Bret Bearup) should be the ultimate decision maker for this franchise.

Key Additions: Al Harrington, constant swirling trade rumors

Best case scenario: Carmelo Anthony is not traded, has a huge season, the Nuggets stay healthy and they return to the Western Conference finals, where they were a couple years ago. Karl has said the “final four” is the goal, and we’re going to assume he didn’t mean the Nuggets were being relegated to the NCAA.

For that to happen: Carmelo Anthony has to not only stay in Denver, it situation needs to stop being a distraction. Meaning he needs to sign the extension and get his teammates to rally around him for another big run.

If Anthony did that, Denver has the talent to be a force once they get Kenyon Martin back healthy later this season. This is a good, consistent roster. Karl can mold them. Harrington will be a boost up front, Billups may be getting up there but he still has plenty of game. There are good young players like Ty Lawson to add some energy. You can see how a run comes together with this unit…

Not going to happen. Never say never, but Anthony signing that extension and not being a distraction seems like a crazy long shot right now.

And if Anthony is not going to be back — how do you predict how good this team is? With him in house and focused the Nuggets are a team that wins in the low 50s in games, that is on that second tier in the West. Final four could happen. But is Anthony going to sign an extension for a maybe final four? Seems he is intent on pushing his way out.

The real question is how the Nuggets front office decides to go about a trade. The reports are now they are pushing in trade talks for players that will keep them in the playoffs now as well as picks and young players to rebuild with. Basically the best of both worlds – getting that is about as likely as Anthony signing his extension.

The smart move seems to be to trade Anthony for good young players and picks, then do the same with Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Nene. Rebuild from the ground up. If handled right there would be a stockpile of players and picks and the rebuilding would be off to a fast start.

You can’t rebuild on the fly, rebuild without a huge drop-off, unless you are a team willing to spend well over the luxury tax to do it. Denver is not that market.

More likely the Nuggets will: Be disappointing. To use the words of PBT’s own Rob Mahoney, one way or another it will likely be disappointing.

They probably trade Anthony, followed by a trade of Billups at least. They will get some players back — this is Anthony, he’s a big chip — but essentially the Nuggets will at some point this season decide they have to get something for Anthony so they don’t end up like Cleveland or Toronto.

Prediction: 41-41. But that is a wild guess. If the core stays together all season they win 50, if they trade Anthony before the season starts it could be more like 30 wins. Who knows? So we split the difference.

Report: David Blatt near deal to coach Darussafaka in Turkish league

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 28, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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David Blatt said he was going to be a head coach somewhere next season.

That turned out not to be in the NBA, where he interviewed and was in the running for the head coaching jobs with the Nets, Knicks, and Rockets but didn’t land any of them. So rather than be a lead assistant, or just wait the market out, he is headed back to Europe, Turkey in particular, reports David Pick, a well-connected basketball reporter.

Darussafaka Dogus is based out of Istanbul and was in the EuroLeague for the first time last season (that’s the highest level of European basketball, featuring the best teams from leagues around the continent, similar to the Champions League in soccer). Darussafaka is trying to climb the ladder and compete with the traditional powers of Turkish basketball, Fenerbahçe and Turkey Anadolu Efes. The Darussafaka roster includes Sixers’ Summer League standout Scottie Wilbekin, Luke Harangody, Jamon Gordon, and Reggie Redding from the United States.

Hiring Blatt, who had tremendous success in Europe before coming to the NBA, would be a coup for the club. One they certainly are paying handsomely for.

Blatt won 67.5 percent of his games over a season-and-a-half with the Cavaliers and guided the team to the NBA Finals, but he never fully meshed with LeBron James and the Cavs veterans. Part of that was on Blatt — he demanded respect for his time spent and success in Europe, and that plus his need to be the smartest guy in the room rubbed players the wrong way. Blatt wasn’t humbly trying to earn respect, and the players went to current Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue when frustrated with Blatt. Eventually, Cavaliers management turned to Lue to coach the team because of team chemistry concerns.

Blatt deserved another chance in the NBA, but that didn’t come this summer. We’ll see if his return to Europe impacts that in the future.

Watch Stephen Curry drop 36 in Game 7 to knock off Thunder (VIDEO)

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If you watch the highlights, you will see plenty of Stephen Curry hitting threes — including the dagger late — to lead the Warriors to a 96-88 Game 7 win over the Thunder. He was masterful and finished with 36 points.

But it was more than just the threes.

Curry was attacking the bigs that switched on to him off the pick-and-roll far more this game, both by hitting threes over them — four of his seven threes came against bigs switched onto him, according to Synergy Sports — but also by blowing by those bigs and getting into the lane. Look at his shot chart from the night.

Curry Game 7 shotchart

“I could tell in Game 6 that he was starting to feel like himself,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 7. “He looked better. He looked like he was moving better. I told our coaching staff yesterday, I have no doubt Steph’s going to have a huge game. That’s just who he is. And he looked right again.”

When Curry is attacking and hitting threes, well, you get nights like this.

Kevin Durant entering free agency on sour note

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hugs Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors after losing 96-88 in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The superstar free agent enters the offseason with three straight playoff losses, a once-promising season ended in devastating fashion.

Kevin Durant? Yes.

LeBron James in 2010? Also yes.

Will Durant follow LeBron’s lead and leave the team that drafted him?

Those Cavaliers didn’t beat the 67-15 Spurs. They didn’t push the 73-9 Warriors to a Game 7. They didn’t have Russell Westbrook.

And, of course, Durant isn’t LeBron.

But the Thunder must feel sick about letting this opportunity slip away – not just a trip to the Finals, but a chance to remind Durant of their virtues. Golden State – a leading suitor for Durant – undid so much of the progress Oklahoma City made in the postseason with this comeback from down 3-1, capped with a 96-88 win tonight.

“We just lost like 30 minutes ago,” Durant said. “So, I don’t have any thought about it.”

For much of the playoffs the Thunder did everything they could to convince Durant to stay. They carved up the Mavericks, overpowered the Spurs and outraced the Warriors through the Western Conference finals’ first four games. It seemed no team could offer Durant a better situation.

Now, it’s as tempting as ever to imagine Durant with Golden State.

Durant must weigh what joining the team that beat him would do to his image, but there’s no doubt that the Warriors are better than the Thunder. There can’t be after a 16-win difference in the regular season and these last three games. Oklahoma City might flip the script next season if Durant re-signs, but he must also assess how much better Golden State would be with him. At minimum, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson not guarding him anymore.

The Thunder didn’t do their part to send Durant into free agency on a high note, but he did all he could. Unlike LeBron in 2010, Durant didn’t shrink from the moment of his high-pressured closeout game with free agency looming. Durant scored 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting against those elite defenders, including a late personal 7-0 run that cut the deficit to four points.

Then, Stephen Curry scored six straight – drawing a foul on a 3-pointer and hitting a 3-pointer – to put the game out of reach. These Warriors are special. Durant has to see that.

Not that he’s focused on Golden State (or the Spurs, Celtics, Rockets or…). This loss is too raw.

“It hurts losing,” Durant said. “It hurts losing, especially being up three games to one.

“It sucks to lose. It sucks.”

How long will that feeling last, and how strongly will Durant associate it with Oklahoma City? The Thunder can offer more money, but one of their biggest selling points is their team success – and that seems like a distant memory. Right now, Oklahoma City is on a three-game losing streak that won’t be snapped before Durant signs somewhere.

Durant will weigh the prudent details, but his will be an emotional decision. Where does he feel most comfortable?

There’s plenty of time to decide. Free agency begins July 1, and he’ll surely want to meet with teams before finalizing a choice.

The Thunder have done him well for years, and they’d remain elite with him.

But they can’t feel good with this being Durant’s final image of their season – victorious Warrior after victorious Warrior hugging Durant and consoling him on Oklahoma City’s third straight failure.

Too much Stephen Curry, too many threes bury Thunder in Game 7, Warriors win 96-88, advance to Finals

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For seven games the athleticism and improved defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder smothered nearly everything Golden State tried to do inside the arc. The Thunder length and aggressiveness had them owning the paint and dominating the glass much of the series. Oklahoma City outplayed Golden State below the arc all series long.

But the Warriors owned the three ball.

“They beat us from the 3-point line the last two games, we beat them from everywhere else,” Kevin Durant said after Game 7.

After a rough shooting first half (again), the three balls started to fall for Golden State in the second half of Game 7 Monday — many of them contested, the Thunder defense remained stout. The Warriors opened the game 2-of-6 from three, then hit 12 of their next 24 — 10-of-20 in the second half — while the Thunder missed 13 straight at one point.

The Warriors made 10 more threes than the Thunder in Game 7 and — just as it was in Game 6 — that proved to be the difference. The Warriors came from down 3-1 to win Game 7 96-88 and take the series.

Golden State will host Cleveland in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

“I knew we were ready for the moment,” Stephen Curry said after the game. “I knew we were a mature basketball team that tried our best to not listen to the noise outside. Six or seven days ago when we were down 3-1 everybody thought the wheels were falling off and it was the end of our run, but not the locker room. The talk was positive, it was let’s figure this out, let’s go out and take it one game at a time, claw our way back into the series, and see what happens.”

It took the best run of games these Warriors have put together in two-plus seasons — a stretch that included a championship and 73 regular season wins — to get past OKC and back to the Finals. The Thunder’s improved defense and great scoring  forced the Warriors to find another gear.

But Golden State always had the three ball to bail them out. Look at their shot chart from Game 7.

Warriors Game 7 shot chart

Curry, who finished with 36 points and hit 7-of-12 from three, was the difference as he played like the MVP version of himself. That version had been held in check much of the series by the Thunder’s defense, and likely a lingering knee issue (although he would never admit that). All series long Curry had struggled to beat the Thunder bigs who switched onto him off picks, but not in Game 7 when he hit four threes over those bigs, and blew by them and into the lane a host of other times.

“I could tell in Game 6 that he was starting to feel like himself,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 7. “He looked better. He looked like he was moving better. I told our coaching staff yesterday, I have no doubt Steph’s going to have a huge game. That’s just who he is. And he looked right again.”

Kevin Durant was giving up the ball and finding teammates early in the game, trying to get others involved, but late in the fourth he put together a personal 7-0 run that made it a four-point game inside three minutes. Durant was a beast and finished with 27 points to lead the Thunder. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 13 assists. They just didn’t have the threes to keep up with the Warriors.

Early on it in Game 7 felt like it might be the Thunder’s night. It was a disjointed start to the game (as often happens in Game 7s), which helped Steven Adams get a couple of buckets and had the Thunder trying to move the ball. Both teams had jitters and guys are trying to do a little too much, evidence by Curry starting 3-of-8 and Thompson 0-of-4. What OKC did was get six offensive boards in first quarter, which had then up 24-19.

In the second, Waiters came in and played a little out of control but proved to be a spark that had the Thunder pushing the lead up to 13. The Thunder also got solid play early from Enes Kanter, who had eight points and four rebounds in eight minutes. Meanwhile, the Warriors were missing their twos — started 6-of-20 inside the arc — but unlike Game 6 they were missing their threes as well. Play Thompson started 0-of-7.

Then Thompson hit three in a row from beyond the arc, the Warriors’ energy returned, and they went on 11-2 run to make it a game again. Thunder responded with 7-0 run of their own. Then Warriors have 7-0 run to get it to five. By the half, it was 48-42 Oklahoma City.

Golden State came out gunning from three to start the second half and behind a few Curry threes went on a 15-4 run and the Warriors were up 57-54. The Thunder hung around but got sucked into the wrong style of play and they missed 13 consecutive threes at one point. The threes were falling for the Warriors, the Thunder could not buy a bucket, it was a 29-12 third quarter for the Warriors and they were up 71-60. The Warriors felt in control.

“I actually thought we got some good looks,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of the third quarter. “I thought we really, really good looks. They made some shots… I liked the way we played on offense tonight, we moved the ball and played the right way…..

“We were right there every step of the way with them, and this was a record setting team, and a team that’s won a world championship. So you can sit there and say what happened, but you’ve got to give them credit. Give them credit.”

But the Thunder played too hard and too well this series to go quietly into that good night. Durant made his push, they crashed the glass, they defended with heart and made plays down the stretch. A foul by Serge Ibaka on a Curry three may have sealed the Warriors fate — a four-point game became seven, and that was too much to overcome.

Because the Warriors threes kept falling no matter what.