Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl watches his team play against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of their NBA Western Conference basketball playoffs in Denver

NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

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Last season: The Nuggets continue to out-perform expectations while never really accomplishing anything of note.

They battled through all the roster turnover from one year to the next and a slew of quietly really damaging injuries to land the sixth seed last season after a hot start. Danilo Gallinari suffered two significant injuries that severely limited his ability to make the kind of impact he did at the start of the season where he looked like the best player on the team.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried emerged as a huge part of their future, and helped justify dumping Nene’s $13 million per year deal to get rid of an injury-riddled veteran. They brought in JaVale McGee with all his nonsense and faults, and the results were mixed. He had some genuinely electric playoff moments, but was still JaVale McGee.

They ran up against the Lakers and dug a hole. It looked over and they would quietly exit the playoffs. Instead, they battled back relentlessly and forced a game 7 against a team they were out-matched against, but didn’t have enough to get over the hump on the road. The result was the same, and the same questions lingered for Denver.

Key Departures: Arron Afflalo was the Nuggets’ best offensive weapon over the past three years, and now he’s wearing a deeper blue in Orlando. Al Harrington was a versatile scorer who put in a suprising amount of work defensively last year, and he’s also gone.

Rudy Fernandez headed home after threatening it for a half-decade, and Birdman Andersen was amnestied to make way for the future.

Key Additions: Denver snuck into the Dwight Howard trade and used their assets to grab Andre Iguodala. Iguodala gives them a hyper versatile forward who can run, rebound, pass, score, and defend at an elite level. He should fit in really well with the athleticism of Denver, and will be relied upon as the primary defensive stopper for George Karl. It cost a lot to get him but made them an overall much superior team.

They drafted Frenchman Evan Fournier in the first round and instead of sticking him overseas, have brought him over. The Nuggets already have more wings than they know what to do with, so Fournier likely won’t get many minutes this season. They also brought in Quincy Miller, who’s in a similar situation. They just have too much depth on the wings.

Anthony Randolph gives them another athletic big man to run the floor with and his ability to stretch the floor is something George Karl should get mileage out of as well.

Three keys to the Nuggets season:

1) Does speed kill the defense?: Karl has talked in the preseason about not needing to get into the elite level in traditional categories, but getting the defense overall into the good territory so that their point differential increases. There’s no plan to slow down the offense, so the question is, can you run a fast-pace team who also defends well?

To try and get it done, Karl will focus on the team’s athleticism in an attempt to pressure the ball and get into passing lanes. There will be a reliance on Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov as shot-blockers to “intimidate” defensivel, as Karl said on media day.

It’s never been a reliable method for improving defense. You usually have to grind the game down to give yourself time to set into your defensive positions and rotations, and an up and down game naturally opens the floor up for both teams. That will be the biggest challenge this season.

2.) Find shooters, or invent them. Danilo Gallinari has been snakebit the past two years. Whether it was injury, adjustment or bad luck, a normally reliable shooter tailed off the past two years. It came with an improvement in driving and drawing fouls, but the Nuggets still need him to stretch the floor.

They lack shooters, and their replacement options are unproven. Corey Brewer has historically been an awful perimeter shooter. Fournier is too green to see much court time. Ty Lawson can drill, but that would require someone else running the offense a majority of the time. He’ll get his, but they still need another option. Jordan Hamilton may be that fit. The second-year man out of Texas has great length and a reliable form. If the shooters don’t come around, the offense will still be good but not good enough.

3.) The Break’s Over, Here Comes The Takeover. Ty Lawson is going to have to take over the game at times. Andre Iguodala may be the most gifted player on the team, but Lawson has the ability to own the opponent with huge shots. That’s got be his role, and helping get Iguodala going will be a big part of it. At the same time, Lawson simply has to be the primary offensive threat and make himself into a household name. It’s a big step in front of him.

What Nuggets fans should fear: The defense can’t get a grip in the fast pace, Iguodala doesn’t make enough of an impact and no center emerges to protect the rim. McGee struggles as always and that contract becomes disastrous. There are no shooters and teams know to pack the paint and let the Nuggets shoot. Kenneth Faried hits his ceiling, none of the other players make jumps, and the team bobs along at the same level it has for two years.

How it likely works out: No reason to think Denver can’t challenge for the third seed. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried alone is a triumverate worthy of consideration in the West. When you factor their style, how well the roster is built, their depth, and the likelihood of at least a few players improving to the point of relevance, the Nuggets will once again be a fun team to watch who wins a bunch of games.

And yet still not title contenders.

Prediction: 51-31. Denver cracks 50 wins without a superstar, plays at a high level, thrills fans and league pass addicts, then loses in a tough second-round series. What is what what was is what shall be.

Paul George says he’ll willing to play all 48 minutes in Game 6 against Raptors

Indiana Pacers' Paul George (13) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll (5) defends during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA first-round playoff basketball series, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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The on/off splits for Paul George in the Pacers-Raptors series, which Toronto leads 3-2, are jarring:

  • On: +26 in 189 minutes
  • Off: -29 in 51 minutes

Indiana’s problems without George came to a head in Game 5. In the 6:55 George sat, the Pacers shot 0-for-10 and got outscored 19-1. That was more than enough for the Raptors, who won by three when Solomon Hill‘s game-tying 3-pointer left his hand a fraction of a second too late.

How do the Pacers solve this problem?

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Paul George said he is willing to play 48 minutes in Friday night’s Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors if needed.

“If that’s the direction that the game is going, I’m all for it,” George said after Thursday’s practice. “Whatever we got to do to win, I’m doing it.”‘

The only player to play a full this game was Rajon Rondo, who played 48 minutes in consecutive (!) Kings games in November. The last player to do it in a playoff game was Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes of a Bulls’ overtime loss to the Wizards in 2014.

So, it can be done, and George is the type of athlete who can do it.

But can George sustain his elite production without a rest? That’s the main question, including how it’d affect him for a potential Game 7. With Indiana’s season on the line, it might be worth finding out.

There are also last drastic solutions. Frank Vogel used one lineup the entire time George sat in Game 5: Ty LawsonRodney StuckeyC.J. Miles-Solomon Hill-Ian Mahinmi.

Maybe don’t run the offense through Lawson, Stuckey and Miles at any point of a must-win game? Stagger minutes between George and Monta Ellis and maybe George Hill. Ellis is the type of player who can lead a bad team in scoring, but regularly bad would be a huge step up for the George-less Pacers. George Hill has also proven capable of handling the reins without George.

Vogel’s goal should be maximizing George’s minutes but also minimizing time Indiana spends without George, Ellis or George Hill.

Kevin Durant doesn’t regret Kawhi Leonard ‘system’ comments, praises Spurs forward now

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, right, defends as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, left, looks for a shot in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. Oklahoma City won 112-106. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Right after Kawhi Leonard won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant sent these tweets favoring Paul George over Leonard:

With Durant’s Thunder set to face Leonard’s Spurs in the second round, how does Durant feel about Leonard now?

Durant, via Travis Singleton:

He’s definitely grown as a player. He’s not a system player. I know you guys like to throw that word, that term, around.

But he’s just grown so much as a player, a guy that can – I have to be locked in every play. He can shoot the mid-range. He can post up. He can shot the 3. He can dribble. He’s just grown so much as a player. Defensively, probably one of the best guys in the league.

So, it’s fun. It’s fun when you get that matchup at the small forward. There’s so many great guys, but he’s one of the guys that’s in the top tier.

Does Durant regret his 2014 tweets? Durant, via Singleton:

No I don’t. At the time, I didn’t even call him a system player. I just said Paul George was better. I like Paul George better as a player. I can be a fan of the game, too. And I thought Paul George – one of my guys was debating with me and said that he was better than Paul George at the time, and I didn’t think so.

I’m not taking back. I said the system is the reason he’s out there. Pop put him in great positions to be the player that he is. So, I don’t regret it at all.

He’s grown. It’s three years ago. If he hasn’t grown, that’s on him. But he’s grown as a player.

And, yeah, I don’t take it back.

Durant was wrong two years ago. Gregg Popovich certainly helped Leonard, and the coach would’ve helped George, too. But answering whether Leonard would’ve excelled with the Pacers with a flat “no” was ridiculous. Leonard was already awesome and would’ve been with any team.

Now, the Leonard-George debate – an interesting one in 2014 – has ended. As impressive as George has been in his return from injury, Leonard has passed him.

Durant recognizes that, and he’ll get to see first-hand starting tomorrow.

Dennis Schröder held back from Isaiah Thomas after Hawks-Celtics series ends (video)

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The final game of the Hawks’ 4-2 win over the Celtics included little drama – until it was ending.

Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schröder got into it earlier in the series, and Thomas appeared to want more as he left Game 6. The Boston guard had toward Schröder on the Atlanta bench. After the buzzer, Schröder was held back from going the direction of Thomas.

Was Schröder definitely going after Thomas? No. Players were exchanging well wishes near center court, and Schroder might have just wanted to join. But with a series against the Cavaliers upcoming, the Hawks preferred not to take any chances.

Spirits of St. Louis owner Ozzie Silna, who made incredible deal in NBA-ABA merger, dies

FILE - In this May 23, 2006 file photo, Ozzie Silna poses for a photo at his home in Malibu, Calif. Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association team into a four-decade cash cow worth nearly $800 million in NBA money, has died at age 83, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association franchise into a four-decade windfall of nearly $800 million from the NBA in what’s commonly called the greatest deal in sports history, has died at age 83.

Silna’s younger brother and Spirits of St. Louis co-owner Daniel Silna told The Associated Press that his brother’s funeral was held Thursday. Ozzie Silna died Tuesday at a Los Angeles hospital after a brief illness, his brother said.

The two brothers made their millions without having to pay players, build arenas or hire coaches. They only had to sit back and cash the checks.

Banking on an eventual ABA-NBA merger, they bought the failing Carolina Cougars of the ABA in 1974 for about $1 million and promptly moved it to St. Louis, then the biggest American city without a pro basketball team.

After the 1975-76 season the NBA agreed to a merger, accepting four of the six remaining teams into the league. The Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs got in. The Kentucky Colonels, and the Spirits, did not.

As part of a concept he and attorney Donald Schupak dreamed up months earlier, Ozzie Silna negotiated to receive four-sevenths of a share of the NBA’s annual TV revenue for as long as the NBA was around.

The agreement was drawn up to be as broadly defined and open-ended as possible. It worked.

At the time, it was worth about $300,000 a year. But as the NBA and its popularity grew, the annual checks grew into the tens of millions.

“You’ve got to be lucky in a lot of this stuff,” Ozzie Silna told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “But you’ve got to see the stuff, too. If it’s there, and you don’t see it, you don’t have a chance to get lucky.”

By 2014 the brothers had netted nearly $300 million from the deal. By that time the NBA was challenging the arrangement in court.

That year they settled with the league in a deal that paid them $500 million and kept a much smaller stream of money coming in, according to the New York Times, which reported Silna’s death Wednesday along with TMZ Sports.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by Silna’s death.

“Ozzie and his brother Dan owned the St. Louis Spirits at a time when the ABA’s future was uncertain, but he loved the game and was determined to be part of professional basketball,” Silver’s statement said.

Born Uziel Silna in Israel in 1932, he moved to New Jersey when he was 7. He made his money in his family’s textile business before buying the Spirits.

In later years, he lived in Malibu, California, where he was a tenacious fighter for environmental causes.

In the ABA, the brothers accumulated an eclectic and unpredictable talent pool that was typical of the freewheeling league – Marvin Barnes, Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas. They also gave a young Bob Costas his first play-by-play job as their announcer.

Silna downplayed the brilliance of the deal he and Schupak drew up. In fact, Silna says, the basis for it came months earlier when only seven teams – the final six and the Virginia Squires – were left standing in the ABA.

League owners the figured six teams would be allowed in the NBA, and one would be left out. Silna wanted to be equitable to the owner who was excluded. He assumed it wouldn’t be him.

“That’s how we came up with the one-seventh” figure, he told the AP in the 2006 interview. “I thought that seventh team deserved the same benefit as the other six.”

But the Squires folded, and Silna and Schupak applied the parameters they’d set up for that team to themselves. One-seventh times four – four teams were admitted to the NBA – equals four-sevenths, which is the cut the Silnas got each year.

“Some people say it’s the best deal ever done,” Silna said. “I just looked at it as a way of being fair.”

AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this story.