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Nuggets ownership takes big risk in changing management, maybe team direction

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The Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team, the three seed in the West (that might well have done better in the playoffs if healthy). This was a roster  overhauled from the Allen Iverson/Carmelo Anthony days into an exciting, fast-paced team that runs the floor and attacks the rim. They were the up-and-coming team on everybody’s radar.

Now it all could change.

First general manager Masai Ujiri left for Toronto, now the Nuggets have let go of coach George Karl. Those would be the just named NBA Executive and Coach of the Year award winners — they are the architects of this team.

It’s bold. It’s risky. It could blow up this team of the future. Or it could be the next step in its evolution (it is going to go over with some Nuggets fans better than you think).

How it happened is not a huge surprise to those close to the team. Denver, under own Stan Kroenke and with son Josh running the show, have never been a team that is known for big spending on the front office. So when Toronto called and offered Ujiri more power and six times the money he made last year, well, what would you expect him to say?

With the GM gone, Karl began to push harder for a contract extension — he had one year left on his deal, he didn’t want to be a lame duck under a new GM. Hard to blame him, but from the other side ownership didn’t want to saddle a new GM with an expensive old coach that may not like a new direction. And if you let Karl stick around as a lame duck, well, he has  a history of that being a distraction.

There also were questions about how Karl’s teams performed in the playoffs, having been eliminated in the first round again this season.

So Kroenke let him go. It gives the new GM, whoever he may be, a tabula rasa — he can hire his own coach, chart his own course.

That GM also might decide to radically change the roster, something that likely would not have sat well with Karl.

“But this roster won 57 games” you say, why would he blow it up? Well, first off he might have some changes forced upon him — Andre Iguodala, who can opt out of his contract for next season and is expected to, said he needed to think about this and what it means for his future in Denver when asked by David Aldridge of NBA.com.

If Iguodala leaves there would need to be other roster changes. Could a new GM look to move JaVale McGee? More likely he would demand the new coach start McGee. The new GM could decide the kind of team being built was really built for the regular season and couldn’t win a title, so it is time for another direction?

Depends on who is hired. Depends on what the Kroenke family wants. We don’t know what their vision, what their plan is long term. They have taken a big risk by losing one of the most coveted GMs in the league and then letting go a top-flight coach. Those are not easy things to replace.

And if they don’t replace them well it will show up on the court and be a big setback for a team that had taken big steps forward.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.