Associated Press

Nuggets trade for Mason Plumlee, say center was too good to pass up

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DENVER (AP) — This was too good to pass up: Another center who unselfishly shares the ball.

That’s what sold the Denver Nuggets on Mason Plumlee as they officially traded for the versatile center Monday, sending bruising big man Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in return.

“Mason is a guy who complements what we have presently in the front court quite well,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “His playmaking is something unique and really stands out. Our offense is really humming right now.”

That’s in large part because of the play of Nikola Jokic, an up-and-coming big man who’s equally adept at passing (4.2 assists per game) as he is at scoring (16.3 points) and rebounding (8.6). Like Jokic, Plumlee has a knack for getting everyone involved and should slide right in whenever Jokic needs a breather.

The two big men may even take the floor at the same time.

Although, that’s an experiment the Nuggets tried early in the season with Nurkic and Jokic, leading to mixed results. Then again, Plumlee and Jokic have more similar-style games.

“It will be great to have almost the synergy of playing the same way with two bigs capable of making the same types of plays,” said coach Michael Malone, who doesn’t expect Plumlee to play Monday night against Golden State but more likely Wednesday against Minnesota. “We feel we have two of the better passing bigs in the NBA right now.”

Still, it was a difficult decision to send the 22-year-old Nurkic to a division rival, especially one that’s right on the Nuggets’ heels for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

The offer was just too enticing to turn down.

“By no means are we a finished product, but we feel Mason definitely helps us get in the direction where we’re headed and may be a playoff team,” Malone said. “His versatility, his athleticism, his I.Q., his playmaking, his rim presence defensively – he brings a lot of things to the table that will complement the players that we have.”

Golden State All-Star forward Kevin Durant thinks this move bolsters Denver.

“Those two are going to play well off each other,” Durant said. “Having two guys, as big fellas, that can do that, it takes the pressure off your wings, your point guards, allows them to play with their athleticism. … Adding another guy that can play definitely helps.”

As part of the deal, Denver also receives a 2018 second-round pick and cash considerations, while the Blazers get a 2017 protected first-rounder.

About that first-rounder the team surrendered: Connelly said that given the Nuggets’ youth – they have a half-dozen players 22 and under – the team was already struggling to find enough minutes for everyone.

“It’s becoming difficult to continue not just to roster those guys but develop those guys on the court,” Connelly said. “For us, we have so many interesting young players as is. We weren’t overly concerned with another pick in the 20s.”

Nurkic is averaging eight points this season. The 7-footer known as the “Bosnian Beast” simply became expendable with the emergence of Jokic, who turns 22 later this month.

Plumlee was a first-round pick by Brooklyn in 2013, before being dealt to Portland two years later. The former Duke standout averaged 11.1 points this season for Portland, along with eight rebounds and four assists.

Although he’s a restricted free agent this summer, the Nuggets have high hopes they can retain him.

“The deal was not done just for today. It was done for years moving forward,” Connelly said. “When you look at our free agent board, he was a guy that we had circled early in the process and, quite frankly, we didn’t feel confident we could get him without a move like this.”

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.