Danilo Gallinari

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Nuggets hooked a big fish in Paul Millsap

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The Nuggets apparently didn’t see the exemplary move of their offseason coming.

They tried to trade Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick for Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, but as Cleveland tells it, the Pacers backed out of the three-team trade. So, Denver traded down from No. 13 to No. 24, picking Tyler Lydon and acquiring Trey Lyles – two more power forwards to join a team that already had Juan Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur.

Finally, the Nuggets signed Paul Millsap – an upgrade over every power forward already on the roster and a better fit than Love – without surrendering any assets beyond cap space. And it wasn’t as much cap space as feared. Despite talk of a max contract, Millsap settled for $90 million over three years with a team option of the final season.

That’s a quite reasonable price for a potential franchise-changer.

Millsap isn’t Denver’s franchise player. That’s Nikola Jokic. But Millsap immediately elevates the Nuggets into a likely playoff team, and they got the 32-year-old without committing long-term.

After making Jokic a full-time start in December, Denver had the NBA’s best offensive rating (113.3). Better than the Warriors. Better than the Rockets. Better than the Cavaliers. Better than everyone else.

In that span, Jokic averaged 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game – marks hit over a full season by only Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Billy Cunningham and Kevin Garnett. That’s four Hall of Famers and a future Hall of Famer.

Still, the Nuggets finished just 40-42, a game out of playoff position. They had the NBA’s second-worst defense, and Jokic’s deficiencies were glaring. It’s just hard to hide a weak defensive center.

Millsap might do that, though. He’s one of the NBA’s best defensive forwards and even provides some rim protection. Importantly, he also spaces the floor on the other end, allowing Denver to still take full advantage of Jokic’s advanced offensive skills.

Typical development by a young core – which also includes Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – would have pushed the Nuggets forward. Millsap allows them to keep pace in a tough Western Conference that only loaded up this offseason.

Though well worth the complication, Millsap creates a crowd at power forward Denver has yet to address. At least there are plausible patches.

Faried can play center, though re-signing restricted free agent Mason Plumlee (whose $4,588,840 qualifying offer is outstanding) would reduce the playing time available there. Hernangomez can play small forward. Lydon might not be ready to play at all.

At some point, it’d be nice to get Hernangomez more minutes at his optimal position. He’s merely trying to tread water at small forward. As a stretch four who gets after rebounds, he could be a core piece.

For now, Millsap mans the power forward spot, and the Nuggets are better for it. Opening cap space for Millsap meant losing Danilo Gallinari in free agency, but Wilson Chandler and Will Barton are capable at small forward.

Denver’s sound drafting in recent years created a clean cap sheet, with several contributors locked into rookie-scale contracts – or, in Jokic’s case, an even smaller deal. The Nuggets could afford to splurge on a veteran who’d fast-track their ascension. Kudos to them for luring one – especially without a long-term guarantee.

Offseason grade: A

Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia may miss Eurobasket with ankle injury

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When the Golden State Warriors won the title last June, Zaza Pachulia walked around the court with the Georgian flag draped around his shoulders. He’s a man proud of his nation, and he was excited to represent them this summer in EuroBasket (after his government awarded him the Order of Honor after winning the title).

But it looks like you can add Pachulia to the insanely long list of guys out for the European championships. Pachulia has suffered an ankle injury, and while it’s not serious enough to slow him in Golden State’s training camp in a month, it could be keeping off the Georgian team for the tournament, according to his coach.

A final decision will come over the weekend.

Here’s a partial list of the players missing this EuroBasket: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari, Enes Kanter, Marcin Gortat Ersan Ilyasova, Omar Asik, Andrea Bargnani, Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Mirotic, and Sergio Llull. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

We’ll still be watching, but some of the drama has been sucked out of the event.

Report: Doc Rivers finished as Clippers’ president

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The Clippers lured Doc Rivers – a championship-winning coach – in 2013 with the promise of autonomy and a roster led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

They haven’t gotten what they bargained for.

For the last few years, the Clippers moved through Paul’s and Griffin’s primes without advancing past the second round. Despite a couple notable hits – J.J. Redick chief among them – Rivers repeatedly mismanaged the roster around the edges.

Now, the Clippers are stripping the president/coach of that first designation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is returning Doc Rivers to the primary duty of head coach, freeing him of front office responsibilities, the owner told ESPN on Friday.

Rivers, who held the title of president of basketball operations, will continue to have a strong voice in personnel and organizational matters and will partner with Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, Ballmer told ESPN. Frank will now oversee basketball operations, including the general manager.

Both Frank and Rivers will report directly to the owner. Frank and Rivers enjoy a strong personal and professional relationship, which has allowed for them to cement a shared vision on the franchise’s future.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

https://twitter.com/sam_amick/status/893535296762949632

Rivers just never seemed able to grasp the complexities of roster construction. Among the lowlights:

  • Attaching a first-round pick just to dump Jared Dudley (who would’ve been productive for the Clippers) while still taking back and stretching Carlos Delfino (who would’ve productive for the Clippers) and Miroslav Raduljica – all to stay under a hard cap the Clippers seemingly unknowingly triggered
  • Trading for Austin Rivers, who – despite developing into a rotation-caliber player – invites charges of nepotism that contributed to a disjointed culture
  • Trading a first-round pick for the overrated Jeff Green, who was on an expiring contract then left the following summer

Rivers helped DeAndre Jordan reach his potential, but that was more a product of coaching than front-office work. Now, Rivers is back in a role where he’s a proven success.

This is a quick rise for Lawrence Frank, who joined the Clippers as an assistant coach, got promoted to the front office and will now run the operation. He apparently learned something about internal politics in his time with the Nets.

It’s unclear how Jerry West fits into the new structure.

Rivers’ job is now much more straightforward: Design and implement a game plan to succeed without Paul, who’s now with the Rockets. The Clippers have a hodgepodge of interesting new pieces: Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. How do they fit with Griffin and Jordan?

It’s on Rivers to answer that question – and no others. If Rivers can’t make it work, it’s on Frank to make the bigger adjustments.

Danilo Gallinari apologizes: Netherlands was playing dirty, but my reaction was inexcusable

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Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari, playing for Italy against the Netherlands, hit Dutch forward Jito Kok so hard in the face, Gallinari hurt his hand.

Gallinari in La Gazzetta dello Sport, as translated by E. Carchia of Sportando:

“I am very sorry for so many reasons. First because I am not part anymore of the Italian NT team and for the way I left it. Italian NT is like a second family to me and I feel really bad. I reacted after being elbowed. My reaction must be condemned but I got an elbow and we’ll never know if it was on purpose or not. The problem is that the elbows were flying high for a while during the game and when we were shooting they put their feet under us with the risk of getting hurt. In a short way, they were not playing clean. The game looked more as a fight. With this, I am not seeking an alibi, my reaction is inexcusable. I apologize to my teammates, to the whole National Team and also to Kok. I lost my control, never happened before and never have to happen again” Gallinari said.

Good for Gallinari for both apologizing and explaining himself. This is a great template for anyone who wants to do both.

Hawks waive Diamond Stone, who had guaranteed contract

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When Diamond Stone entered the NBA draft a year ago, he looked like a first-round pick.

Now, the Hawks are paying him to go away.

The No. 40 pick last year, Stone signed a two-year guaranteed contract with the Clippers. After acquiring Stone in a trade, Atlanta is willing to eat his $1,312,611 salary.

Hawks:

Atlanta never necessarily wanted Stone. The Clippers had to deal him (and Jamal Crawford) to match Danilo Gallinari‘s salary in a sign-and-trade. The Hawks got a first-round pick for taking the unwanted players, bought out Crawford and have now dropped Stone.

Atlanta also has enough centers with Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins, Mike Muscala and Miles Plumlee.

But the timing is curious.

As long they’re paying Stone anyway, why not bring him to training camp and assess his value further? It’d cost the same amount to waive him in October. Stone is limited by his lack of explosiveness and mobility, but he has some interior skills. At just 20, he still could develop into a useful NBA player.

Do the Hawks have other moves lined up to fill their 20-man offseason roster? Was this a favor to Stone to give him a head-start on finding his next team?