Will Barton

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

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

Rumor: Nuggets won’t trade Jamal Murray and Gary Harris for Kyrie Irving

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Cavaliers and Nuggets seemingly share a mutual belief, accurate or not, that the Pacers backed out of a three-way trade that would have included Paul George and Kevin Love.

Could Cleveland (which is still bitter about the missed opportunity) and Denver (which should be thrilled it signed Paul Millsap outright rather than trading assets for Love) connect on a trade that actually happens?

The Nuggets are a logical destination for Kyrie Irving, who has requested a trade.

Denver’s primary playmaker is a center, Nikola Jokic. Irving, oft-criticized for lacking full point-guard skills, could fit well with him  offensively.

Plus, the Nuggets have plenty of other intriguing assets worthy of Irving. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris stand out. Wilson Chandler and Will Barton could help make salaries match and upgrade the Cavs’ wing depth. Denver also has all its first-round picks.

Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

I hear Denver will not give up Murray and Harris in a deal.

Are the Nuggets refusing to trade Murray and Harris in a package – or is neither player available, even separately? Again, this is the type of detail that gets clouded as trade negotiations get leaked.

Both Murray and Harris would be a high price to pay for Irving, but Irving is more valuable than each individually. Even though Irving is unwilling to provide assurances beyond his current contract, which he can opt out of in two years, Denver is good enough to capitalize on his talent right now. The Nuggets can assess how much they value the present vs. the future, but with Millsap and Jokic, this is a team ready to make noise.

If Denver isn’t willing to trade Murray and Harris for Irving, OK. But if the Nuggets aren’t willing to trade Murray or Harris – and Jokic looks even more untouchable – for Irving, I don’t see how a deal gets done.

Report: Nuggets sign Paul Millsap to three-year, $90 million deal

AP
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The Denver Nuggets were fun last season, but I think they just got a lot more fun.

According to reports that were published on Sunday, the Nuggets signed Atlanta Hawks big man Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million deal.

The contract will pair Millsap along with Nikola Jokic in the Denver frontcourt, a combination that is no doubt going to be excellent at both passing and rebounding.

That’s without mentioning Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Will Barton, and other young talent on the Denver roster.

Via Twitter:

Millsap joins Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Paul George as just some of the big names to move from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference in the first few days of free agency.

At age 32 Millsap will be one of the oldest players on the Nuggets roster, but he will allow them to compete in an increasingly difficult and competitive West.

Playing for the Hawks last season, Millsap averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per-game. He should add a much needed veteran presence as well as solidify that frontline for the Nuggets.

Denver might not be done just yet. It has been reported that the Los Angeles Clippers have been interested in getting Danilo Gallinari over to California, so they may just add another player via a sign-and-trade here soon enough.

Wilson Chandler leads Nuggets past Cavaliers, 126-113

Associated Press
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DENVER (AP) — Wilson Chandler scored 18 points in his return from a four-game absence with a pulled groin and provided stellar defense on LeBron James in the Denver Nuggets’ 126-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

The Nuggets bounced back from consecutive heartbreaking last-second losses to Houston with a signature win that increased their lead to 1 1/2 games over idle Portland in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.

Will Barton scored 20 points, Kenneth Faried added 17 and Jamal Murray had 15 off the bench for Denver, which also got 21 points from Gary Harris and 16 from Nikola Jokic.

Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 33 points but James had just 18 and the two stars sat out much of the fourth quarter with Cleveland trailing by double digits.

The Nuggets took a 101-90 lead into the fourth quarter after an entertaining third quarter that included a James-fueled 15-4 run by the Cavs and a 15-3 response by the Nuggets that included nine points from Faried.

But the arena-rocking basket in the Nuggets’ big run came not from Faried but from Jokic, who backed down James during a particularly physical possession. His basket gave Denver a 99-83 lead.

Denver grabbed momentum midway through the second quarter when Murray swished three 3-pointers that gave the Nuggets a 50-40 lead.

The Nuggets doubled that cushion thanks in part to Richard Jefferson‘s face slap of Juancho Hernangomez for a flagrant foul. Hernangomez sank both free throws and then Barton swished a 3-pointer on the inbounds, capping a 7-0 spurt that gave Denver a 61-47 lead. The Nuggets pushed their lead to 69-49.

Chandler showed fresh legs and little rust in his return to action.

“He hasn’t played in 10, 11 days,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said before tip-off. “At least going into the game I feel that we have a body that can match up with LeBron’s physicality. He’s just such a versatile defender for us, so that’s going to be great to have him back.”

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: The Cavs, who fell to 18-17 on the road, had limited the Nuggets to an average of 99 points in their last three trips to the Pepsi Center, all wins. … The teams combined to miss just one free throw in the first half – by James. … Irving, who had 19 points in the first half, topped 20 points for the 19th consecutive game, extending the longest current streak in the NBA.

Nuggets: Danilo Gallinari missed his fourth straight game with a bone bruise on his left knee. … Denver already had 120 points by the time Deron Williams’ three-point play put the Cavs in triple digits at the 3:54 mark of the fourth quarter.

 

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

James Harden hits layup with 2.4 seconds left to lift Rockets

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden drove the length of the floor for a layup with 2.4 seconds left to lift the Houston Rockets over the Denver Nuggets 125-124 on Monday night.

Harden had 39 points, 11 assists and was three rebounds shy of his 20th triple-double of the season. Houston outlasted Denver in a duel between the second- and third-highest scoring teams in the NBA.

Harden likely saved the game for Houston, too, when he batted down an inbounds pass to Mason Plumlee near the basket following his layup.

Will Barton gave Denver a one-point lead on a three-point play with less than a minute left. On the following possession, Harden missed a layup, but he got it back on the other end of the floor when he rebounded Jameer Nelson‘s air-ball.

Harden took the ball down the court and scored on a finger-roll layup.

In a physical matchup between two teams that lean heavily on their ability to get to the free-throw line, neither the Rockets nor Nuggets appeared happy with the officiating in the game.

Gary Harris scored a career-high 28 points for Denver by shooting 10 for 16 from the floor and making three 3s. Nikola Jokic also gave Houston problems with his size on both ends of the floor. Jokic had 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Denver led 65-62 at the half as it outrebounded the Rockets 30-13 in the first half and Houston made just 7 of 20 3-pointers. Houston’s long-range shots finally began to fall late in the third quarter, and a 3-pointer from Patrick Beverley early in the fourth gave Houston a six-point lead that energized the Toyota Center crowd.

The Rockets finished the game 17 for 38 from 3 (44.7 percent).

Eric Gordon scored 18 points off the bench for Houston, and Beverley, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela all also scored in double figures for the Rockets.

The Nuggets are fighting for a playoff spot in the West and entered holding the eighth seed, but they’re also battling injuries. Danilo Gallinari (knee) and Wilson Chandler (groin) both participated in shootaround but did not play. Nuggets coach Mike Malone is hopeful they can be ready to play when the team faces the Cavaliers in Denver on Wednesday night.

Forward Darrell Arthur (left knee soreness) did not travel with the team to Houston, and Malone did not have a timetable for his return.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver outrebounded Houston 48-35 in the game but managed only 14 second-chance points to Houston’s 10. … Barton had 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds off the bench for Denver. … Denver made 24 of 26 free throws (92.3 percent). … Houston snapped Denver’s three-game road winning streak, a stretch that dated to Feb. 23

Rockets: Houston scored 27 points off Denver’s 21 turnovers while only turning the ball over 12 times and allowing 14 points on the other end. … Gordon tied a career high with his 35th block of the season, set during his rookie year in 2008-09.