What now for the Nuggets? Playoff push or fast trades?

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Congratulations Denver.

Sure, having your star player and face of the franchise force his way out of town doesn’t feel like something to be congratulated over, but there is the silver lining you keep hearing about — at least you’re not Cleveland. That’s got to make you feel better, right? You got something in return at least.

Maybe it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s sort of true. You got some nice role players — Raymond Felton is a quality point guard, Danilo Gallinari can shoot, Wilson Chandler has real game, Timofey Mozgov is tall and sets a nice screen.

But what that means now — and by now we mean in the next 24 hours — is the Nuggets front office has another serious question to answer:

How important is it for Denver to make the playoffs?

How you answer that determines what you do between now and the deadline.

As of Wednesday morning the Blazers, Hornets and Nuggets are tied for the 5 to 7 slots in the West, with Utah 1.5 games back in the 8 slot and the Grizzlies half a game behind the Jazz in the nine slot. The Suns are 2 games back of the Grizzlies in 10th.

If you are going to make a playoff push — and George Karl wants to — then you keep Nene and Gallinari, you give Chandler lots of minutes. You hope that Portland slips against its tough schedule the rest of the way.

And the Nuggets may be leaning this way — according to Marc Spears at Yahoo the Nuggets plan to offer Nene a contract extension, not trade him away. That will be for about five years, $50 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Which seems about right based on what Joakim Noah and Al Horford got.

But Wojnarowski adds that Nene is intrigued by how he would fit in with Oklahoma City. And that would be intriguing. The Thunder only need a couple pieces and a big like Nene is one of them. It has to be tempting. Other tempting teams need a big too, like Miami.

Then there is Gallinari, which has the Clippers dangling a pretty good first round pick to get. If you want to make a playoff run you need to keep him. If you are going to dive headlong into rebuilding mode you move him and get parts.

Same with J.R. Smith, who has drawn interest. You likely flip Raymond Felton either way, because you have Ty Lawson so you don’t really need another point guard.

But the question is out there Denver. You’re going deep into rebuilding mode at some point, but you’re in position to make a playoff push and get in. Get a couple home playoff games (but you won’t last that long against the Spurs/Mavericks/Lakers). Is it worth it, or do you start the rebuilding now?

Report: Boston nearing agreement to retain Marcus Smart

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When free agency began, a lot of us said that the restricted free agent market was going to be tough — not a lot of teams had cap space to start with, and those that did were not targeting players where the offer could be matched. Zach LaVine got a deal, but other name RFA were waiting, Clint Capela and Marcus Smart being the biggest names on the board.

We may be able to cross Smart off that list soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is in the range of what the Celtics had wanted to pay him from the start, around $12 million a season.

Smart expected more — north of $17 million a season — and was frustrated that no offers sheets came in that would force the Celtics to match. He reportedly was “hurt and disgusted” that the Celtics didn’t come in and recruit him or make a larger offer. Welcome to a tight market, the Celtics had leverage.

Smart is one of the top defensive two guards in the league, a switchable defender who can guard any perimeter position, all of which fits with Brad Stevens’ defensive system. He also brings a high motor — he generates steals and gets to loose balls. Offensively he’s a liability — teams can help off him, daring him to shoot — but when healthy the Celtics have the players to cover that up.

This looks like it will get done and be a fair deal for both sides.

Kawhi Leonard may not want to play in Toronto, but he will. For now.

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The moment it was reported that Kawhi Leonard was being traded to Toronto for a package based around DeMar DeRozan,  a second theme followed:

Leonard did not like this.

Leonard and his uncle/management team had tried to force their way to Los Angeles — in Las Vegas for Summer League I heard rumors about him wanting to be with either the Lakers or Clippers, depending on the source. (As with everything around Kawhi’s inexperienced management, there was no clear voice or vision, so there were a lot of conflicting rumors.) L.A. never happened because the Lakers think he will sign with them next summer, so they did not throw their best players into a trade — Brandon Ingram, in particular — while the Clippers didn’t have the assets to get a deal done. The Raptors jumped into that breach.

This has led to online speculation that Leonard will sit out in Toronto, saying he is injured, and try to force another trade.

Don’t bet on it.

Why? Because if he doesn’t play next season, even the Lakers would be very hesitant to jump in with a max contract offer next summer.

Leonard played in just nine games last season due to a quadriceps tendon issue, something that dates back to the season before that (he just played through it then). There was disagreement between doctors (and the sides) about whether this was a muscle or tendon issue, but the injury was real.

Right now, teams do not know how well he has responded to treatment, outside of second-hand reports. The physical Leonard has to undergo to complete this trade will be interesting.

If Leonard sits out all or even much of another season with the same injury, how healthy he would ever be must come into question. Even the Lakers and other teams that want him would have to be cautious about a four-year, $140.6 million contract (the max they can offer) to a guy who had missed a lot of the last two seasons.

To get where he wants to go and get paid, Leonard has to get on the court and play well. He has to look like Kawhi Leonard again, or something close to it.

He knows that, so he will be on the court in a Raptors uniform. If only for a year.

 

Lonzo Ball had arthroscopic surgery on knee Tuesday, should be ready for training camp

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It’s done.

As expected, Lonzo Ball has had left knee surgery on Tuesday and is currently in recovery. He reportedly will be good to go by training camp in September.

Ball averaged 10.2 points and 7.2 assists per game last season and made the NBA All-Rookie second team. This summer he had been working hard on his conditioning and jumper before the injury.

Ball will be asked to push the pace (as he did last season) and be a secondary ball handler who can create shots when LeBron does not have the ball in his hands. They fit together better on the court than some people think (Lonzo did play off the ball some at UCLA), but the challenge for L.A.of teams helping off Lonzo to double/trap LeBron on the perimeter is real.

The Lakers also took a couple of shots across the bow of Ball — and his father LaVar — this summer. First there was the signing of Rajon Rondo, then Magic Johnson said this about Josh Hart at Summer League:

The message is clear, the days of soft-pedaling and catering to Ball are over. He must earn his starting job, and there are legit challengers for his minutes. At some point, if the balance of off-court distractions and on-court production gets out of alignment, Ball’s job and standing with the Lakers are not safe.

But for now, he just needs to get right before the season.

DeMar DeRozan expresses anger at trade to Spurs on Instagram

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DeMar DeRozan has been loyal to Toronto.

He embraced the city when former stars abandoned it and pushed their way out of town. In 2016, as a free agent, he didn’t even meet with another team, he had no intention of leaving. He said he wanted to go down as the greatest Raptor ever. A Los Angeles kid himself — born and raised in Compton — he never pushed to go home, instead becoming incredibly active in the community off the court as well as being a four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player on it. He has led the greatest run of Raptors basketball in franchise history.

The Raptors were not loyal to DeRozan — they are shipping him to Texas in a trade for Kawhi Leonard that is being finalized.

DeRozan reportedly hates the move and put this up as an Instagram story.

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

It’s not the destination that has DeRozan unhappy, he did not want to be traded, period.

Leonard reportedly also is unhappy with the trade — he wanted to go home to Los Angeles. However, Lakers would not the players the Spurs wanted into a trade (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and more), and the Clippers do not have the assets to interest the Spurs in a trade. San Antonio was holding out for other bidders, biding their time, and in came Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri with an aggressive move.

Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which did not handle this situation well, wanted him in a major market that would boost Leonard’s marketing opportunities. While Toronto is a big market — sixth largest in the NBA, bigger than Philadelphia — and is the team of a nation with fans across Canada, this is not what Leonard’s people wanted. He is a free agent next summer in 2019.

DeRozan has every right to feel betrayed — next time you think of complaining about how players are not loyal to cities/teams/fans, remember this. Loyalty is a luxury in the NBA and one rarely rewarded.

DeRozan also will come around and embrace San Antonio, the Spurs culture, and Gregg Popovich. He will help them win a lot.

Whether the Raptors can win over Leonard becomes one of the NBA’s biggest storylines of 2018-19.