NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

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Last season: The Nuggets continue to out-perform expectations while never really accomplishing anything of note.

They battled through all the roster turnover from one year to the next and a slew of quietly really damaging injuries to land the sixth seed last season after a hot start. Danilo Gallinari suffered two significant injuries that severely limited his ability to make the kind of impact he did at the start of the season where he looked like the best player on the team.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried emerged as a huge part of their future, and helped justify dumping Nene’s $13 million per year deal to get rid of an injury-riddled veteran. They brought in JaVale McGee with all his nonsense and faults, and the results were mixed. He had some genuinely electric playoff moments, but was still JaVale McGee.

They ran up against the Lakers and dug a hole. It looked over and they would quietly exit the playoffs. Instead, they battled back relentlessly and forced a game 7 against a team they were out-matched against, but didn’t have enough to get over the hump on the road. The result was the same, and the same questions lingered for Denver.

Key Departures: Arron Afflalo was the Nuggets’ best offensive weapon over the past three years, and now he’s wearing a deeper blue in Orlando. Al Harrington was a versatile scorer who put in a suprising amount of work defensively last year, and he’s also gone.

Rudy Fernandez headed home after threatening it for a half-decade, and Birdman Andersen was amnestied to make way for the future.

Key Additions: Denver snuck into the Dwight Howard trade and used their assets to grab Andre Iguodala. Iguodala gives them a hyper versatile forward who can run, rebound, pass, score, and defend at an elite level. He should fit in really well with the athleticism of Denver, and will be relied upon as the primary defensive stopper for George Karl. It cost a lot to get him but made them an overall much superior team.

They drafted Frenchman Evan Fournier in the first round and instead of sticking him overseas, have brought him over. The Nuggets already have more wings than they know what to do with, so Fournier likely won’t get many minutes this season. They also brought in Quincy Miller, who’s in a similar situation. They just have too much depth on the wings.

Anthony Randolph gives them another athletic big man to run the floor with and his ability to stretch the floor is something George Karl should get mileage out of as well.

Three keys to the Nuggets season:

1) Does speed kill the defense?: Karl has talked in the preseason about not needing to get into the elite level in traditional categories, but getting the defense overall into the good territory so that their point differential increases. There’s no plan to slow down the offense, so the question is, can you run a fast-pace team who also defends well?

To try and get it done, Karl will focus on the team’s athleticism in an attempt to pressure the ball and get into passing lanes. There will be a reliance on Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov as shot-blockers to “intimidate” defensivel, as Karl said on media day.

It’s never been a reliable method for improving defense. You usually have to grind the game down to give yourself time to set into your defensive positions and rotations, and an up and down game naturally opens the floor up for both teams. That will be the biggest challenge this season.

2.) Find shooters, or invent them. Danilo Gallinari has been snakebit the past two years. Whether it was injury, adjustment or bad luck, a normally reliable shooter tailed off the past two years. It came with an improvement in driving and drawing fouls, but the Nuggets still need him to stretch the floor.

They lack shooters, and their replacement options are unproven. Corey Brewer has historically been an awful perimeter shooter. Fournier is too green to see much court time. Ty Lawson can drill, but that would require someone else running the offense a majority of the time. He’ll get his, but they still need another option. Jordan Hamilton may be that fit. The second-year man out of Texas has great length and a reliable form. If the shooters don’t come around, the offense will still be good but not good enough.

3.) The Break’s Over, Here Comes The Takeover. Ty Lawson is going to have to take over the game at times. Andre Iguodala may be the most gifted player on the team, but Lawson has the ability to own the opponent with huge shots. That’s got be his role, and helping get Iguodala going will be a big part of it. At the same time, Lawson simply has to be the primary offensive threat and make himself into a household name. It’s a big step in front of him.

What Nuggets fans should fear: The defense can’t get a grip in the fast pace, Iguodala doesn’t make enough of an impact and no center emerges to protect the rim. McGee struggles as always and that contract becomes disastrous. There are no shooters and teams know to pack the paint and let the Nuggets shoot. Kenneth Faried hits his ceiling, none of the other players make jumps, and the team bobs along at the same level it has for two years.

How it likely works out: No reason to think Denver can’t challenge for the third seed. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried alone is a triumverate worthy of consideration in the West. When you factor their style, how well the roster is built, their depth, and the likelihood of at least a few players improving to the point of relevance, the Nuggets will once again be a fun team to watch who wins a bunch of games.

And yet still not title contenders.

Prediction: 51-31. Denver cracks 50 wins without a superstar, plays at a high level, thrills fans and league pass addicts, then loses in a tough second-round series. What is what what was is what shall be.

Report: Warriors project at least $100 million revenue increase with new arena next season

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The Warriors’ player costs this season are in line to be about $195 million (about $145 million in salary, about $50 million in luxury tax).

If they re-sign Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to max salaries, keep everyone under contract, sign their own draft picks and fill the rest of their roster with minimum-salary free agents, the Warriors’ spending on players next season would project to hit about $355 million (about $173 million in salary, about $182 million in luxury tax).

But maybe Golden State can afford it.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Internally, the Warriors project a nine-figure increase in revenue when they move into the Chase Center next season, sources said.

The Warriors already make so much money on their home games. That’s a whopping increase – one that could alone increase the league-wide salary cap a couple million dollars.

But this figure doesn’t say how much more money will reach Golden State ownership. Revenue differs from profit. The Warriors could have greater expenses, including revenue-sharing obligations, in their new arena.

Still, it’s hard to imagine this won’t be a windfall for the Golden State, one that could go a long way not just in affording stars but also keeping complementary players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

The salary cap promotes competitive balance. But big-spending teams still have an advantage.

2019 NBA All-Star jersey leaks

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
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NBA All-Stars wore black and white uniforms last season, and it appears this year’s All-Star game will feature a similar look.

Josman Suri:

I love All-Star jerseys integrating a player’s NBA team, which comes more naturally now that All-Star teams are selected by captains rather than East vs. West.

But these are pretty bad. They look cheap and generic.

Perhaps, the red-white-and-blue borders are a nod to All-Star jerseys from 1991, when the game was last held in Charlotte:

AP_910210042

(AP Photo/Susan Regan)

If so, I appreciate the attempt to connect historically. But the link is pretty weak.

The Hornets have iconic colors in teal and purple. I’d rather see those integrated into the All-Star uniforms.

And I fear the white versions could look even worse. A black-and-white version of the Lakers’ looks too plain in the above photo. That version of a team’s logo could look even blander against white.

Dennis Schroder on trade from Hawks to Thunder: ‘I wanted to be in a winning-mentality organization. You just can’t go out there and try to lose’

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Dennis Schroder expressed his dismay last offseason with the Hawks’ losing.

Safe to say, the point guard was happy to be traded to the Thunder.

Schroder, via Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

“I wanted to be in a winning mentality organization,” Schroder said bluntly, not the first time he’s brought up the different direction he had from the new Hawks, who are 13-30 entering Tuesday’s game. “You just can’t go out there and try to lose.

“I’m a competitor and I try to give everything out there. I want the organization to feel the same way. Right now with our organization, all the players in the locker room, all of the coaches, they’ve got a winning mentality. That’s what makes it fun, when you go out there and go to war with your brothers. There’s nothing better than that.”

Atlanta beat Oklahoma City by 16 last night, turning Schroder’s comments on their head. But that was only one game. Obviously, the Thunder are far better than the Hawks.

Atlanta is doing right by itself by rebuilding. But aggravating veterans should be a consequence of tanking. It’s a natural check on the practice.

Though Hawks players aren’t trying to lose when on the court, management built a team less-equipped to win now with the clear intent of landing a higher draft pick. It’s a miserable situations for veterans who are capable of contributing to a winner – which tends to make those veterans lose interest, which makes the team lose even more, which furthers management’s goals.

Schroder escaped that in Atlanta, maybe in part by complaining about his situation. I don’t blame him for continuing to call attention to the stark differences in philosophy between the Hawks and Thunder right now.

Bulls cost Lakers fans free tacos

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The Bulls have lost eight straight, but they showed late fight against the Lakers last night.

Or maybe more accurately, Lakers fans.

Fans at Lakers games receive free tacos if the Lakers hold the opponent under 100 points. With five minutes left, the Lakers led Chicago 92-76. Tacos appeared imminent.

Then, the Bulls went on a run. It was probably initially about trying to win the game. Chicago even cut its deficit to just five points with 35 seconds left.

But, by the end, it appeared to be about taco-blocking.

While coming the back, the Bulls kept fouling the Lakers, increasing the number of possessions – and therefore points – in the game. The taco race became tight.

Chicago had 98 points when Jabari Parker stepped to the line for two free throws with 21 seconds left. He missed the first then intentionally missed the second, allowing Lakers fans a sigh of relief.

Down eight with 19 seconds left, the Bulls intentionally fouled. After the Los Angeles free throws, Chicago essentially had one more chance to prevent tacos.

The Lakers’ defense tightened, obviously aware of the stakes. Shaquille Harrison missed a 3-pointer, but after an offensive rebound, got the ball back and drew a foul on a 3-pointer. He made his first two free throws to send Los Angeles fans home without free tacos, though at least their team won, 107-100.

What a wild run, especially by a team without much scoring punch.

Here are the Bulls’ points per 48 minutes by segment:

  • Season: 100
  • Under Jim Boylen: 97
  • First 43 minutes against Lakers: 85
  • Final five minutes against Lakers: 230