Nuggets GM Tim Connelly: Denver will be better than last season

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The Nuggets won 30 games last year.

They did it with Ty Lawson leading the team in starts, Arron Afflalo ranking fourth and Timofey Mozgov fifth.

Denver traded  Mozgov (to the Cavaliers) and Afflalo (to the Trail Blazers) during the season and Lawson (to the Rockets) this summer. In their place, Denver added rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic and reserves Nick Johnson and Joey Dorsey this offseason.

The Nuggets also hired Michael Malone to replace Brian Shaw as coach.

Does that add up to an improved team?

Denver general manager Tim Connelly, via Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post:

“I fully expect to be better than last year,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “I don’t want to put any concrete barometer on what’s good or bad this year. But we’ll be better.”

I generally like the Nuggets’ offseason. Mudiay was an excellent pick, and it was smart to renegotiate and extend Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Paying those players more now, when Denver had cap space to burn, will provide helpful savings on the back end of their deals. Once the Nuggets decided they needed to trade Lawson, getting a first-rounder and a couple decent players was a solid return.

That doesn’t translate to an immediately improved team, though.

Lawson, issues considered, was still a very good point guard. Mudiay showed tremendous promise during summer league, but he’s still a rookie at a difficult position.

Maybe Malone coaches better than Shaw. Maybe Gallinari stays healthy and builds on his late-season success. Maybe Jusuf Nurkic continues to develop. Maybe Kenneth Faried defends better.

In fact, I’d consider each of those likely (especially Malone coaching better than Shaw). But relying on a rookie point guard, even a talented one, could undermine all of it.

And that’s fine.

The Nuggets are in a better place with Mudiay. It’s OK if that means fewer wins next season, as long as Mudiay progresses throughout the season.

There’s nothing wrong with a general manager knowingly overstating his team’s ability. That happens all the time, and it generally serves just to excite fans.

But there is a problem with a general manager unknowingly overstating his team’s ability. That often leads to more mistakes down the road.

The Nuggets have struggled to set a direction in recent years, so there’s definitely potential for this to be problematic. There’s also potential for them to exceed expectations, making Connelly’s intent irrelevant.

But the reasonable projection has Denver winning about 30 games again – maybe a few more, but maybe a few less.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.