Getty Images

51Q: Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

Leave a comment

We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today:

Will the Nuggets’ young core break out while their veterans are still productive?

The Western Conference has a couple of young teams that should leap into the playoffs this season and could be far more dangerous a few years down the road: The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. They are teams fans need to start watching now.

The Denver Nuggets want to get in that conversation.

They have a quality young core: big men Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, a two guard in Gary Harris, a young point guard with promise in Emmanuel Mudiay, plus in the latest draft they added Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez. All of those players are 22 or younger, and 10 players on the roster total are age 25 or younger. Coach Mike Malone is an excellent choice for the franchise to develop that core while building a professional culture  (something Denver lacked for a few years and Malone brought back last season).

There is reason for hope in Denver.

However, development takes time, and the Nuggets have a few of players who are past the development stage and should be at their peaks now: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried in particular. There are other stabilizing veterans on the roster: Jameer Nelson, Mike Miller, and Darrell Arthur, for example.

Will the Nuggets young core come of age in time to meld with those veterans and form a team that is a threat not only to make the playoffs but do some damage?

Or should Denver’s front office be shopping those veterans and going all-in with the youth movement?

Based on their actions, Denver’s management already has an answer — they have looked for trades. However, they aren’t going to just give those veterans away, either.

Gallinari and Faried have been named in more trade rumors than there are joints at a Cypress Hill concert. But a combination of injuries and, in the case of Faried in particular, uninspired play had suitors coming in with lowball offers that Denver was never going to accept. The economics of a deal for these two may be changing, however. Gallinari’s $15 million this season is a much smaller hit against the new cap for a team looking for a stretch four, and he has a player option for next season ($16.1 million) that he may well not pick up as he looks for some long-term security (if he has a strong season he likely opts out). Faried is owed $38.6 million over three seasons, a figure that will not be easy for Denver to move but is far less daunting for potential trade partners under the new cap numbers.

Don’t expect anything rash from Denver.

With Malone at the helm, there is a sense that Denver is turning the corner, that a foundation is in place now that could turn this into a very good team in a few years. This season that good foundation may not result in many more wins than the 33 they had a season ago (their schedule to start the season is brutal with eight of their first 10 games against playoff teams from last season and most of those games on the road), but the team should be taking steps forward.

There still is work to do with this roster. They have a strong young core, however the Nuggets lack a potential superstar in that group, that’s something they may need to get via trade or free agency (the only name they went hard at this summer was Dwyane Wade, who used to fit that bill but would have given them some legitimacy now). However, if Denver can win games and show established players they have a strong young core they have a pitch to make — come here and win now by putting us over the top. That can sell in an NBA where the big market teams do not have quite the same drawing power advantage they did a couple of decades ago.

Part of the work to do is moving the veterans on the roster that have trade value but are not part of the long-term future. Get more players that fit with the timeline of the young core.

Denver fans should be hopeful. More of them should come out to Nuggets games than they have the past few years — it’s time to get on board this bandwagon. But they also are going to need a little more patience. Which sucks.

And they are going to have to trust management to make the right moves this time around.

Moves that should start this season and into next summer on the trade market.

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

Sports Illustrated
Leave a comment

The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .

The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.

Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.

“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”

Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.

Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.

“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”

The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.

“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”

Report: Jim Boylen to Bulls: I learned from Gregg Popovich. Bulls to Boylen: You’re no Gregg Popovich

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1 Comment

Shortly after the Bulls fired Fred Hoiberg and promoted Jim Boylen to head coach, Boylen said Chicago players weren’t in shape. Boylen has tried to fix that with lengthy and intense practices – including one scheduled for yesterday, the day after a back-to-back. But Bulls players rebelled with a threatened boycott then ultimately compromised on a team meeting in lieu of practice.

The details of that standoff are something.

Vincent Goodwill and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

When Boylen arrived Sunday, the players stood and told Boylen they weren’t practicing, sources said, with the sides meeting to express their issues. Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday were the most vocal, sources said.

Boylen repeatedly referenced his days on the San Antonio Spurs staff and instances in which coach Gregg Popovich pulled all five players off the floor to send a message, sources said.

A player responded, sources said, telling Boylen in essence that they aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.

The wildest part of all this: The Bulls already said they plan to keep Boylen as head coach next season. They’re not treating him as an interim.

But Boylen must dig himself out of a hole just to make it through the rest of this season.

Popovich can be hard on his players, but he has also proven that, if they buy in, he’ll help them perform at a high level. Boylen hasn’t. Absent demonstrated Xs-and-Os and developmental acumen, he just comes across as overbearing. NBA players don’t want to be treated like children.

The Bulls even complained to the players’ union, according to Goodwill and Haynes.

In the reported exchange, Boylen sounded like David Fizdale with Marc Gasol. The former Grizzlies coach and current Knicks coach had to learn from that.

Boylen could grow from this, too. But he put himself behind the eight ball with his harsh start.

Rumor: LeBron James suggested Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving to Trail Blazers for Damian Lillard

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
1 Comment

When Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers last year, LeBron James told the Cavs not to trade the disgruntled star. But LeBron also made no effort to win over Irving.

If that weren’t unhelpful enough…

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

League sources say that when James became convinced Irving couldn’t be persuaded to stay in Cleveland, he suggested to the Cavs front office that it deal Irving to the Blazers for All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. The Cavs never called the Blazers

Of course LeBron wanted Lillard. Lillard is very good, even better than Irving.

But that deal probably wouldn’t appeal to the Trail Blazers. Though Irving is younger and cheaper, Lillard is locked up two additional seasons. That greater team control is huge.

Perhaps, the Cavs could have bridged the gap in Irving’s and Lillard’s values by sending draft picks to and/or taking bad contracts from Portland. LeBron left Cleveland for the Lakers after last season, anyway. Long-term issues like lost picks and toxic contracts weren’t necessarily his problem. It’s more understandable the Cavaliers resisted.*

*However, a team with an all-time great like LeBron in his prime should have been more committed to winning a title last season than they were. Those opportunities come along only so often.

What makes this particularly interesting: The Lakers are trying to get another star. Does LeBron still want to play with Lillard? The Trail Blazers insist they’re keeping Lillard, and he has repeatedly said he wants to stay in Portland. But LeBron wanting Lillard in Los Angeles could be the seed that grows into something bigger.

Report: Knicks have held no internal discussions about trading for John Wall

Getty Images
2 Comments

A rumor emerged the Knicks could be looking to trade for Wizards point guard John Wall.

That always seemed dubious. Marc Berman of the New York Post cited “Some in the league believe.”

But now comes the counter-leak, anyway…

Ian Begley of ESPN:

This is an overcorrection that only makes the Knicks look worse. Not internally discussing a trade candidate does not inspire confidence. Sound organizations evaluate their options. The Knicks should discuss Wall internally.

They should also likely conclude it’s not worth trading for him.

Wall is due about $171 million over the next four seasons. He’ll be 29 when that super-max contract extension kicks in, and he already looks hurt, lazy and grouchy.

Maybe if the Knicks still had Joakim Noah to trade, it might makes sense, though still probably not. As is, New York doesn’t have enough bad contracts to match Wall’s toxic del.

So, I don’t expect New York – or anyone – to trade for Wall. But I’d be more encouraged by the Knicks if they internally discussed this then passed on Wall. If we’re to believe this latest leak,* who knows what they’ll decide if they ever talk about Wall?

*Which I don’t, for what it’s worth. I suspect even the Knicks at least discussed why trading for Wall was a bad idea.