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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets think big in wake of stinging Game 7 loss

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DENVER (AP) — Things Nikola Jokic needs to improve on in the offseason: “Is there anything?” the Denver Nuggets big man joked.

Hard to find many glitches in his game right now.

By all measures, Jokic and the youthful Nuggets are ahead of schedule despite the sting of a Game 7 loss at home to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. No one predicted the Nuggets being the two seed in the West this season. After all, they hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 2013.

And few projected the meteoric rise of Jokic, the 24-year-old with the awkward gait who sees the game with a point guard’s vision. The 7-footer averaged 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists in his first foray into the postseason.

“You’re supposed to be sad,” Jokic said of the season coming to a close. “But at the end of the day we had a good season.”

Soon, Jokic will head home to Serbia as he turns his focus from hoops to his horses. It’s his way of escaping from a Game 7 in which the Nuggets surrendered a 17-point lead to the Trail Blazers. This after knocking off San Antonio in seven games during the first round.

“Winning is really fun. We won one series against San Antonio that was really tough and fun,” said Jokic, who posted four triple-doubles during the playoffs. “We had a really good series against Portland. It was fun. But we didn’t win.”

One of the bigger decisions looming for Denver is what to do with Paul Millsap, who at 34 is the old-timer on a youthful Nuggets team. His future in the Mile High City could be uncertain given that he’s due $30 million should the team pick up his option. Asked if the Nuggets might be his best chance at winning an NBA title, the veteran power forward turned into a comedian.

“I could go to the Golden State Warriors,” he cracked Monday as the Nuggets cleaned out their lockers.

There’s always that. Only, Millsap envisions grand things for a Nuggets team that opened many eyes.

“That’s what makes this year so special – this team was doubted throughout the whole year. We couldn’t do this. We couldn’t do that. We’re not good enough. We’re too young. Blah. Blah. Blah,” Millsap said. “We’ve proved everybody wrong.”

The Nuggets boast a talented tandem in point guard Jamal Murray and Jokic. They also have a deep bench that was solid all season, before struggling at times throughout the playoffs.

Denver could be an attractive destination for some free agent. More specifically, a perimeter shooter. Denver was 2 of 19 from 3-point range in the finale against Portland.

“Not one team is perfect, but I think we have a great group of guys,” Jokic said. “I don’t know what we need more, because we were winning games. We were beating everybody. So I don’t know what else we can add. I really like the group of guys.”

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

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When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.

Cameron Payne reportedly agrees to partially-guaranteed contract with Toronto

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Cameron Payne was the starting point guard at one point early in the season in Chicago (until Kris Dunn returned), it didn’t last long, and by the middle of the season he was waived. The Cavaliers picked him up in a limited role at the end of the season.

Payne played for Dallas at Summer League and needed to impress there to have a shot a roster spot for next season. He did, averaging 20 points per game on 51 percent shooting, and he had one 32-point game.

The Toronto Raptors will bring Payne and let him compete to be the third point guard, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the point, there are not a lot of minutes to be had there. However, both men are in the final year of their contracts. Plus, he brings some pregame dancing that every team needs.

The Raptors now have 16 potential NBA contracts coming into training camp, which means there will be cuts. The fact Payne has a decent guarantee his first year means he’s going to get a real look.

Payne, the No. 14 pick of the Thunder back in 2015, has struggled to find a fit in the NBA. While his skill set should fit the modern game, he doesn’t quite shoot or distribute well enough to earn a coach’s trust. He will try to change that with Nick Nurse.

Enes Kanter trolls (jokingly) Kyrie Irving on why Kanter will wear No. 11 with Boston

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Kyrie Irving is off to Brooklyn, which opened up the No. 11 jersey in Boston.

New Celtics center Enes Kanter will wear it, and his answer as to why is an awesome joke and troll of Irving.

You have to love the smile before he makes the joke, he has planned this out.

If you don’t get the “I want to be the reason no one else will” wear No. 11, you have to remember this Irving/Nike ad from Boston.

Well played Kanter, well played.

Report: Knicks’ Reggie Bullock could miss first month of season with injury

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On Tuesday, the Knicks made it official, they had signed sharpshooter Reggie Bullock to a two-year contract.

It had been a strange negotiation. Bullock had initially agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with New York but after that (during the physicals) an injury of some nature came to light and the contract was re-negotiated down to two-years, $8.2 million (part of the room exception), money freed up allowed the Knicks to chase and land Marcus Morris.

Now comes a report Bullock will miss the start of the season with an injury. From Ian Begley of SNY.tv

There is no specific timetable for Bullock to be on the court at the moment. But, per SNY sources, Bullock is expected to miss at least a month of the regular season due to his ailment…

The medical issue that caused the hiccup is unclear, but Bullock has dealt with plantar fasciitis in the past.

Plantar fasciitis is something generally healed with rest, which Bullock should be getting plenty of this summer, making it a little unusual for it to extend into the season.

Bullock has a history of injury issues, having played 62 games two seasons ago in Detroit, then 63 last season between the Pistons and Lakers.

Bullock averaged 11.3 points and shot 37.7 percent from three last season. He will provide some much-needed floor spacing in New York, once he gets on the court.