Nuggets will eventually feel loss of Jerami Grant

Former Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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How much did the Nuggets value Jerami Grant?

They traded a first-round pick for him despite him having only one year left on his contract. They gave him more crunch-time minutes than Nikola Jokic in the playoffs last season. They offered Grant a three-year, $60 million contract in free agency.

Grant leaving for the Pistons hurts. There’s no way around it.

Maybe Denver could have offered more money. Grant took the same $60 million over three years for a bigger role in Detroit. So, money wasn’t everything to him. But with Grant’s Bird Rights, the Nuggets could have topped – not just matched – the Pistons’ offer. Denver will be capped out for the foreseeable future, anyway. An apparent unwillingness to pay the luxury tax was an impediment. That falls on Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.

Denver rebounded from the setback reasonably well, re-signing Paul Millsap (one year, $10 million) and signing JaMychal Green (two years, $14,759,508). Those veteran power forwards should keep the Nuggets from missing Grant too much during the regular season.

But it’ll get dicier in the playoffs – and beyond.

Grant was adept at defending the small forwards, Lakers star LeBron James and Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, Denver would inevitably face in a deep postseason run. Millsap and Green are more interior defenders. Another more perimeter-oriented defender, forward Torrey Craig, also left (Bucks).

Long-term, Grant (26) fits better than Millsap (35) and Green (30) with Jokic (25) and Jamal Murray (23). Again, capped out for the foreseeable future, Denver will have a tough time replacing Grant over the following two seasons without surrendering assets in a trade.

At least the Nuggets can expect internal improvement to cover for the loss of Grant. Michael Porter Jr. is talented enough to grow into a much bigger role. Will Barton should be healthier after missing the bubble. If Murray’s star emergence proves sustainable, Denver would have even more margin for error.

The Nuggets definitely made their bench more interesting.

They signed Monte Morrisone of the NBA’s top backup point guards – to a three-year, $27,375,000 extension. They also signed  Facundo Campazzo, whom I also like from his time with the Argentinian national team, for two years, $6.4 million. However, Morris and Campazzo might be too small to play together in the backcourt behind Murray and Gary Harris. There are worse things than having too many good players, though.

Like Denver’s backup center situation.

The Nuggets lost Mason Plumlee to the Pistons on a ridiculous three-year, $25 million contract. Though not worth that much, Plumlee was at least a capable backup. Denver now has far less certainty with No. 22 pick Zeke Nnaji, Bol Bol (who went from a two-way contract to a two-year, $4,219,752 deal) and Isaiah Hartenstein (1+1, minimum). Perhaps, one of those three emerges into a reliable option. Grant could play small-ball five, though so can Green (just less dynamically).

I didn’t love the Nnaji pick. No. 22 is too high to draft a potential backup center in the modern NBA. But Nnaji’s energy level at least creates a floor, and his shooting potential offers a ceiling.

Trading a future first-rounder for No. 24 pick R.J. Hampton looks better, though I wouldn’t rush to call this another Nuggets draft steal. Hampton rated just No. 22 on my board.

Even if Nnaji and Hampton pan out, then what? Losing Grant fits a troubling trend for Denver, which has previously traded good young players and draft picks to avoid the luxury tax. Apparently, not even last season’s run to the Western Conference finals convinced ownership to pay the tax.

With Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets remain in good shape. But not as good of shape as they should be in.

Offseason grade: D

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.