J.J. Hickson

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Five free agents still available for teams willing to roll the dice

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At this point, NBA teams have almost completely filled out their rosters. Most teams have 14-15 roster spots filled, plus they have some partial-guaranteed deals for guys who will get a look but most likely are just there for training camp fodder.

Still, there are veteran free agents out there, looking for a landing spot.

Let’s be clear, if a guy is still a free agent, there’s a reason. That said, these are names you know. These are guys that very well may get a chance when a team realizes they need help at a position (or suffer an injury that creates a need). Here are the five best free agents still on the market.

1) Lance Stephenson. He couldn’t blend in with the Clippers’ team system last year, but did put up numbers when he went to an injury-ravaged Grizzlies team that needed scoring: 14.2 points a game on 47.4 percent shooting. As a ball-handling forward who can help a second unit put up points, Stephenson has value on paper. But concerns about locker room chemistry, and if he can buy into and play within a team system, have kept him without a contract. Expect some GM will roll the dice on him at some point during the season.

2) Josh Smith. Like Stephenson, he started the season with the Clippers as part of what Doc Rivers thought would be an improved bench, and by the middle of the season he was in Houston, where he played a limited role. While he showed flashes last season (19 points against the Heat, or in Game 2 of the playoffs vs. Golden State), he struggled to hit the three or defend well enough to stay on the court. Like with Stephenson, GMs will have concerns about how he impacts the locker room. It looked like his game has faded, but some team may give him a shot.

3) J.J. Hickson. Statistically, he’s the best guy on this list considering last season. Denver bought him out and he bounced over to Washington, where he provided a little scoring off the bench with 4.3 points per game while shooting 54.6 percent. He hustled on the glass, rolled to the rim, missed free throws (44.7 percent last season), and he doesn’t bring much on the defensive end of the floor. Still, as a reserve big teams could do worse, and he will get a shot somewhere.

4) Ty Lawson. He started last season in Houston, finished it in Indiana, and was a disappointment in both on the court. After two DUIs in a six month span and a team executive saying he showed up to practice with alcohol on his breath in Denver, there are concerns about his drinking. Lawson defended himself from those charges and said the team lands him will get a deal. Hopefully, he has his personal life in order, but he’s going to need to prove he can be better running and offense and setting up teammates than he was last year to stick with a team.

5) Kevin Martin. He bounced between the Timberwolves and the Spurs last season, and while his skills have diminished over the years he can still shoot the rock and that is always valuable. Last season he shot 36 percent from three overall, although he never found the same groove in San Antonio, certainly not like both sides had hoped. Some team that needs shooting — and there are plenty of them — will bring him in at age 33 to see if he still has anything left in the tank.

Wizards sign forward J.J. Hickson for remainder of season

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Wizards have signed J.J. Hickson for the remainder of the season after the forward was bought out by the Denver Nuggets earlier in the week.

Hickson averaged 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 20 games for the Nuggets this season. In 519 NBA games with Cleveland, Sacramento, Portland and Denver, he has averaged 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.

The 27-year-old joins Markieff Morris among Wizards newcomers. Washington acquired from the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline.

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld says Hickson is a solid veteran who will bring more depth to the frontcourt.

Report: Nuggets trying to trade J.J. Hickson

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With several veterans – Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson – on a rebuilding team, the Nuggets could be active before the trade deadline.

That’s especially true because they gave their general manager, Tim Connelly, a contract extension. He no longer has to chase meaningless wins to make himself look better. Job security in hand, he can build for the future.

Topping his list of movable players… J.J. Hickson.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

After starting earlier in the season, Hickson has fallen from the rotation. The Nuggets’ younger bigs – Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic – are already better than him.

If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of Hickson’s trade value, it’s not. He’s a solid pick-and-roll finisher, but he’s limited otherwise offensively and a defensive liability.

He’s making $5,613,500 in the final season of his contract. If a team wants to rent a big man for depth, Hickson is alright. But his salary is probably a little too large to make that feasible.

Hickson’s mid-sized expiring contract is probably most useful in facilitating a larger trade.

Stephen Curry scores 38 but Warriors lose to Nuggets, 112-110

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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari scored 28 points and the Denver Nuggets withstood a 38-point performance by Stephen Curry to hand the Golden State Warriors their third loss of the season, 112-110 on Wednesday night.

The defending NBA champion Warriors (36-3) had won seven straight since their previous defeat, 114-91 at Dallas on Dec. 30.

Harrison Barnes added 18 points and Klay Thompson had 17 for the Warriors.

Will Barton scored 21 for the Nuggets, who snapped a four-game losing streak to the Warriors. Gary Harris added 18 points.

A dunk by Brandon Rush gave the Warriors a 68-64 lead, but Denver outscored Golden State 19-5 over the last 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter to take a 10-point lead into the fourth.

Layups by Curry and Andrew Bogut cut the deficit to 102-97 with 2:05 remaining. Curry, who scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Barton then traded 3-pointers before Darrell Arthur hit a jumper with a minute left for a 109-102 Denver lead.

But the Warriors fought back, getting a layup from Barnes and a 3 from Curry sandwiched around a Nuggets turnover, pulling to 109-107 with 37.1 seconds left.

With the Warriors in position to tie or go in front, Gallinari stole the ball from Curry, prompting a fast break that ended in Gary Harris being fouled and making a pair of free throws.

Thompson hit a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining to pull the Warriors to 111-110. They fouled Gallinari intentionally and he made one of two free throws, but Thompson missed a long jumper at the buzzer.

The Warriors, who trailed by as many as 10 earlier, pulled to 55-54 at halftime on Barnes’ jumper in the final seconds of the second quarter.

Gallinari had 15 points in the first half, including a reverse layup that preceded Barnes’ final shot in the second quarter to keep the Nuggets on top at the break.

TIP-INS

Warriors: F Draymond Green was not available because of a scheduled rest day. … Curry hit a 3-pointer in his 93rd consecutive road game, extending his NBA record. … Leandro Barbosa returned from a shoulder injury, seeing his first game action since Christmas. … Barnes scored in double figures for a third straight game.

Nuggets: F J.J. Hickson was sidelined after undergoing a root canal earlier in the day. … Denver added depth at guard by signing Sean Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract.

 

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic to miss start of training camp

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When Jusuf Nurkic has surgery on his patella tendon back in May, the hope was he would be healthy and back right around the start of training camp. Not going to happen, at least not yet, according to the Nuggets GM, as reported by Christopher Dempsey at the Denver Post.

Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic will not be ready for the start of training camp as he continues to rehab his left knee, general manager Tim Connelly said Wednesday… Nurkic has begun some on-court activity, Connelly said. But asked if Nurkic would be ready for the regular -season opener, he reiterated he would not put a timetable on his return to full action.

Denver is right to take their time and think about the long term, because Nurkic could be part of the part of the long term in Denver, along with Emanuel Mudiay.

Nurkic is the projected starting center for the Nuggets, and they could use him on the court. He took over the starting role in Denver last season after the Timofey Mozgov trade and he showed a lot of promise. While he averaged just 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, his per-minute numbers showed potential.

More importantly, he brought solid defense and the Nuggets were 10.6 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor.

He should improve this season and beyond, which is why the Nuggets should think long term. In the short-term, if Nurkic can’t go, look for new Nuggets coach Mike Malone to go small (he’s already said he wants this team to play faster). He can start J.J. Hickson at the five and Kenneth Faried at the four, and hope that can provide enough defense to get some wins.

At least until Nurkic gets back, which shouldn’t be many if any games.