Mason Plumlee

Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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Jerami Grant: Not leaning toward taking $9,346,153 player option with Nuggets

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The Nuggets have their starting point guard (Jamal Murray), shooting guard (Gary Harris), small forward (Will Barton) and center (Nikola Jokic) locked up a combined 11 more seasons.

The big question comes at power forward.

Paul Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Michael Porter Jr. has shown promise. And Jerami Grant holds a $9,346,153 player option for next season.

Jerami Grant on “Posted Up with Chris Haynes,” via Quenton S. Albertie of Nugg Love:

I’m definitely not leaning towards picking up the player option.

Grant appeared bound for a raise. He’s a good finisher who active seeks opportunities at the basket and has improved his 3-point shooting. His versatile defense is valuable in any system. And he has the track record of hard work that should make teams comfortable investing in the 26-year-old.

But the NBA’s coronavirus-caused revenue decline presents a major variable. We’ll have to see where the salary cap lands. If the wrong teams have space, Grant could be stuck with just the mid-level exception, which – depending on the cap – could be less than $9,346,153.

In any cap environment, Denver has optionality. Millsap is still solid, though at 35, it’s unclear how many more good years he has left. Porter is exciting, though he’s still raw, and health remains a concern. Another impending unrestricted free agent, Mason Plumlee plays in plenty of two-center lineups with Jokic.

The Nuggets – who just traded a first-rounder for him – surely want to keep Grant. But they have other options, which gives them leverage.

Grant’s leverage comes with declining his player option and exploring unrestricted free agency. He’s setting that stage now.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Jazz

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, and Pacific Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Denver had maybe the easiest protections decisions in the NBA. Two rotation players (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) are ineligible, so the Nuggets simply protect their other rotation players.

Keita Bates-Diop is the exact type of player an expansion team should snag. He’s shown some upside in limited minutes. Vlatko Cancar has the benefit of an additional year on his contract, and will be only 23 years old at the start of next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: The Wolves are keeping guys who might be a part of the future. Most were no-brainers. The decision point was Omari Spellman v.s Juancho Hernangomez. Keeping Hernangomez doesn’t mean Minnesota will definitely re-sign him, but he has more upside than Spellman.

After Spellman, the rest are take it or leave it. Also, the Timberwolves aren’t paying either expansion team to take James Johnson off their hands.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: If this was done before the season, there could have been an argument for the Thunder to expose both Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Both have played far too well to chance that now. Steven Adams is overpaid, but not by enough to leave him unprotected. The rest of the players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, are young players with upside.

Abdel Nader has been a part of the rotation at times for OKC, but he’s not getting protected over a younger player. Deonte Burton and Mike Muscala were easy decisions due to their minimal roles for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Portland is keeping its key veterans and younger players. The decision point was Wenyen Gabriel vs. the three unprotected veterans. In the end, the Trail Blazers chose to protect Gabriel, who they’ll likely renounce in free agency.

As for the three veterans, they all had strong cases against protecting them. Trevor Ariza is overpaid at this point his career. Rodney Hood is coming off a torn Achilles’. And Mario Hezonja just isn’t worth protecting, even despite his minimum salary.

Utah Jazz

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Utah’s first seven players were easy decisions. They are all rotation players. The decision point was keeping a non-guaranteed player (ultimately chose 2019 second-round pick Miye Oni) over either Mike Conley or Ed Davis.

The Jazz are leaving Conley and Davis unprotected because neither acquisition has worked out as hoped for. If Utah can clear Conley’s salary, that would be helpful for a team that is starting to get very expensive. Davis makes less than Conley, but the fit just doesn’t work. And of the minimum players, none have found a rotation role.

USA Basketball names 44 finalists for 2020 Olympics

Team USA in 2012 Olympics
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Team USA just placed seventh in the FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament. Their biggest problem? Lack of star power.

Now, it’s time for the U.S. to renew hope for the 2020 Olympics.

USA Basketball released a star-studded list of 44 finalists for the roster in Tokyo:

None of these players are required to play if selected. The player pool for the World Cup once looked similarly promising. Then, player after player withdrew. The reasons for not playing – health, personal – usually emerge closer to the event. For now, it’s easier for players to express interest. They can always withdraw later.

Likewise, USA Basketball can always put someone on the final roster who isn’t a finalist now. This list isn’t binding. So, it’s not worth getting worked up about omissions.

That said, HOW THE HECK ARE Trae Young, Zion Williamson AND Ja Morant NOT INCLUDED? All three are good right now. Given their youth, they’ll likely look even better next summer. Young is already an All-Star!

Several other good players didn’t make this list, including C.J. McCollum, Fred VanVleet and Spencer Dinwiddie. But they’re a little older and therefore less likely to make a leap into consensus stardom.

And that’s what it might require to make this roster.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and have already expressed strong interest in playing. Other players who’ve previously represented the U.S., including LeBron James, will also get favorable consideration.

Report: Rockets, Timberwolves, Hawks, Nuggets make four-team trade

Rockets center Clint Capela (traded to Hawks) and Timberwolves forward Robert Covington (traded to Rockets)
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The Warriors pulled out of trade talks with the Rockets, Timberwolves and Hawks. So, Houston, Minnesota and Atlanta are completing a four-team trade with the Nuggets instead.

The terms, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Rockets

Timberwolves

Hawks

  • Give: Evan Turner, 2020 Nets first-round pick (lottery protected)
  • Get: Clint Capela, Nene

Nuggets

  • Give: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Get: Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Keita Bates-Diop, Gerald Green, 2020 Rockets first-round pick

How it looks, via TradeNBA:

Robert Covington should fit excellently in Houston. He’s an elite team defender who’ll provide a major upgrade at forward. His spot-up 3-point shooting will complement James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and those stars will minimize Covington having to go outside his comfort zone as a playmaker. Covington is also relatively cheap (more on that later) and locked in two more seasons after this.

Jordan Bell should also fit well with the Rockets, who lost their starting center in this deal. As a finisher at the rim and mobile defender, Bell can replicate some of what Clint Capela provided. However, at 6-foot-8, Bell is small for the position.

Houston can also use P.J. Tucker, Isaiah Hartenstein and Tyson Chandler at center. Expect the Rockets to target someone capable of matching up with traditionally sized centers. Houston could make another trade or comb the buyout market.

Despite their earlier proclamations, the Rockets got under the luxury-tax line with this trade. The tax won’t be assessed until the final day of the regular season, so don’t write anything in pen just yet. But ducking the tax definitely appears to be a key aspect of this trade.

Nene (contract rendered a burden by NBA) and Gerald Green (season-ending injury) hold negative value. Unloading their salaries was part of the Rockets’ motivation to make this deal. As someone on a one-year contract who would’ve had Bird Rights afterward, Green could have blocked the trade. But the Houston native seems to be on good terms with the Rockets. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs with them next summer.

So, yes, Houston upgrades on the floor with Covington and Bell. But Capela and a first-round pick surely would’ve yielded even better return if those assets weren’t partially used to dump Nene and Green.

In Capela, the Hawks get a good center who’s relatively young (25) and cost-controlled (due $51,310,344 over the next three seasons). The price – Brooklyn’s lottery-protected first-round pick and eating Nene’s contract – was relatively low. (Evan Turner’s expiring contract was a neutral-value conduit).

But I’m not sure why Atlanta made the trade now. The Hawks’ season is a lost cause. They had the cap space to pursue centers in free agency or trade next summer. They might also be positioned to draft James Wiseman, who already turned pro out of Memphis. They could have waited until the offseason, when they’ll have a clear picture of center possibilities.

Maybe Atlanta just likes Capela that much. Maybe another quality player will ease Trae Young‘s frustration.

This also raises questions about John Collins‘ future with the Hawks. Maybe they’ll keep him at power forward, but his rim running overlaps with Capela’s skill set. It’s not a clean fit.

The Timberwolves get a few solid, though no great, assets. Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez are heading toward restricted free agency this summer. Minnesota will get a chance to test both then leverage their matching rights in the offseason. (For perspective, Beasley reportedly rejected a three-year, $30 million contract extension.) Beasley and Hernangomez both showed promise in Denver, but neither got quite enough opportunity on a deep Nuggets team. That should change on the Timberwolves, who are desperate for outside shooters.

Denver loses a rotation player in Beasley without necessarily adding one – at least when everyone is healthy. Noah Vonleh can play center behind Nikola Jokic with Mason Plumlee sidelined. Shabazz Napier is also capable, but the Nuggets already have Jamal Murray and underrated Monte Morris at point guard. Perhaps, Denver will use more two-point guard lineups. Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48 pick in 2018 draft) looks more NBA-ready than Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41 pick in 2018 draft), but neither has shown much.

The Nuggets get value for two players – Beasley and Hernangomez – who might have been too expensive to re-sign this summer. At least for a team resistant to paying the luxury tax.

But Denver is good enough to prioritize winning this season, and this trade was a step back. I wouldn’t assume the Nuggets are finished. That Houston first-rounder could be ammo in another deal before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Report: Multiple NBA players giving up No. 8 and No. 24 to honor Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving
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Kobe Bryant’s outsized career warranted outsized recognition, and the Lakers found a perfectly fitting honor. They retired both his No. 8 and No. 24 in 2017.

Now, people are searching for the appropriate way to commemorate the unprecedented basketball giant who died so young. Many tributes – including teams opening games with 24-second then 8-second violations – have focused on his numbers. Hawks guard Trae Young wore No. 8. Any 8, 24 or 81 appearing in a box score have become a topic of discussion.

Now, Spencer Dinwiddie – who was particularly proud of Bryant telling him last month he’s playing like an All-Star – is the face of another movement to memorialize Bryant.

Shams Charania:

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Beyond Dinwiddie, players who wear No. 8:

Players who wear No. 24:

Anyone who wants to honor Bryant giving up No. 8 or No. 24 should. Who’s anyone to tell them that’s the wrong way to grieve and pay tribute?

But other players will want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 to honor Bryant. That’s just as respectful. I hope they aren’t peer-pressured out of doing so.

Some players who want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 in memory of Bryant might even be among those giving up the number now.

In 2009, LeBron James – who was wearing No. 23 with the Cavaliers – said the NBA should retire No. 23 for Michael Jordan. He pledged to kickstart the movement the next season by changing his own number. He signed with the Heat – who already retired No. 23 for Jordan despite him never playing for them – and wore No. 6.

LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2010. His number during his second Cavs stint? No. 23. His number with the Lakers now? No. 23.

People change their minds on these things – especially when the cloudiness of grief subsides. Individual players should choose their number as they see fit.

So, I hope this doesn’t turn into a formal league-wide retirement of Bryant’s numbers. It seems more fitting – outside the most extreme cases, like Jackie Robinson in baseball – for that to remain a team honor.

Bryant is headed to the Hall of Fame. That’s the way to ratify his legacy through all of basketball.