Nick Johnson

Nuggets GM Tim Connelly: Denver will be better than last season

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The Nuggets won 30 games last year.

They did it with Ty Lawson leading the team in starts, Arron Afflalo ranking fourth and Timofey Mozgov fifth.

Denver traded  Mozgov (to the Cavaliers) and Afflalo (to the Trail Blazers) during the season and Lawson (to the Rockets) this summer. In their place, Denver added rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic and reserves Nick Johnson and Joey Dorsey this offseason.

The Nuggets also hired Michael Malone to replace Brian Shaw as coach.

Does that add up to an improved team?

Denver general manager Tim Connelly, via Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post:

“I fully expect to be better than last year,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “I don’t want to put any concrete barometer on what’s good or bad this year. But we’ll be better.”

I generally like the Nuggets’ offseason. Mudiay was an excellent pick, and it was smart to renegotiate and extend Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Paying those players more now, when Denver had cap space to burn, will provide helpful savings on the back end of their deals. Once the Nuggets decided they needed to trade Lawson, getting a first-rounder and a couple decent players was a solid return.

That doesn’t translate to an immediately improved team, though.

Lawson, issues considered, was still a very good point guard. Mudiay showed tremendous promise during summer league, but he’s still a rookie at a difficult position.

Maybe Malone coaches better than Shaw. Maybe Gallinari stays healthy and builds on his late-season success. Maybe Jusuf Nurkic continues to develop. Maybe Kenneth Faried defends better.

In fact, I’d consider each of those likely (especially Malone coaching better than Shaw). But relying on a rookie point guard, even a talented one, could undermine all of it.

And that’s fine.

The Nuggets are in a better place with Mudiay. It’s OK if that means fewer wins next season, as long as Mudiay progresses throughout the season.

There’s nothing wrong with a general manager knowingly overstating his team’s ability. That happens all the time, and it generally serves just to excite fans.

But there is a problem with a general manager unknowingly overstating his team’s ability. That often leads to more mistakes down the road.

The Nuggets have struggled to set a direction in recent years, so there’s definitely potential for this to be problematic. There’s also potential for them to exceed expectations, making Connelly’s intent irrelevant.

But the reasonable projection has Denver winning about 30 games again – maybe a few more, but maybe a few less.

Jason Terry says he’s near re-signing with Rockets

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The Ty Lawson trade gave the Rockets one guard and sent out two – Nick Johnson and Pablo Prigioni, whom the Nuggets waived.

That means a familiar face likely returns to Houston – Jason Terry.

Marc Berman of Fox 26:

The Rockets hold Terry’s Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. It shouldn’t take much more than a minimum contract, though they have the flexibility to give him a little more.

Terry should probably pursue a one-year contract. That would allow him to jump to another contender next summer if Houston doesn’t present the best place to ring chase. It would also mean he must consent to being traded, because he’d be on a one-year contract with Bird Rights afterward.

Terry would provide nice depth for the Rockets. He can play either guard spot and would provide a scoring spark behind James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Lawson. Terry turns 38 before the season begins, but he started for Houston at point guard as it advanced to the Western Conference finals. He can still play, and the Rockets would be well served to bring him back.

Why the Ty Lawson trade is win-win for Houston, Denver

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As fans and analysts, the natural inclination with any trade is to pick a winner. In our minds, someone needs to come out on top. But in negotiations (and that’s what a trade is), one of the first rules is to give the other guy something they want to make sure they believe they have won. Both sides need to feel like they’ve gotten better.

That’s what we have with the Denver Nuggets trading Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets — both sides got what they wanted. It’s not perfect, but both teams think they are better for this move.

Here’s why it works for both teams.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

• They got the best player in the deal, Lawson is far superior to anyone else in this trade and bumps the Rockets potentially up with the Thunder/Spurs/Warriors/Clippers as contenders in the West.

• Houston didn’t give up any guys who were part of their playoff rotation or likely were part of their long-term plans — yes the move is a gamble but they didn’t give up much if it doesn’t pan out. It’s low risk for Houston.

• Also former NBA coach John Lucas is in Houston, and he’s a guy a lot of NBA players battling addiction issues turn to for help. The Rockets reportedly have reached out to him.

• This makes James Harden happy; he’s wanted a more offensive-minded guard next to him to relieve some of the playmaking pressure the beard faces. Lawsons’ quickness will help.

• Whether or not Lawson starts, the Rockets’ bench just got deeper.

• That said, I think this is an upgrade for the Rockets but not the massive one that some on Twitter claimed. There are two reasons holding me back. One is Lawson has personal issues to work out — he’s in a California alcohol rehab facility now and faces two DUIs from this year (he’s had three DUIs overall and there reportedly are other incidents). He will face a suspension of some length from the league. Lawson was a mess in Denver, showing up late to practice, not being motivated, and being the opposite of a leader. Lawson’s supporters say that in a new setting and given responsibilities on a contender he will get right and play well. I hope so, for his sake, but he has frustrated every NBA coach he ever had.

• My second Lawson to Houston concern is on the court — playing Lawson and Harden together would be a defensive liability. To me, it makes more sense to continue to start Patrick Beverley still and bring Lawson off the bench, just to make sure they still get stops. Coach Kevin McHale has some versatility and options in his backcourt to experiment with now, but the Lawson/Harden pairing may present problems.

DENVER NUGGETS

• Denver’s primary goal this summer is a locker room culture change and moving Lawson was a key part of that plan — they see it as addition by subtraction. Even with the non-rotation players they got back, Denver wanted to make this move to keep Lawson away from their young, developing players. Expect a few more moves to follow as Denver reshapes its roster to something coach Mike Malone can work with.

• After that second 2015 DUI, getting a first rounder for Lawson — even one that has some healthy protections and likely lands in the 20s — is an accomplishment.

• Denver also cleared out a lot of cap space, giving them real flexibility going into next summer.

• Welcome to the Emmanuel Mudiay era in Denver. That’s a very good thing, he will be in the mix for Rookie of the Year and grow from there.

• Nick Johnson has shown some potential, and Kostas Papanikoloau is the kind of shot creator Denver needs now. Those guys may develop into something for the Nuggets (if they keep Papanikoloau, his deal is not guaranteed).

John Wall blocks Corey Brewer at the rim, Nick Johnson gets him back (VIDEO)

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The Wizards lost 99-91 to the Rockets on Sunday, but John Wall made highlight plays at both ends of the floor. Check out this block on Corey Brewer at the rim:

Just for reference, Wall is 6-foot-4 and Brewer is 6-foot-9. Ridiculous.

Rockets rookie point guard Nick Johnson had a block of his own on Wall at the other end.

Johnson is going to be seeing a lot more minutes now with Patrick Beverley out. He didn’t do much else besides this block.

Nick Johnson dunks all over Ramon Sessions (VIDEO)

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Nick Johnson has some hops.

Credit Ramon Sessions for doing a good job of getting back in transition for the Kings and not just giving James Harden two easy points in transition. But he never saw Nick Johnson coming. And he ends up in a poster for it.

Harden had the last laugh, he tied the game with a three to send it to overtime, scored the first 10 points for the Rockets in the extra time, and Houston won. again