Denver Nuggets

Western Notes: Smith, Lauvergne, Booker

The rash of frontcourt injuries suffered by the Rockets led to the team’s acquisition of Josh Smith from the Clippers on Friday, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The team hopes it will get back the services of Donatas Motiejunas in the near future, but with the big man being at least a week away from resuming basketball activities, GM Daryl Morey decided to add Smith as insurance, Feigen adds. “Long term, we expect D-Mo to be back and be able to help us,” interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Where we are now, we felt we needed to do something to light a fire and keep us afloat. There are so many guys injured, we felt we could use the help at that position and it was an easy one for us because we’ve seen what he can do.

Here’s more from out West:

  • Nuggets center Joffrey Lauvergne has seen his playing time drop with the return of Jusuf Nurkic from injury, but the 24-year-old remains a part of Denver’s future, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. “With Joffrey, what I told him was whether you play … or you don’t play, I just want to reinforce to you how much we value you,” coach Michael Malone said. “Not just me but also [GM] Tim [Connelly]. He’s a big part of what we’re doing, but long term he’s a big part of what we want to do. We believe in Joffrey Lauvergne. It’s tough for him to hear that and not get the minutes that he’s not getting at the moment, but you feel bad for guys like that because Joffrey is one of our hardest workers.
  • Despite being the NBA’s youngest player, Suns shooting guard Devin Booker has shown constant improvement this season and is one of the top performing rookies, something the player credits to coach Jeff Hornacek‘s faith in him, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic writes.
  • With the Timberwolves squarely out of the playoff picture the team should focus on seeing which lineups work the best for their young players, including finding additional playing time for Shabazz Muhammad, who has been underutilized this season, according to Danny Leroux of RealGM. It should be a priority for Minnesota to find out which players and lineup combinations work best heading into the summer, plus, it would also allow the front office to better gauge interim coach Sam Mitchell‘s ability to develop players, Leroux adds.

Nuggets Sign Sean Kilpatrick To Second 10-Day

SATURDAY, 10:34am: Denver officially announced via press release that Kilpatrick was inked to a second 10-day pact.

FRIDAY, 2:46pm: The Nuggets are expected to bring back Sean Kilpatrick on another 10-day contract, reports Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post (Twitter link). His first 10-day pact expired Thursday. Denver will face a decision about whether to keep Kilpatrick for the balance of the season when his second 10-day stint expires, since teams can’t sign any player to more than a pair of 10-day contracts in a single season.

The second-year pro has totaled nine points on 2 of 9 shooting in 24 minutes over the course of four appearances thus far with the Nuggets. All of his shot attempts have been 3-pointers, which isn’t entirely surprising, given the 44.5% clip at which he hit treys while with the D-League affiliate of the Sixers earlier this season. He averaged 27.1 points in 38.5 minutes per contest in the D-League, staking his position as a prime contender for a call-up.

Denver has 14 players on contracts that run through at least the end of the season, leaving one open spot for Kilpatrick to re-sign. Kostas Papanikolaou, who was previously in that roster spot, signed this week with Olympiacos of Greece.

Northwest Notes: Mudiay, Singler, Felton

Emmanuel Mudiay is taking a cue from Russell Westbrook of late, playing more aggressively and confidently and impressing coach Michael Malone, as Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post examines. Mudiay’s stock fell in the lead-up to the draft last year, but the Nuggets have empowered the seventh overall pick.

“I love how aggressive he’s playing,” Malone said. “Obviously he’s got to be able to make his free throws. In the last couple of games he’s not converting at the foul line. But I think the art of finishing is something that comes with time, experience, and getting used to playing against the size and length that they have in the paint, and he’s only going to get better. I just like how aggressive he’s playing right now.”

See more from the Northwest Division:

  • Kyle Singler played sparingly earlier this season even though the Thunder re-signed him to a five-year, $24.3MM deal, but the desire for more defense has led coach Billy Donovan to put Singler back in the rotation in place of Anthony Morrow, who’s in the final guaranteed season of his contract. The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel has the details.
  • The Mavericks tried to entice the Timberwolves into trading for the No. 21 overall pick this past June, with Raymond Felton attached, but the late Flip Saunders turned down the proposal, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities (Twitter links). Minnesota wound up trading with the Cavs instead to nab 24th overall pick Tyus Jones.
  • The Trail Blazers shrewdly signed Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis to deals that will give them salaries below league average and decline in value over time, allowing the team to benefit from their production at a relatively cheap cost as they move into their primes, contends Keith P. Smith of RealGM. GM Neil Olshey has Portland ahead of schedule on its rebuild, which provides a refreshing contrast to the tear-down efforts of other teams, Smith writes.

Nuggets Notes: Connelly, Arthur, Karnisovas

Nuggets GM Tim Connelly, fresh off signing his extension Tuesday, said he plans an aggressive approach as the trade deadline nears and added that he doesn’t like to see the team, which lost Tuesday to fall to 16-26, as far below .500 as it is, as Matt Moore of relays. Still, he cautioned that he doesn’t want to rush the process of building a contender and wouldn’t rule out trading for another first-round pick, Moore notes, even though the team is likely to have at least two and could have as many as four this June. Denver also has the right to swap picks with the Knicks. Rumors have linked the Nuggets to the unprotected pick that the Nets owe the Celtics, but indications are Boston doesn’t intend to trade that selection, Moore writes. See more from Denver:

  • Nuggets signees this past season lauded the culture that Connelly and his staff are building, and the extension was a sign that the franchise believes it’s found the right direction for itself after a 2014/15 that Connelly on Tuesday called an embarrasment, Moore relays in a separate piece. Denver is on track to succeed, though the missing piece is a superstar, Moore opines. “I think we’ve turned the corner,” Connelly said, “and now we have to be aggressive, opportunistic, but also patient.”
  • Darrell Arthur was one of the Nuggets who signed this summer in part because he liked where the Nuggets were headed, notes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, and retaining the power forward has paid dividends for the team this season, as Dempsey examines. That’s in large measure because Arthur has been healthy, Dempsey notes.
  • The Nuggets had been working on extensions for Connelly as well as assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas and others in the front office staff for months, according to Dempsey, who adds that the franchise has long intended to keep Connelly and his aides (Twitter link).
  • Denver is reportedly shopping J.J. Hickson while ex-Nuggets combo forward Kostas Papanikolaou has officially signed overseas. See details on those stories and more on our Nuggets team page.

Kostas Papanikolaou Signs To Play In Greece

Former Nuggets and Rockets combo forward Kostas Papanikolaou has officially signed with Olympiacos of his native Greece, the team announced via Facebook (translation via Sportando’s Orazio Cauchi). Barcelona of Spain had the right to match European offers for him, but declined to do so, according to Jose Ignacio Huguet of Mundo Deportivo (on Twitter; translation via Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). Sport24 first reported the sides had a deal that runs through June 2019. The 25-year-old was reportedly deciding between a shorter offer from the team and a deal through June 2018 from fellow Greek club Panathinaikos, so perhaps the lengthening of the Olympiacos offer was what convinced Papanikolaou to sign. In any case, it’s unclear what, if any, NBA outs the contract includes.

The Nuggets waived Papanikolaou twice this season, once at the start of training camp while he was on a non-guaranteed contract and again earlier this month, when Denver let go of the $350K partially guaranteed deal he signed in early November. He averaged 2.6 points in 11.3 minutes over 26 games with the Nuggets, including six starts, modest stats that nonetheless exceeded the 1.8 points per game he produced for the Greek national team at this summer’s Eurobasket tournament.

Denver originally acquired him from the Rockets this past summer in the Ty Lawson trade. Houston signed him in 2014 to two-year deal that gave him a sizable salary of nearly $4.798MM last season. Papanikolaou had a chance to play fairly significant minutes for the Rockets early in the 2014/15 campaign, but he only notched 4.2 points in 18.5 minutes per game that season and never lived up to the contract. He came to the NBA as a draft-and-stash prospect, having been the 48th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Do you think we’ll see Papanikolaou in the NBA again? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Nuggets Shop J.J. Hickson

The Nuggets are actively in pursuit of trades that would send out J.J. Hickson, reports Marc Stein of (Twitter links). Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported last month that Denver was said to be making the power forward available. Hickson is pulling down nearly $5.614MM this season on an expiring contract.

It’s no surprise that the Nuggets would try to see what they can get for the 27-year-old, since he’s appeared in only one game since December 8th. A root canal forced him out of Denver’s landmark win over the Warriors last week, but he’s otherwise sat because he’s been out of coach Michael Malone‘s rotation. That’s a change from early in the season, when he made nine starts, averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per contest in those games. He’s produced 7.6 points and 4.8 boards in 16.8 minutes per game in 18 appearances overall this year, numbers similar to last season but down from 2013/14, the first on his three-year, $16.145MM deal.

Freshly extended GM Tim Connelly has the Nuggets slightly below the salary cap and just two and a half games behind the Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, though they’d have to pass the Trail Blazers and Kings to catch Utah in the crowded standings. It’s unclear whether the Nuggets will buy or sell as the February 18th trade deadline approaches. Kyler wrote last month when he reported that both Hickson and Randy Foye were said to be available that the belief around the league was growing that the Nuggets might be close to offloading talent. However, Denver has won four of its last six after losing nine of its previous 10.

The Nuggets are likely to receive the protected 2016 first-round pick the Rockets owe them, though the one headed their way from Portland is a toss-up and the one from Memphis is unlikely to convey this year, as I noted last week. Denver also gets to swap picks with the Knicks if New York’s pick is better.

What do you think the Nuggets should prioritize receiving in a Hickson trade? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Nuggets Sign GM Tim Connelly To Extension

The Nuggets and GM Tim Connelly have agreed to a multi-year contract extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Connelly’s front-office staff, including assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas, will also receive new contracts, sources told Wojnarowski. The Nuggets confirmed the extensions in a press release.

Connelly and his staff have earned the trust of Denver president Josh Kroenke as they work to reconfigure the roster under first-year coach Michael Malone, Wojnarowski continues. Through trades, Connelly has acquired three potential lottery-protected first-round picks over the next two drafts, Wojnarowski points out.

Connelly drafted center Jusuf Nurkic in the first round in 2014 and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in the lottery last summer. During Connelly’s tenure since he replaced Masai Ujiri in 2013, he also traded for starting shooting guard Will Barton and reached extensions with small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and power forward Kenneth Faried.

Connelly has focused on unearthing talent that others have overlooked and that strategy has led the Nuggets to draft many international players, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post recently reported. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis in international scouting. … We want to be very well informed with any player in the world,” Connelly told Dempsey. “Certainly the more well informed we are, hopefully we make better decisions. It just so happens that when we’ve selected guys, signed guys, traded for guys, we’ve had a pretty big international influence.”

Connelly was the Pelicans’ assistant GM for three years prior to joining the Nuggets. He came through the ranks with the Wizards, working for that franchise for 10 years.

“Over the past few years Tim, Arturas, and the rest of our front office staff have worked tirelessly in reshaping our roster and our entire organizational vision for the future,” Kroenke said in the release. “Whether through the draft, trades, or free agency, we have an excellent mix of players and are extremely well positioned moving forward.”

Northwest Notes: Mitchell, Wolves, Nuggets

Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell reiterated his belief that he is developing players the right way after the Wolves ended their nine-game losing streak Sunday, Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune relays. Mitchell said that he is not frustrated with the Wolves’ struggles because he feels development is more important than wins at this point and added he hopes Wolves owner Glen Taylor understands that commitment.

“It’s bigger than me,” Mitchell said. “It may turn out that I’m here to see it. But it may turn out that I’m not. But the people in this league know there is a certain way we have to do this, and we understand that. And If I’m not a big boy enough to do it, I shouldn’t be standing here talking to you.’’

Here’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Wolves center Nikola Pekovic is exhibiting some rust after returning from the surgery he underwent back in April to repair damage to his Achilles tendon, but that is to be expected, according to Mitchell, Andy Greder of The Pioneer Press relays. After [five] games and we don’t get to practice because we play every other day, you ask me has Pek scraped off the rust? He is limited to 18 minutes a game, and I’m the person that’s prickly. Did that answer your question?,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think in 18 minutes in [five] games he’s going to scrape it off.”
  • Jazz rookie Trey Lyles has earned more playing time because of a vastly improved 3-point shot, Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune details.
  • Small forward Will Barton, who re-signed with the Nuggets this past summer on a three-year, $10.6MM deal after originally having joined the team via the Arron Afflalo trade, has come out of nowhere to contend for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes.

And Ones: Papanikolaou, Clark, Inglis, RFAs

Kostas Papanikolaou, whom the Nuggets waived last week, will return to Olympiacos in Greece, according to Sport24 (translation via Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). Papanikolaou, who won two Euroleague titles during his last stint with Olympiacos, will sign a contract that runs through June 2019. He was released twice this season by Denver, most recently on January 8th, just before the remainder of his veteran’s minimum salary of $845,059 would have been guaranteed for the season. Papanikolaou also played for the Rockets during his season and a half in the NBA, averaging 3.6 points in 69 games with the two franchises. The 6’8″ forward was sent to Denver in the July 20th trade that brought Ty Lawson to Houston.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Former lottery pick Earl Clark, who is playing in the D-League while hoping to earn a 10-day contract, was part of a trade Saturday, writes Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. Clark was sent from the Suns‘ Bakersfield affiliate to the Sixers‘ Delaware affiliate in exchange for a second-round D-League draft pick. The 27-year-old, who played 10 games with the Nets last season, hopes the move will give him a fresh start in his quest to return to the NBA. “It’s a grind,” Clark said of the D-League. “It’s definitely different from any other league. I just felt like [the NBA] was within my reach if I came down here and played well. I believe in my talent. I told myself I’m going to give myself another year to make this NBA thing work.”
  • The Bucks have sent Damien Inglis to the D-League, the team announced Saturday. Because Milwaukee doesn’t have a direct affiliate, Inglis will be assigned to the Westchester Knicks. He played for the Canton Charge during an earlier trip to the D-League.
  • Chasing restricted free agents is a risky way to pursue talent, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. The danger is that while teams wait for other organizations to decide whether to match an offer, top talent could be signing elsewhere. Prominent RFAs this summer will include Andre Drummond, Harrison BarnesBradley BealFestus Ezeli, Allen Crabbe and Evan Fournier.

Western Rumors: Durant, Cauley-Stein, Gasol

Kevin Durant is irritated by the notion that the Thunder aren’t serious title contenders, according to Royce Young of The media generally considers three teams — the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers — as the only ones that can win the championship this season, Young adds, and Durant feels his team is being overlooked. “Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Durant told Young. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt. … They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • Willie Cauley-Stein is meshing well with DeMarcus Cousins and that’s why the Kings rookie center has returned to the starting lineup, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee reports. Cauley-Stein’s defensive presence allows Cousins to play power forward and moves Rudy Gay to his natural small forward spot, giving the Kings an imposing frontcourt, Jones adds. Cauley-Stein missed two games with a finger injury. “It takes a load off me,” Cousins told Jones. “I’ve got a huge load a lot of games, and having Willie makes it easier and helps me out so much. I think he’s very seasoned on the defensive end for a rookie. He has the potential to be a very good player in this league, and I’m glad to have him back.”
  • Combo forward Kostas Papanikolaou,  who was caught off-guard by the Nuggets waiving him earlier this month, has attracted the interest of two Euroleague powers from Greece, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, according to Sportando via Sport24. Panathinaikos has made an offer through June 2018 while the Olympiacos offer runs through June 2017, the story continues. FC Barcelona holds Papanikolaou’s European rights and would have a week to match if he agrees to either offer, the story adds.
  • Marc Gasol‘s offensive numbers are down this season and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger believes his veteran center looks worn down, he told Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. Memphis’ lack of frontcourt depth has made it difficult for Joerger to reduce Gasol’s minutes. “He’s exhausted,” Joerger told Edmiston. “His legs are tired. He carries a heavy load and he’s exhausted. He won’t say it, but someone who’s been around him as much as I have, it looks to be that he’s banged up and he’s played too many minutes. It’s just what we’ve had to do; I don’t have a lot of options.” Gasol is shooting a career-low 44.5% from the field.

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