Denver Nuggets

Nuggets Ink Axel Toupane To Two-Year Deal

FRIDAY, 10:40am: The signing is official, the Nuggets announced via press release. The team also acknowledged it on Twitter. It will pay $61,776 this season.

THURSDAY, 3:21pm: The Nuggets have reached agreement with Axel Toupane on a two-year deal, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical (via Twitter). Next season’s salary is non-guaranteed, Charania adds. Denver only has the prorated minimum salary to give, so the rookie will see no more than $64,864 this season, with the precise value dependent on when he formally signs the contract. The non-guaranteed pay for next season is $874,636.

The shooting guard’s second 10-day pact expired overnight, so Denver had to make a decision about whether to sign him or let him walk. The Nuggets have a roster count of 15 players, the league maximum for the regular season, so inking Toupane will limit Denver’s roster flexibility the rest of the campaign. The team is dealing with a number of injuries, with Wilson Chandler lost for the season, Danilo Gallinari on the shelf until April with ankle woes and Kenneth Faried struggling with back issues.

Toupane has appeared in 11 games for the Nuggets and is averaging 3.0 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 13.8 minutes per outing. His shooting line is .263/.292/.857.

Sampson Has Smooth Transition; Augustin Impresses

JaKarr Sampson is surprised about how easily he’s fit in with the Nuggets since joining the team last month, as Nicki Jhabvala and Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relay. Sampson signed a two-year deal following a snafu that caused the Sixers to lose him, and he’s filled in as a starter for the injured Danilo Gallinari. Sampson is dealing with a strained right shoulder himself, but he played through it Wednesday, and his time in Denver has been smooth thus far. “The transition has been easy,” Sampson said. “My teammates have made it easy for me and coach [Michael Malone] has made it easy for me. So, it hasn’t been hard, the transition — new sets, new teammates. I love my teammates. We’ve got a great staff here. Everything has been easy for me.”

  • D.J. Augustin, who says he’d love to re-sign with the Nuggets this summer, has made a strong impression in his brief time with Denver since coming over via trade last month, observes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post“D.J.’s our security blanket,” Malone said. “He’s won games for us. Put the ball into his hands in the fourth quarter and he steps up, makes shots, hits free throws and always makes the right play.”

Sixers Loss of Sampson Was Nuggets Gain

  • Nuggets combo forward JaKarr Sampson has fond memories of playing in Philadelphia and said he was surprised when he found out the Sixers had waived him, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Sampson was released in order to clear a roster spot for Joel Anthony, but the team lost out when the trade was voided. “Even though I was on a non-guaranteed [contract], I was expecting to be there longer than what I was,” Sampson said. “A lot of that had to do with I like Philly. I fell in love with the city. I loved how the city supported us. They still support us even though we are going through struggles, and we have been going through struggles for like three years.

LeBron Longs To Play With Wade, ‘Melo, CP3

LeBron James is holding out hope that he can team with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul for at least one season before they retire, as he told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. James, 31, and Wade, 34, can hit free agency this summer, but the 30-year-old Paul’s locked in with the Clippers through next season and Anthony, 31, doesn’t have an opt-out in his deal until the summer of 2018.

“I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,” James said to Beck just before the All-Star break last month in comments that Beck kept under wraps until today (Twitter link). “At least one, maybe one or two seasons — me, Melo, D-Wade, CP — we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.”

Each is probably powerful enough to force a trade, with most such chatter surrounding Anthony, who has a no-trade clause that he’s been reluctant to consider waiving. Rumors about a three-team deal involving the Knicks, Celtics and Cavaliers emerged before the trade deadline this year, but it never appeared as though Anthony was close to joining James in Cleveland. Anthony once more reiterated his commitment to the Knicks today, as Marc Berman of the New York Post relays.

“I know the reason why I stuck it out,’’ Anthony said. “People that really understand it know why I’m sticking it out. It’s odd to question my loyalty at this point in time, especially when you showed and I’ve showed time and time again my loyalty to not just the organization, but New York and vice versa.”

Still, commitments change. That was the case with Anthony and the Nuggets, a team ‘Melo believed in strongly enough in 2006 to resist what James admits were veiled overtures meant to convince Anthony to sign a shorter extension that would allow him to become a free agent in 2010, just as James and Wade did, as Beck details. That was the summer that James and Wade teamed up on the Heat while Anthony and Paul remained under contract in Denver and New Orleans, respectively.

Anthony told Beck in January that he was disappointed that the Pistons passed him up with the second overall pick in 2003, saying that he’d been told Detroit would take him. It’s not clear who told Anthony that the Pistons would draft him instead of Darko Milicic, the center the Pistons fatefully selected when the time came. Regardless, the bond between James, Anthony, Wade and Paul is strong, and it’s made an impression on Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s mentored all of them with the USA Basketball program.

“I think they love one another,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s so damn genuine, and it’s so cool to see. … They have each others’ back, on everything.”

Do you think James, Wade, Anthony and Paul will all play together on an NBA team at some point? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Thunder Rumors: Durant, Donovan, Foye, Kanter

Heading into free agency, Kevin Durant is asked about a lot of NBA destinations, but he offered a simple answer of “It’s home” when he got that question about Oklahoma City, relays Royce Young of ESPN.com. Whether or not that offers a clue of Durant’s free agency intentions, it’s clear he has developed an affection for the city where he has spent the last eight years of his NBA career. “I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” Durant said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well.”

There’s more out of Oklahoma City:

  • Billy Donovan has adjusted to the challenge of handling two superstars in his first NBA coaching job, writes Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Donovan had spent 21 years at the college level, and 19 at the University of Florida, before replacing Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City last summer. Donovan has the Thunder, who missed the playoffs in an injury-filled season a year ago, firmly in third place in the West with a 48-22 record. “I just think that there is sort of a down-to-earth part of him that allows him to come in and be excellent at inheriting a hell of a team,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Donovan. “That’s a hard job in different ways you look at it. Because it is so veteran and they have been used to success. I thought Scotty did a hell of a job with them, too. It’s not an easy job.”
  • Randy Foye, who was acquired from the Nuggets at the trade deadline, has helped rejuvenate the bench in Oklahoma City, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman. Foye is a streaky shooter, but he has helped by limiting turnovers and playing strong defense on the perimeter. Strong bench play has also come from center Enes Kanter, whom the Thunder kept last summer by matching a five-year, $70MM offer from Portland.
  • Still recovering from hip surgery, assistant coach Maurice Cheeks is expected to return to the Thunder bench for home games beginning this week, Slater tweets. Donovan hopes Cheeks can take on full-time duty by the start of next month.
  • The Thunder have assigned forward Mitch McGary to Oklahoma City Blue in the D-League. He has played 22 games with the Blue this season, averaging 15 points and 9.1 rebounds.

Nuggets Rumors: Nurkic, Mudiay, Jokic, Gallinari

Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic is trying to pick up the pieces of an injury-plagued second season in the NBA, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. After earning second-team all-rookie honors in 2014/15, Nurkic has seen his playing time and effectiveness limited by an aching left knee. He had surgery during the offseason to repair a partially torn patellar tendon, but the knee hasn’t responded the way he hoped it would. He is averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 23 games. “I can’t control this stuff,” Nurkic said. “When I hear my name I go in. I haven’t heard it a lot this season for some reason, but I will be a professional until the end and try to finish the season the right way.” In October, Denver picked up his option for 2016/17 at $1,921,320. He also has a team option for 2017/18 at $2,947,305.

There’s more news today out of Denver:

  • Both Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic have strong cases to be first-team choices on this season’s all-rookie team, Dempsey contends in a separate story. Mudiay, the seventh player selected in the 2015 draft, leads NBA rookies in assists with 5.7 per game and is fourth in scoring average at 12.3 points per night. His main competition for first-team honors in the backcourt will come from the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and the Suns’ Devin Booker, Dempsey believes. Jokic was a second-round pick in 2014 who played in the Adriatic and Serbian leagues before coming to the NBA. He ranks second among rookies behind the Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns in player efficiency rating and is fourth in rebounding and eighth in scoring.
  • The Nuggets don’t know if Danilo Gallinari will play again this season, but the injured small forward plans to be part of the Italian team in the Summer Olympics, according to Marco “Barzo” Barzizza of Eurosport [hat tip to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando]. Gallinari suffered two torn ligaments in his right ankle during a late February game. The injury was expected to keep him out of action for about a month, but the Nuggets may shut him down for the season even if he does recover. “I don’t know if I’ll be back before the end of the season,” Gallinari said. “I am very happy to be in Denver and before thinking about new teams I hope to win something here and to play for the Denver Nuggets for many years.”

Faried Can Expect Light Workload

Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried can expect a light workload for the rest of the season, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Faried was held out of tonight’s game with the Hawks because of soreness in his back, and coach Mike Malone suggested that he might face some more DNPs. “Sometimes I feel that I may have to protect him from himself,” Malone said. “I think he wants to be out there, but, you know what? We have 14 games to go, we know what Kenneth is about, we know the high level he’s capable of playing at.” Malone said one benefit of Faried’s absence will be more playing time to evaluate big men Joffrey Lauvergne, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. Faried has three years and more than $38.764MM left on the extension he signed in 2014.

Nuggets Sign Axel Toupane To Second 10-Day

MONDAY, 10:17am: The signing is official, the Nuggets announced (Twitter link). It’ll cover six games, against the Heat, Magic, Hornets, Hawks, Cavs and Sixers.

SUNDAY, 10:37am: The Nuggets will sign Axel Toupane to a second 10-day contract, tweets Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post. The rookie swingman has impressed the Denver coaching staff since signing with the team on March 3rd, averaging 4.6 points in 13.4 minutes of action. He scored 10 points Thursday in a win over Phoenix.

“Axel has been terrific,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Dempsey. “I like guys — and it’s appropriate for guys on a 10-day contract — to fit in before you try to stand out. Axel comes in here — yeah, he knows Joffrey [Lauvergne] for a long time — but he doesn’t try to be anything he’s not. He knows his role, he works hard.”

Toupane, who collects $30,888 on each 10-day deal, was an affiliate player with the Raptors before joining the Nuggets. He had been with Toronto’s D-League team since being cut in the preseason. Denver picked him up after Danilo Gallinari tore two ligaments in his right ankle. This is Toupane’s first season in North America after several years with Strasbourg IG in his native France.

“Everybody did a great job to work with me on the team and make me feel part of the family,” Toupane said, according to Dempsey. “I had no expectation coming here. I just wanted to, every time the coach called my name, just go all out and give everything I had. I’m just happy to be here and just go hard and give everything I have.”

Western Notes: Augustin, Gordon, Barton, Varejao

Nuggets deadline trade acquisition D.J. Augustin has quickly taken to his new surroundings and says he’d love to re-sign with Denver when he hits free agency this summer, as Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relays. Coach Michael Malone is a fan of the point guard, particularly his offense, as Dempsey relays.

“I would love to be here,” Augustin said. “It’s a great city, great fans. I love the coaching staff and organization. Everything is great. So, I would love to find a home here.”

Augustin hoped for a chance to join a team that would give him more playing time as he faded from the Oklahoma City rotation this season, and while he expressed his appreciation to the Thunder for facilitating such a deal, he said he didn’t ask for a trade, Dempsey notes. See more on the Nuggets amid news from the Western Conference:

  • Eric Gordon is having surgery today on his broken right ring finger, a source told Scott Agness of VigilantSports (Twitter link). No timetable exists for the soon-to-be free agent who suffered the injury Saturday, though the Pelicans reportedly fear it’s a season-ender. It’s the same finger Gordon broke in January, an injury that forced him to miss about five weeks. The final day of the regular season is five weeks from Wednesday.
  • Malone knew little about Will Barton when the coach took over the Nuggets in the offseason, but the 25-year-old shooting guard is team’s second leading scorer this year, the first on a new three-year, $10.6MM deal, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee examines. “I’d be lying to you if I said I expected him to play as well as he has this year,” Malone said. “He’s a hard worker. He committed himself to getting better, coming back as an improved player and, like all players, I feel he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity given him. We play him 25, 30 minutes a night, put the ball in his hands and allow him to make plays and he’s done a great job of doing that, especially in the open court.”
  • Warriors assistant GM Travis Schlenk acknowledged that recent signee Anderson Varejao isn’t what he used to be, but Schlenk said in a radio appearance with Matt Steinmetz on 95.7 The Game’s “NBA This Week” show that Varejao and Joakim Noah were the best centers in the NBA three years ago. The 33-year-old Varejao only twice averaged double-figures in either points or rebounds, peaking in 2012/13 at 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game, though he played only 25 games that season because of injury.

And-Ones: Weems, Mirotic, Augustin

The Sixers acquired swingman Sonny Weems to reach the salary floor but they plan to take a hard look at him, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The Sixers claimed Weems from the Suns on Monday, allowing them to reach the minimum team salary requirement for the season since they’ll get credit for his full $2.814MM salary, even though they’ll only have to pay less than $700K, as Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders points out (Twitter link). The Sixers made similar moves to reach the floor last season, including a claim of power forward Thomas Robinson, whom they did not re-sign, Pompey notes. Weems may be a different case. Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson are the only true wing players on the roster, and thus Weems should get some opportunities to play, Pompey adds. A league source conceded to Pompey that it looks unseemly for the Sixers to work the system to meet the salary floor two years in a row but argued that the team has a legitimate need for a wing player that Weems can fulfill.

In other news around the league:

  • Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic has to prove he’s part of their future, now that he’s returned from an appendectomy, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times opines. He endured major growing pains during his second season with the team prior to the injury and he now has to work his way back into shape and be productive, Cowley continues. “You can’t play scared that if you get hit, something may happen, or you’ll have a setback,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told Cowley and other members of the Chicago media. “You just have to go out there and react and play. I think it was big step for Niko. Now it’s a matter of getting his lungs in shape and getting his wind back.’
  • Point guard D.J. Augustin has revived his career with the Nuggets, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. Augustin averaged 12.8 points and shot 54.3% on 3-point attempts in his first nine games with Denver after he was acquired in a trade deadline deal from the Thunder. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has averaged 16.4 turnovers, fourth-most in the league, since the trade, Horne notes.
  • The Warriors recalled power forward Kevon Looney from their D-League affiliate, as the Santa Cruz Warriors tweet.
  • The Thunder assigned forwards Josh Huestis and Mitch McGary to their D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, according to the team’s website. Huestis has already appeared in 16 D-League games this season, while McGary has played 17 games with the Blue.

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