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Nuggets Sign Monte Morris To Three-Year Deal

JULY 25: The Nuggets have officially signed Morris, the team announced today in a press release.

JULY 19: The Nuggets have reached an agreement with Monte Morris on a three-year contract worth $4.8MM, with the first two seasons guaranteed, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Morris had been on a two-way contract with Denver, but his new deal will be a standard contract that moves him to the team’s 15-man roster.

Morris, the 51st overall pick in the 2017 draft, only appeared in three NBA games during his rookie season. However, he had a strong season for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G League, averaging 17.8 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.8 SPG in 37 contests.

The 6’2″ guard also played well for the Nuggets in Summer League action this month, posting a team-high 17.5 PPG on 50% shooting in four games in Las Vegas. He also chipped in 6.3 APG and 3.3 RPG.

Morris will fill out the roster for the Nuggets, who now have 15 players on NBA contracts. He figures to slot in as the team’s third point guard behind Jamal Murray and Isaiah Thomas. As long as both Murray and Thomas are healthy, Morris may not have much of a role in Denver’s rotation, so more G League stints are possible.

A three-year, minimum-salary contract would have been worth about $4.66MM for Morris. Based on Charania’s report, he’ll receive slightly more than that, so Denver will likely use Morris’ Non-Bird rights to complete the signing.

Nuggets Sign Monte Morris To Two-Way Contract

The Nuggets have signed second-round pick Monte Morris to a two-way contract, the team announced today in a press release. It’s the second two-way deal for Denver — the club confirmed earlier this week that forward Torrey Craig received the other one.

[RELATED: 2017/18 NBA Two-Way Contract Tracker]

Morris, 22, played his college ball at Iowa State, averaging 16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 4.8 RPG in his senior year. The young point guard was selected 51st overall in the 2017 NBA draft last month, so he’ll become the highest pick so far to agree to a two-way contract rather than an NBA deal.

Two-way contracts are a new addition to the NBA’s latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, so it has been interesting to see how teams have been using them for second-round picks in particular. So far, the four players drafted between Nos. 51 and 54 have all reportedly agreed to two-way deals.

For more information on how two-way contracts work, be sure to check out our FAQ.

Nuggets Notes: Bol, Malone, Rotation, Porter, Craig, Murray

The Nuggets have recalled rookie center Bol Bol from the G League but they’re not burning any of the 45 days he’s allotted to spend in the NBA on his two-way contract, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

Bol is expected to remain with the Nuggets for a couple of weeks but won’t practice or play before being sent back down to the Windy City Bulls. He’ll be listed as out due to “injury management” for his surgically repaired left foot, Singer adds. Bol has averaged 11.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 2.3 BPG in less than 17 MPG with Windy City.

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • The league has instituted coach’s challenges this season but like many of the men who patrol the sidelines, Michael Malone likes to save his challenge for crunch time, Eric Spyropoulos of the team’s website notes. “As you see it kind of play out, most coaches like to keep it (the challenge) in their pocket for late game situations. The only time I can see using it early is if you’re trying to protect a great player (from foul trouble),” Malone said.
  • The Nuggets have plenty of depth, which has created a pleasant dilemma for Malone on a game-by-game basis, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic points out. Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris and Jerami Grant have defined reserve roles but Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Michael Porter Jr. and Malik Beasley have seen major fluctuations in playing time. “It’s not easy from a player or coach’s standpoint,” Plumlee said. “But I’ll say guys have handled it as well as any team I’ve been on.”
  • Porter has appeared in 10 games, averaging 3.8 PPG in 9.0 MPG, and Malone hopes to expand his role, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic“I have to find ways to play him this year,” Malone said. “This cannot be a wasted year for him.”
  • Craig has lost playing time but he’s not creating any problems in the locker room, Singer relays in a separate story“We all get along, we’re all happy for each other when each other have success,” he said. “I’m not one to sit here and pout when my teammates are doing good. If they’re doing good and we’re winning, I’m happy.”
  • Jamal Murray will play for Team Canada next summer, Michael Grange of Sportsnet Canada reports. Canada will host an Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C. in late June, and then head to Tokyo if the team snags one of the six remaining spots in the 12-team Olympic tournament.

Marcus Morris Showcasing Leadership Qualities With Knicks

Marcus Morris joined the Knicks this offseason after opting to leave the Spurs at the altar. Morris chose New York despite the fact that the team had signed several forwards during the summer. The roster jam, as well as the young nature of the team, had many questioning the 30-year-old’s fit. It turns out Morris’ fit is as a leader.

“I can’t rave about his leadership enough,” Fizdale said (via Greg Joyce of The New York Post). “I think he’s an excellent leader. I’ve been around some great basketball leaders and he is an excellent leader. One of the best I’ve been around. All these guys respect him. His way of going about it is very selfless. He always owns his own stuff first before he tells someone else what to do.”

Morris signed a one-year, $15MM contract with the Knicks and he’s arguably been the most consistent player on the team so far this season. In 15 games with the club, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals while shooting 46.4% from behind the arc.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Morris, Thomas, Layman

Scotty Hopson and Richard Solomon are both back on the free agent market after their 10-day contracts with the Thunder expired, according to the Real GM transactions page. Oklahoma City signed both players shortly before the All-Star break to reach the NBA’s roster limit. The team is back down to 13 players and will have two weeks to fill at least one opening.

Neither player saw any court time in OKC. Solomon has yet to appear in an NBA game, while Hopson played two games with the Cavaliers during the 2013/14 season and one with the Mavericks last year.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Markieff Morris has found a perfect opportunity with the Thunder, his twin brother said in a comment tweeted by Jay King of The Athletic. Markieff signed with Oklahoma City after reaching a buyout with the Pelicans, who acquired him from the Wizards at the trade deadline. “I think that’s a great fit for him,” Marcus Morris said. “… I don’t think they have a guy like him over there. … I think he could be that piece that helps them battle it out with Golden State.”
  • Isaiah Thomas‘ return to action adds one more player to an already deep Nuggets backcourt and could present Michael Malone with his greatest coaching challenge of the season, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. In two games since returning from his latest hip surgery, Thomas has scored 24 points in 29 minutes and could be a valuable weapon off the bench for the rest of the season. Malone, who already had five guards that were getting regular playing time, unveiled a three-guard lineup Friday that had Thomas, Monte Morris and Gary Harris on the court together. “If we have to adjust, we will,” Malone said, “but playing small, you got three playmakers out there that can all generate shots for their teammates and get their own shot in Monte, in Isaiah, in Gary Harris. That’s a pretty good bench unit, if you ask me.”
  • Jake Layman has become a “secret weapon” for the Trail Blazers, notes Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype. A second-round pick in 2016, Layman saw little action during his first two NBA seasons, but has made a breakthrough this year through a combination of shooting and athleticism.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Butler, Morris, Sefolosha

The Timberwolves‘ roller coaster season took a new turn on Friday, with the team suffering a 30-point loss to the Bucks in front of their home crowd. Minnesota has been rocked by trade rumors centered around Jimmy Butler, who remains on the roster nearly six weeks after his trade request went public.

Despite the constant, sometimes nagging attention from media and fans, Wolves players have tried to keep their focus on handling business and business only.

“Me personally, I don’t care,” Gorgui Dieng said, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “If they trade Jimmy, then they’re trading him. If they keep him here, then they keep him here. It’s not my decision, it’s not something that I have a voice [in]. Most important is just what’s important for the team, and what I can do to help this basketball team.”

The Wolves have opened the 2018/19 season with a 2-4 record, and discussions to trade Butler are ongoing. Butler scored just four points on 2-11 shooting in Friday’s game.

“No team is ever going to go through a perfect season unscathed,” Taj Gibson said. “Everybody has a story at the end of the year sometimes of triumph and sometimes falling down. We’re in a crazy situation, kind of difficult, but we have to push through it. That’s why we’re professionals.

“We have to go into every practice, into every game with a smile on your face and push yourself.”

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Andrew Wiggins discussed his relationship with Jimmy Butler last week, stating that he and Butler “have always been cool,” according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter link). Wiggins also claims the infamous practice where Butler stormed the court and took on the Wolves’ starters was overblown (Twitter link).
  • The emergence of second-year player Monte Morris has greatly helped the Nuggets, who have jumped out to a 4-1 record this season, Mike Singer of The Denver Post contends. Morris is averaging 9.4 points in five games, providing depth in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas still out to injury.
  • Jazz guard Thabo Sefolosha will be available to play Sunday against the Mavericks, according to Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. Sefolosha served a five-game suspension this season for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy in April, and played just 38 games with the team last year.

Western Notes: Morant, Harrell, Hood, Gasol, Murray

The Grizzlies are playing Ja Morant limited minutes and they plan to keep it that way for the foreseeable future, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Morant played fewer than 30 minutes in four of his first five games, with the exception coming during an overtime game. Coach Taylor Jenkins hopes the approach will keep the second overall pick and anointed floor leader fresh during the 82-game schedule. “I’ve always been a big believer, you start playing in the mid-30s (minutes per game) you kind of wear down,” Jenkins said. “Our rookies, including him, have never played 82 games in a season.”

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Forward Montrezl Harrell continues to prove his worth to the Clippers, Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times writes. Harrell, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, is averaging 19.3 PPG and 5.9 RPG to help the team weather the injury absence of Paul George. After acquiring him in the Chris Paul deal with Houston, the Clippers were so unsure about Harrell that they considered waiving him during the summer of 2017, according to Elliott.
  • Trail Blazers guard Rodney Hood suffered a knee injury on Saturday but he didn’t sustain any structural damage, Jason Quick of The Athletic reports. The team’s medical staff determined that Hood has a bone bruise. Hood re-signed with Portland this offseason on a two-year, $11.7MM contract. Veteran center Pau Gasol, who joined Portland on a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract, has ramped up his workouts as he continues rehab from offseason foot surgery. Gasol did a series of shooting drills after a shootaround last week.
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has become a more vocal leader this season and his teammates appreciate the change, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic relays. “I think it’s big-time,” fellow guard Monte Morris said. “If he’s going to be our starting point guard, everybody’s going to look for him to lead us.”
  • Nikola Jokic‘s numbers are down and Nuggets coach Michael Malone says his center must get more aggressive, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. He’s averaging 15.8 PPG, 4.3 PPG down from his average last season, while taking 2.6 fewer shots per game. “I don’t think he is, in terms of people thinking he’s checked out or not playing hard,” Malone said. “I don’t see that as the case at all. … I just have to make sure I keep on reminding him of how important he is to us, being aggressive and setting the tone.” Jokic is in the second year of a five-year, $147.7MM contract.

Marcus, Markieff Morris Sign With Roc Nation Sports

Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris have new representation, according a tweet from Roc Nation Sports welcoming both players to the agency.

The Morris twins were previously represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, but Paul and Marcus parted ways this summer after Marcus reneged on a contract agreement with the Spurs and opted to sign with the Knicks instead. Paul reportedly urged Marcus not to back out of that tentative deal with San Antonio.

Markieff, who signed with the Pistons this summer, didn’t have as tumultuous a free agency experience as his brother, but it’s not surprising that he has elected to move on from Paul as well. The Morris twins have often operated as a unit throughout their NBA careers, having initially signed with Klutch Sports together during the summer of 2018.

Both brothers could be back on the free agent market next summer. Marcus’ $15MM deal with New York is just a one-year pact, so he’ll definitely become an unrestricted free agent. Markieff’s future is less certain, since his Pistons contract features a second-year player option worth $3.36MM. He could turn it down to reach the open market, or opt in and remain with Detroit.

Atlantic Notes: Morris, Raptors, Nets, Jordan

Knicks forward Marcus Morris recently expressed some disappointment that he didn’t get an opportunity to remain with the Celtics when he became a free agent this summer. Responding to those comments in an appearance today on Toucher and Rich in Boston, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge acknowledged that the C’s didn’t make Morris an offer once the team locked in on Kemba Walker. However, Ainge did say the team put a three-year extension offer on the table for Morris before the 2018/19 season began (Twitter link via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston).

Because Morris was earning a fairly modest salary last season, the Celtics’ ability to give him a significant raise would have been limited. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes (via Twitter), Boston would have been able to offer up to about $34.36MM for three years, the same deal Spencer Dinwiddie got from Brooklyn.

Whether or not the Celtics went as high as $34MM+, Morris did better as a free agent in terms of 2019/20 salary — but his $15MM deal with New York only covers one season. If he had known what awaited him in free agency, it’s possible he would have more open to that three-year extension offer last year. And if he had accepted it, it likely would have had a ripple effect on the Celtics’ future plans, including perhaps their ability to land Walker.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • With Patrick McCaw out at least a month after undergoing knee surgery, head coach Nick Nurse said before Wednesday’s game that undrafted rookie Terence Davis will get the first shot at becoming the eighth man in the Raptors‘ rotation (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). Davis committed five fouls in just seven minutes on Wednesday, but still looks like the frontrunner for those minutes, according to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, who views Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher as other candidates.
  • Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot could have made more money by returning overseas, but he decided to accept a two-way contract with the Nets, as he explains to Chris Milholen of NetsDaily. “I wanted to still keep a foot in the NBA,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who played with Long Island Nets head coach Shaun Fein several years ago in France. “The Nets always gave their two-ways an opportunity to play and that was the goal. I am just trying to get better with everything I work on. In the G League, be a leader of the team, try to do something good with the team.”
  • In other Nets news, Brian Lewis of The New York Post explores Rodions Kurucs‘ struggles to adjust to a new role this season, while Peter Botte of The New York Post says DeAndre Jordan‘s ankle injury isn’t as bad as initially feared. Jordan is being listed as day-to-day.

Nuggets Notes: Free Agents, Beasley, Murray

The Nuggets are about to find out whether a roster full of players who deserve regular minutes is really a good problem to have, writes Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. That’s how coach Michael Malone has been framing the situation, but keeping everyone happy on one of the league’s deepest teams could be a season-long challenge. Coming off a 54-win season, Denver traded for Jerami Grant this summer and will have to incorporate 2018 lottery pick Michael Porter Jr.

Playing time will be important with potentially half the roster heading into a contract year. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee both have expiring deals, and Grant could become an unrestricted free agent as well if he declines a $9.3MM option for 2020/21. Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley are both eligible for rookie scale extensions, while Monte Morris and Jarred Vanderbilt will be eligible for extensions next summer. Torrey Craig is headed for restricted free agency.

“Sacrifice is the biggest word in our locker room,” Morris said. “We’re so deep that you have to be able to know sometimes that it ain’t gonna be your night. It’s knowing that you can be the so-called hero with six points on any given night.”

There’s more out of Denver:

  • The team has a little more than a week to reach an extension with Beasley before facing the prospect of matching a very expensive offer sheet next summer, Kosmider notes in a separate story. Beasley already rejected a three-year, $30MM offer and recently hired Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as his new representative. The fourth-year shooting guard has a chance to cash in if he can repeat last year’s outbreak, which saw him average 15.9 PPG while shooting 55% from the floor and 50% from 3-point range. “I don’t think you can look at an 82-game season as a fluke,” Malone said. “… He built up to that. He worked toward that and when the opportunity presented itself, he took advantage of it.”
  • It was only a matter time of time before Jamal Murray signed a maximum-salary contract, so Denver determined it made sense to do it sooner rather than later, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. With championship hopes this season, the Nuggets wanted to resolve Murray’s contract situation early so he could focus on basketball.
  • Denver isn’t likely to make a trade early in the season, Singer adds in the same piece. Barton, Hernangomez and Gary Harris all missed time with injuries last year, so that depth could be needed until opportunities emerge closer to February’s trade deadline.

The Beat: Monte Poole On The Warriors

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times about the Bucks. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Warriors from Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area. You can follow Monte on Twitter at @MontePooleCSN, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: It’s stunning, really. No team had ever won more than 15 games in a row to start the season, and now here are the Warriors at 22-0. [We talked to Poole before Golden State’s win over the Pacers on Tuesday that sent the team to 23-0] What sets this team apart from everyone else?

Monte Poole: I think it’s a couple of things. One, the system that they put in last year really did two things. It made their offense open up a little bit, and it showed them the value of defense leading to offense. They really did a great job of it last year. This year, I think their defense has fallen off a little bit, but they know that they can find that defense in spurts, four of five minutes here, five or six minutes there, and turn games around. So, you have that, plus the fact that you have Steph Curry, the most creative scorer and distributor in the game today, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe. You have a deep team, and several guys who are pretty unique around the NBA in terms of what they can do, leading off again with Steph and Draymond Green.

Hoops Rumors: It’s early, but has Green already proven that the five-year, $82MM deal he signed in the offseason is a bargain for the Warriors?

Monte Poole: Well, it’s already proven that they didn’t overpay the guy, that he’s not going to rest on his laurels, because that’s not his makeup. He’s had to fight for everything he’s gotten. He came into the league as a second-round draft pick, and he will be the first to tell you that he heard a lot of rejection from other scouts, and teams told him he wasn’t good enough. They pointed to things that he couldn’t do and didn’t focus on the things that he can do. So, he came into the league believing that he had to prove to people that he deserved to be picked higher, he deserved to be more respected, and I would say that he’s gotten that. I like to say three years ago teams were looking at Draymond Green and saying, “Nah, we don’t think so,” and “No, we don’t think so,” “He can’t do this,” “He can’t do that,” and now, guess what they’re doing. They’re looking for the next Draymond Green.

And it’s heart. He’s got a tremendous competitive heart. He’s one of those guys that really sort of personifies the underdog, and actually Steph has some of that, too. Both of these guys know what it’s like to be told, “You’re not good enough.” You think about Steph, and how both of his parents went to Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech [said to Steph], “Nah, we don’t think so. Thanks, but no thanks.” Now, generally speaking, when both your parents went to a school, you can kind of get in there without a problem, but they weren’t swayed. And Coach K at Duke [Mike Krzyzewski] never looked twice at him. And he says now, “Big mistake,” but if you’re Steph Curry, it doesn’t help you out to hear that. And so, you look at those two guys, the two leaders of this team, and both of them came into the league believing that they had to prove to people that they could play. And they take that attitude into each and every game, every night. And that’s what you see. You see a team that, really, they don’t just want to beat you. They want to kind of annihilate you. They want to show you that they can, despite being told that they can’t.

Hoops Rumors: What has interim coach Luke Walton done, or not done, that’s helped the team to its historic start?

Monte Poole: Luke will be the first to tell you that he is basically a product of the system installed by Steve Kerr. He’s a little bit different guy, of course, but what he’s been able to do is keep the system alive, keep it going, and he hasn’t lost the respect of the players. There was some concern going into the season that, “OK, Steve Kerr won’t be around, so will they treat Luke Walton like a substitute teacher?” And there are very little traces of that. For the most part, they understand him, they listen to him, they talk to him, they respect him — that’s huge. So, he has been able to get these guys most of the time at the level they can play at.

Now, I would say there may be one or two things that I think would be different if Steve were around, and one of those things is turnovers. That’s Steve Kerr’s pet peeve. And there have been games this year where the Warriors went over the 20 mark in turnovers, and that would drive Steve nuts. Luke is a little more willing to take it in stride because they’re winning, and he doesn’t want to change anything dramatically because it’s not his team to change. So, he’s going to let them get away with that a little bit as long as they’re winning, and they’ve done that. The other thing is that they don’t play as great a defense as they can for as long as they can. They were better on defense early last year than they are right now. I don’t think it’s a big deal, because, again, they know that they can play it, and that if it’s a close game, and they play their type of defense for five or six minutes, that they’ll a double-digit lead. So, you could say maybe that’s something that Luke is kind of letting slide a little bit, but, hell, he’s 22-0, so it’s kind of hard to criticize the guy.

Hoops Rumors: Harrison Barnes is taking more shots and scoring more points than ever before, and Andre Iguodala said that the team is trying to give him a boost, cognizant that it’s his contract year. Have you noticed Barnes’ teammates looking out for him more often on the court?

Monte Poole: I mean, it’s always been sporadic. Last year, same way. There were times when Harrison would be a focal point for a few minutes of the game. There were times when he would disappear. And I don’t think it’s been that much different this year. There have been times when he’s barely there, and there have been times when you say, “OK, my God, this guy is going full-flight right now.” So, I don’t think it’s a dramatic difference. I do think Andre, he talked last year about getting Klay Thompson paid, and now he wants to get Harrison paid. I think Harrison’s going to get paid no matter what. He will get paid. I don’t see, quote-on-quote, a conscious effort, because, let’s face it, Harrison is like the fourth option in their offense. He doesn’t do a lot of dribbling, a lot of ball-handling. He’s basically a stand-up shooter and occasionally gets to go one-on-one with somebody and tries to go to the hoop, and he’s good in transition. So, he’ll get most of his points off transition baskets and just catch-and-shoot. I don’t think that’s changed a whole lot.

I asked Bob Myers, the general manager, before the season started, and I asked Luke this, too: “Are you concerned at all that maybe Harrison, being in a contract year, might go out of his game a little bit and try to do a little too much?” And Luke said, “I’ve seen guys do that, but I don’t think that’s Harrison’s personality, I don’t think that’s our team’s personality. I’d be surprised if it happens.” I’ve got to say that I don’t think it’s really happened. Any more shots that he’s gotten that he wouldn’t have gotten last year I think are just a product of the team getting deeper into its offense, because last year they were probably at 60% of it, and now they’re probably at 70 or 80% of it.

[Myers] said exactly that. He looked at his roster, and said, “That’s one of the things that I can honestly say about this roster is that I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room that would say, ‘It’s about me, it’s about what I need and what I’m going to do.'” I think he’s right. It’s a quality team with quality players that have positive attitudes. They’re not all the same, they’re not cookie-cutter, but at the same time, you don’t sense that anybody is ready to make his agenda bigger than that of the team. Harrison certainly falls into that category. He doesn’t do that. He keeps within the team. It’s only in spurts when he gets really aggressive, and they want to see that. They want to see the aggressive Harrison Barnes because he’s effective. So, Bob believes the same thing that Luke does, that it’s not a problem in terms of Harrison going too far and getting outside of his normal game.

Hoops Rumors: Festus Ezeli‘s minutes are up, but it’s clear that the Warriors are at their best when they don’t have a true center on the floor. What do the results of this season say about Ezeli’s value to the team?

He’s actually got pretty good numbers. The metrics on him are pretty good, and [the Warriors] tell him all the time, the message is that, “You play defense, you anchor the back line, you take care of the paint, and anything else you do for us is gravy.” Well, he’s been actually giving them a little bit of gravy this year. They know that Andrew Bogut is prone to injury. He may be 31, but you know, Bogut’s probably going to be playing three to four more years, and they know he’s not going to be around a whole lot longer. So, I think they do value Festus. They understand his value to the team. I think they want to keep him. He runs the floor very well. He’s still got upside, and you’re seeing it every day and every month. He’s better each year because he’s working at it. And assistant coach Ron Adams — who by the way was voted the top assistant coach in the NBA in a poll of general managers — has sort of taken Festus as his personal pet project. And both after practices and before games, you’ll see Ron and Festus off in the corner sometimes by themselves going over video, or going over post moves, or going over defensive tactics and so forth.

So, they are investing in him, and I think they mean to have him around for a long time. He’s the big that can actually run the court like the smalls, and there’s value in that, because there are certain teams that you will need a guy like him on the floor [against], guys that Bogut can’t keep up with maybe. And Festus does a better job of being a big who can run the floor. Yeah, the small team is their most effective team most of the time, but they can’t always rely on that, and there are going to be times when they know they need Festus — and Bogut, too — but Festus is a guy who’s younger, and a little more agile, and a guy who they believe can be a quality starting center in the league for years to come.

Pistons Notes: Rose, Wood, Morris, Jackson

Derrick Rose has gotten off to a strong start with the Pistons but he’ll remain on a minutes limitation, James Edwards III of The Athletic relays. Rose, who signed a two-year, $15MM contract as a free agent this summer, averaged 25.3 PPG and 5.0 APG in his first three games despite playing 26.3 MPG.

“I got to watch his minutes,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I try to keep his minutes around 27, 28. That limits us to what we can do with him. … If it’s tight or close, we may fudge the numbers a little bit, but for the most part, we’re going to keep it around that number each and every night.”

We have more on the Pistons:

  • Center Christian Wood beat out Joe Johnson for the final roster and made his first meaningful contribution against the Sixers on Saturday night, Rod Beard of the Detroit News notes. Wood, who was claimed off waivers, had 11 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes as Blake Griffin remains sidelined with hamstring and knee injuries. “I was able to show that I want to be in the rotation,” Wood said.
  • Forward Markieff Morris, who is starting while Griffin mends, was fined $35K by the league for directing inappropriate and offensive language toward a game official, according to a league press release. Morris, who joined Detroit on a two-year, $6.56MM contract, made those remarks during the loss to the Sixers.
  • Point guard Reggie Jackson underwent tests on his sore lower back, Keith Langlois of the team’s website tweets. Jackson, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, missed his second consecutive game on Monday. “The doctor’s going to read the results and see what it is,” Casey said.

Knicks Notes: Smith, Ntilikina, Morris, Barrett

Dennis Smith Jr. has become the scapegoat for Knicks‘ fans in an 0-3 start, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Smith turned in his third straight ugly performance last night in the team’s home opener, missing all three of his shots in 11 minutes and falling to 1-of-11 for the season. He was 3-of-17 in two preseason games after returning from a back issue. Fans booed loudly when he was in the game and started a “We want Frank” chant in the second half, referring to little-used guard Frank Ntilikina.

Smith is being singled out because he was the key piece the team received in the January trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Porzingis has recovered from a torn ACL and is averaging 23.5 PPG in his first two games with the Mavericks. The trade also gave the Knicks enough cap room to sign two max-level free agents, but they missed on their top targets, further angering their fans.

“Our fans are passionate. I get it,’’ Fizdale said of the reaction to Smith. “The kid is obviously struggling. We’ll look at the situation and continue to adjust. (The fans) know what they like and what they want. It doesn’t do anything to my mindset. I’m going to coach this team.’’

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Fizdale told reporters that Ntilikina will eventually get a chance to earn playing time and hinted that a shooting slump is keeping him out of the lineup, Berman adds in the same piece. The 2017 lottery pick has been on the court for three total minutes this season. “It’s three games in,’’ Fizdale said. “It’s not like 20 games into the season. But other guys will get opportunities. That’s how it will work. You either perform and get it done or you’re not. (Ntilikina is) overthinking it and pressing it. He’s mentally tough and he’s struggling right now, but he’ll find his way out of it.’’
  • Marcus Morris had an unusual free agent experience this summer, verbally committing to the Spurs before switching to the Knicks when they made a better offer. However, that could have been avoided if the Celtics had tried to keep him, tweets A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. “I guess that’s the business,” Morris said. “I thought I at least deserved a phone call, but it is what it is.”
  • At age 19, RJ Barrett looks ready for any challenge, including a game-deciding battle with Kyrie Irving, observes Steve Popper of Newsday.

Knicks Notes: Popovich, Morris, Irving, Rotation, Payton

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t just upset at Marcus Morris. He was also ticked off at the Knicks organization concerning Morris’ free agent odyssey, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reports. Morris backed out of a verbal agreement with San Antonio and inked a one-year, $15MM contract with New York. “Who signed him? I thought it was the Knicks that signed him,” Popovich said. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

However, Popovich has made peace with Morris, as the two embraced after the teams played each other on Wednesday. “That meant a lot. I didn’t know how he felt,” Morris said. “I spoke to him after I made my decision. So it was good to clear the air.”

We have more on the Knicks:

  • While the organization may have been disheartened by Kyrie Irving‘s decision to join the Nets, coach David Fizdale wasn’t caught off-guard by the All-Star point guard’s decision, Ian Begley of SNY TV reports. “Nothing surprises me anymore,” Fizdale said. “Guys are going to go where they feel is best for them,” he said. “He felt that that was best for him. I’m happy with the guys that we got.”
  • Fizdale admits he’s still a long way from settling on a rotation, Begley notes in the same story. “I’m sure it’s tough for them (not) being set in a rotation. At the same time, we’re not there yet,” he said. “Some teams have the luxury to know here’s my starting five, here’s my backups. Everybody can just dial into when they’re going to play every single night. But right now we don’t have that luxury.”
  • Elfrid Payton has apparently taken the lead in the starting point guard race after the opener, Marc Berman of the New York Post relays. Payton posted 11 points, eight assists and five steals with no turnovers as Dennis Smith and Frank Ntilikina struggled. Rookie RJ Barrett got the start in game one, but that experiment may be over, Berman writes. “By no means is this an indictment on anybody or stuck in stone,” Fizdale said. “I still want these guys to be fighting for that top spot.”

Nuggets Notes: Beasley, Hernangomez, Bol, Cancar

Possible extensions for Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez are the last pieces of business the Nuggets may address before the opening of training camp, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Denver’s front office acted quickly to give Jamal Murray a max extension, but the others aren’t clear-cut decisions, and Singer examines the positives and negatives of reaching deals with both players before the October 21 deadline.

Beasley emerged as a valuable bench player last season after injuries to Gary Harris and Will Barton. He averaged 15.9 PPG and shot 55% from the field as a starter, including 50% on 3-pointers. He enters this season as Harris’ primary backup, but still needs to improve on defense before coach Michael Malone will be comfortable playing him late in games. Singer speculates that based on last year’s performance, Beasley may want to skip an extension and try his luck as a restricted free agent next summer.

Hernangomez is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him fall out of the rotation by the second half of the season. He had core surgery after the season ended and is coming off a strong performance with Spain’s gold medal-winning World Cup team. Hernangomez doesn’t have an established role and figures to compete for playing time with Barton, Torrey Craig, Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant.

There’s more today from Denver:

  • It may be time for the Nuggets to move some of their depth in exchange for an established star, suggests Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. If the Wizards decide to part with Bradley Beal, for example, Kosmider believes Denver could put together a competitive offer involving Harris, Porter and a future first-rounder or possibly Hernangomez, Monte Morris, Beasley and a future pick. Other possible targets could include Kevin Love, Jeff Teague or one of the Raptors‘ veterans.
  • Bol Bol may spend his entire rookie season in the G League, Kosmider states in a mailbag column. Bol was a highly touted college prospect before injuries cut his season short, and the Nuggets view him as a project that will take time to develop, Kosmider adds, which is why he was signed to a two-way contract. Bol’s progress may be complicated because Denver doesn’t have a direct G League affiliate, which means much of the work will be done by another organization.
  • Vlatko Cancar may be in the same position, but his standard contract gives him a better chance to win a role in training camp, Kosmider notes in the same piece.

Knicks Notes: Point Guards, Rabb, Morris, Robinson

Nobody in the three-way battle for the Knicks‘ starting point guard spot played well enough to earn a start in tonight’s season opener, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina were all on the bench for the beginning of the game in San Antonio as coach David Fizdale opted to use rookie RJ Barrett at the point alongside Allonzo Trier.

“I just like that combination of RJ and Allonzo Trier to be out there,’’ Fizdale told reporters before the game. “The competition is still on and I’m still searching for combinations that are going to fit. Coming into this, I want to see how that looks. I’m going to keep putting it on them to really have to earn it and really force me to play you. None of this is in stone, but at the same time the competition is on.”

Payton, Smith and Ntilikina all struggled in the preseason, especially with shooting, while Trier stood out with an improved jumper. Berman suggests the decision could be seen as a slight against the front office, which signed Payton this summer and picked up Ntilikina’s fourth-year option earlier this week.

There’s more from New York:

  • Fizdale has previous experience with Ivan Rabb, who was signed today to a two-way contract, Berman notes in a separate story. Fizdale was Rabb’s first coach as a rookie in Memphis, although he was fired after 19 games. “Good kid, hard worker,” he said of Rabb. “Really skilled big. Rebounds the ball well. A high-IQ player. It will be good to get back with him and develop him.”
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remains bitter about Marcus Morris‘ decision to back out of a commitment to San Antonio this summer and sign with the Knicks instead (video link from RJ Marquez of KSAT in San Antonio). Morris verbally agreed to a two-year, $19MM deal with the Spurs before changing his mind when New York was able to offer $15MM for one season. As expected, the San Antonio crowd booed him loudly before tonight’s game.
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a look at how Mitchell Robinson was able to overcome a negative college experience and provide some hope for the future in New York.

Eastern Notes: Sabonis, Brown, Zizic, Hutchison, Morris, Rose

The Hawks were interested in making runs next summer at Pacers power forward Domantas Sabonis and Celtics forward Jaylen Brown if they had become restricted free agents, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports. Atlanta is one of four teams, along with Charlotte, Cleveland and Memphis, that will have significant cap space in the offseason and thus could have put together a big offer sheet for either player. Sabonis signed a four-year, $74.9MM extension with the Pacers while Brown inked a four-year, $115MM deal with Boston.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • There’s a strong possibility the Cavaliers will try to bring back center Ante Zizic next summer even though they declined their fourth-year option on him, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The Cavs can only offer Zizic a max of $3.87MM as a starting salary after declining the option. Zizic has been sidelined since the preseason with a foot injury.
  • Bulls forward Chandler Hutchison had hoped to return to action on Friday but he’ll be sidelined a little longer, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago relays. Hutchison has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury. “Hutch is still working his way through. Don’t have anything new to report on that. We’ll see how that plays out,” coach Jim Boylen said. Hutchison spent the week practicing with their G League affiliate and pronounced himself ready to go on Thursday, the Windy City Bulls, Mark Schanowski of NBC Sports Chicago notes.
  • Knicks forward Marcus Morris was disappointed the Celtics didn’t show interest in re-signing him during free agency, Jay King of The Athletic reports. Morris wound up in New York on a one-year deal after backing out on a verbal agreement with San Antonio. “I thought it was a great possibility of me coming back here,” Morris said. “So, by me not even getting that opportunity or getting that chance to have that, I refuse to do anything with Boston.”
  • Derrick Rose signed a two-year, $15MM contract with the Pistons and he’s thrilled with his choice, Keith Langlois of the team’s website writes. Rose has gotten off to a strong start and he’s happy with the organization. “I feel great,” he said. “Even making the decision to come here. Every day that we’re in Detroit, my family is happy being there. I’m happy being there. You hear things from afar, you don’t know what to expect. But everything’s been up and up.”

Knicks Notes: Brazdeikis, Morris, Smith Jr., Randle

The Knicks‘ Summer League star hasn’t found success yet in the preseason, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Ignas Brazdeikis was held out of the team’s first game, then went scoreless in six and a half minutes Friday night.

“He’s a second-round pick and 19 years old,’’ coach David Fizdale said. “He’s definitely a work in progress. But again, every minute he plays is important for him. The kid will find his way as he takes his lumps.’’

Brazdeikis looked like a potential steal in July, averaging 15.4 PPG in Las Vegas, including a 30-point game. The Knicks made a significant investment in Michigan’s leading scorer from last season, sending $1MM to the Kings to move up eight spots and snag him with the 47th pick, then using a portion of their cap room to give Brazdeikis a three-year contract.

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Marcus Morris is the latest Knick to respond to Kevin Durant‘s comments on the team’s lack of coolness, relays Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Morris, who signed with New York this summer, said his decisions aren’t based on what is perceived as cool. “I get what he was saying. I actually have a good relationship with KD,” Morris said. “But the cool part about playing somewhere. Playing in all cities – playing in Utah. Is it cool to play in Utah? It’s cool to play in other places. It’s cool. I just never was a fan of the cool thing. Making a decision off of what’s cool.”
  • Dennis Smith Jr. has two preseason games to make his case for the starting point guard role, Begley relays in the same story. Smith, who missed the first two games with a back strain, is battling for minutes with Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina. Smith concentrated on improving his outside shot during the offseason, but Fizdale wants to see how effective it can be under game conditions. “He put in so much work this summer and I don’t think it’s fair for him to keep the same eyes from last year on him. We want to get a fresh set of eyes,” Fizdale said. “He had a heck of a camp up to the point where he got sprained.”
  • Free agent addition Julius Randle tells Steve Popper of Newsday that averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds is “easy,” but he wants to contribute to the team in other ways. “I want to bring everybody along,” Randle said. “Guys like Frank, RJ [Barrett] and Mitch [Robinson] and those guys and help them develop, because those guys are key parts to our team. The faster they develop, the better we’ll be, the faster we’ll be better. I wanna help them out.”

Nuggets Optimistic Isaiah Thomas Will Return In Mid-February

The Nuggets are optimistic that oft-injured point guard Isaiah Thomas will debut with the team ahead of the mid-February All-Star break, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

Thomas, 29, signed a one-year pact with the Nuggets in July as he recovered from hip surgery in March. It was the same hip injury that cut short his stint in the 2017 NBA Playoffs and delayed the start to his 2017/18 campaign.

Thomas’ final step in recovery is progressing to 5-on-5 scrimmages. If that goes well, Denver expects the former All-Star to possibly return by the Feb. 11-13 homestand and no later than the team’s first game after the All-Star break on Feb. 22, Wojnarowski reports.

It was just over two seasons ago that Thomas was third in the NBA with an average of 28.9 PPG. Thomas seemed destined for a lucrative deal worth north of $100MM but his troublesome hip prevented that. He split last season between the Cavaliers and Lakers, averaging 15.2 PPG in 32 games before undergoing hip surgery.

If Thomas successfully returns, he will battle with guards Jamal MurrayGary HarrisMalik BeasleyWill Barton and Monte Morris for playing time.

Marcus Morris Talks Spurning Spurs For Knicks

One of the most controversial offseason sagas occurred in July when veteran forward Marcus Morris verbally agreed to a two-year pact with the Spurs before backing out and signing with the Knicks.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich labeled the move “unprofessional” and “unfortunate.” Believing that the deal was done, San Antonio traded Davis Bertans to open up its mid-level exception for Morris before his change of heart. Morris added more context to his earlier comments about the change, addressing Popovich’s assertion.

“I was very surprised but I have nothing but respect for Pop,” Morris said, per The Athletic’s Mike Vornukov (Twitter link). “I’m not going to sit up here and say anything. Obviously, they made a big move and on my side things weren’t clear for me.”

Morris also addressed the Spurs trade of Bertans to make room for him, expressing regret on the way the situation played out.

“At the end of the day, yeah, because they made a move and they had a great young player and I feel bad that it had to happen that way,” Morris said. “But at the end of the day, I’m here to focus on the New York Knicks.”

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