Michael Malone

Harden, Giannis, George Named MVP Finalists

Defending champion James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George are the finalists for this season’s Most Valuable Player award, the league announced in a press release.

The voting is expected to be close between Harden, who averaged 36.1 PPG and 7.5 APG during the regular season, and Antetokounmpo, who carried the Bucks to the best record in the league while averaging 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 5.9 APG. George averaged 28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 4.1 APG.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors’ 2019 NBA Award Picks: Most Valuable Player]

The league also released the finalists for its other awards. The winners will be revealed during a TNT broadcast on Monday, June 24.

Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are the finalists for the Rookie of the Year award, while Lou Williams heads the field for the Sixth Man award. His Clippers teammate, Montrezl Harrell, and Domantas Sabonis are the other finalists.

Antetokounmpo and George are also finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year award along with Rudy GobertDe’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell and Pascal Siakam will vie for the Most Improved Player honor, while Mike Budenholzer, Michael Malone and Doc Rivers received the most votes for the Coach of the Year award.

Northwest Notes: Donovan, Rosas, Murray

Despite the fact that he’s already spent five seasons at the helm of the Thunder and that his All-Star dynamic duo was just dispatched in five games by the Trail Blazers, head coach Billy Donovan is expected to return to his post in 2019/20.

That patience in an era of scapegoating and quick fixes, Brett Dawson of The Athletic writes, could be attributed to general manager Sam Presti‘s tendency to take a long view on things.

Dawson writes about Donovan’s impact in Oklahoma City over the past few seasons, suggesting that he’s earned the faith of the organization and this is one organization in particular that isn’t afraid to see things through.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson has nothing but high praise for recent franchise hire Gersson Rosas, Chris Hine of the Minnesota Star Tribune writes. Rosas impressed the organization with a detailed vision not only for a generic basketball franchise but for the Timberwolves in particular. Beyond the team’s current roster, Rosas had a deep understanding of the team’s history and marketplace.
  • Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic logged a record-breaking 65 minutes played in Denver’s four-overtime loss to the Trail Blazers Friday night. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told the media afterward that he apologized for giving his center such a heavy work load. Jokic averaged 31.3 minutes per game for Denver this season.
  • Despite struggles from the field in his first playoff experience, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is figuring out the difference between regular and playoff basketball, Sean Keeler of The Denver Post writes.

Decision Behind Game 4 Start For Torrey Craig

Mike Singer of The Denver Post, writing before the Nuggets Game 4 win over the Spurs, talked about Nuggets coach Michael Malone considering “all options” when it comes to making a starting lineup change ahead of Game 4.

“We’ll continue to look at it,” Malone said on Friday after Game 3. “All options are on the board. Obviously it’s never about any individual, it’s gotta be about what’s best for our team.”

As Singer noted beforehand, small forward Will Barton looked out of rhythm the first three games of the series, leading to Torrey Craig getting the start in Game 4. Through the first three games, Barton was 9 for 31 from the field.

Ultimately, the decision to go with Craig was in order to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs, allowing Craig and Gary Harris to match up with DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White.

Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Denver.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets’ D, Rose, Thunder

Despite scoring being at a near-all-time high early on this NBA season, one team has still been able to hold every one of its opponents to less than 100 points in each game played thus far – the Nuggets.  And while one may not think of the up-and-coming Nuggets as a defensive juggernaut just yet, head coach Michael Malone is a defensive guy at his core, writes Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com.

Yes, it’s awfully early to make any long lasting conclusions about a team’s defensive prowess this season, but Malone is excited about the potential for this year’s team to be one of the best defensive teams to come along in Denver in a while. This is the defense I dream about,” Malone said. “Ever since I got here.”

Asked why exactly it is his team is playing so well on the defensive side of the ball so far during the 2018/19 campaign, Malone lauded his team’s effort and want-to. “I would say just an overall buy-in and commitment. You can talk game plan and you can talk strategy but at the end of the day, for me, defense comes down to pride. Do you want to go out there and give it everything you have to defend?

Additionally, Dempsey opines that adding defensive-minded players like Torrey Craig, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee has helped the mentality around the team morph into a more defensive-oriented group.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves’ head coach Tom Thibodeau evidently thinks backup guard Derrick Rose still has a lot of gas left in the tank, despite a bevy of evidence to the contrary, telling Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press that “as long as (Rose is) healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in the league.”
  • The Thunder, praised as one of the best teams in the deep Western Conference to begin the season, have gotten off to a rocky, 0-3 start. Yet, as Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes, there exists reason for optimism, with rookie Hamidou Diallo and newcomer Nerlens Noel both providing a spark off the bench in Sunday’s loss to the lowly Kings.
  • In other Thunder news, Brett Dawson of The Athletic is reporting that guard Alex Abrines, who left Sunday’s game in the first half with a mouth contusion, and who will compete for Diallo and Terrance Ferguson for minutes until the return of Andre Roberson, is not expected to miss any additional time.

Nuggets, Michael Malone Agree To Extension

The Nuggets have extended the contract of their head coach, announcing today (via Twitter) that they’ve reached on a new deal with Michael Malone. Details of the extension weren’t disclosed by the team, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets that it adds two years to Malone’s current contract, locking him up through the 2020/21 season.

“I never had any doubt that this would get done,” Malone said today, per Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports (Twitter link). “My conversations and relationship with [president of basketball operations] Tim [Connelly] and [owner] Josh [Kroenke] throughout the summer have been nothing but positive.”

Malone, who served as the Kings’ head coach for a season and a half before joining the Nuggets, has helped the franchise improve its record in each of the last three years. After moving on from Brian Shaw and interim coach Melvin Hunt in 2015, Denver increase its win total from 30 to 33 in its first season under Malone, then won 40 games in 2016/17 and 46 in 2017/18.

In total, Malone has a 119-127 record for the Nuggets. Although he has yet to lead the team to the postseason, the organization is trending in the right direction. Denver missed out on a playoff spot by losing to Minnesota on the last day of the regular season in 2017/18, but is viewed as a probable playoff team for the coming season.

Malone’s original contract with the Nuggets was a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year. Denver picked up that fourth-year option for 2018/19 over a year ago, so Malone would have been on an expiring contract this season if not for his new extension.

Northwest Notes: Allen, Nuggets, Harkless, Allen

Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen announced in a press release that he is once again being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Allen was treated for the same cancer in 2009. Allen says he will remain involved in the operations of Trail Blazers as well as the NFL’s Seahawks and his other business ventures.

The statement reads in part, “A lot has happened in medicine since I overcame this disease in 2009. My doctors are optimistic that I will see good results from the latest therapies, as am I. I will continue to stay involved with Vulcan, the Allen Institutes, the Seahawks and Trail Blazers, as I have in the past. I have confidence in the leadership teams to manage their ongoing operations during my treatment.”

We have more news from around the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets have most of their rotation players back from last season and that led to a productive first week of training camp, according to Christopher Dempsey of the team’s website. “I think the advantage that we have is continuity – year four, we know each other,” coach Michael Malone told Dempsey. “That’s already in. … We’re ahead of the curve. So, we have hit the ground running. We are, I think, ahead of a lot of teams because of the continuity that we have.”
  • Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless has been limited in camp by a left knee injury he suffered last March, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports. Harkless would like to play in a couple of preseason games and ease his way into the regular season. “I want to play in a couple,” he said. “I don’t want to just go out there and just go all out. It’s tough on the body. Coming from an injury, it’s probably not smart to do.”
  • Jazz rookie guard Grayson Allen made a promising preseason debut, as Jordan Hicks of Basketball Insiders examines. Allen scored 19 points off the bench against Australia’s Perth Wildcats, making 7-of-14 shots overall while going 5-for-9 on 3-point tries. Bench scoring was an issue for Utah last season and the Duke rookie could prove to be a significant asset in another postseason run, Hicks points out.

Nuggets’ Connelly Talks Malone, Jokic, Barton

Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly confirmed today to reporters that head coach Michael Malone will return for the 2018/19 season, writes Gina Mizell of The Denver Post.

While Malone was always considered likely to continue coaching the Nuggets, the team’s inability to secure a playoff berth created a little speculation about his job security. In his end-of-season presser, Connelly dismissed the idea that the club would want to replace Malone.

“There’s improvement across all levels of our team,” Connelly said. “I guess (questioning Malone’€™s job status is) the unfortunate narrative of professional basketball, but ‘Mo’€™s done a fantastic job.”

While Malone will return next season, the same can’t necessarily be said of all the players on the Nuggets’ roster. Connelly acknowledged today that Denver will face some “pretty interesting financial decisions” this offseason, including a big one on Nikola Jokic.

There’s no doubt that Jokic will be a Nugget next season, but the team will have the option of exercising or declining his inexpensive team option — turning down that option would allow the Nuggets to re-sign Jokic as a restricted free agent, rather than risking losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

“He’s a guy that’€™s been tremendous in how quickly he’€™s developed and a guy that we love and he loves Denver. So, the sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better,” Connelly said, according to Arnie Stapleton of The Associated Press, hinting that the Nuggets may look to sign Jokic as an RFA this summer.

The Nuggets’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent in 2018 will be Will Barton, who said this week that he’d “love” to re-sign with Denver, but would like a starting role going forward. For his part, Connelly said he hopes the Nuggets can get a deal done with Barton and keep him on their roster.

“He’€™s our guy,” Connelly said of Barton. “We love him and I think if he’€™s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”

Nuggets Notes: Jefferson, Malone, Chandler

With the Clippers riding a six-game winning streak, the Nuggets currently find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. At 23-22, Denver is just a half-game back of the Clips and Pelicans, and one game back of the Trail Blazers, so it’s hardly time to panic yet. Still, as Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders writes, the Nuggets are one of a few teams treading water in the West right now.

Grouping Denver with the Pelicans and Blazers as middle-of-the-pack Western playoff contenders, Grizzard notes that the Nuggets’ late-game execution has been inconsistent with Paul Millsap on the shelf. Richard Jefferson attributes those struggles to the club’s overall youth: “I think guys are still learning. Most of the guys that are in these positions are in these positions for the first time. I think we’ll continue getting better as the season goes on.”

Here’s more out of Denver:

  • Jefferson was brought in at the start of the season to provide veteran leadership for the Nuggets, but the veteran forward has taken on a role in the club’s rotation within the last week, as Gina Mizell of The Denver Post details. “People forget — and I have to remind myself, for that matter — R.J. last year in Cleveland, on a team that went to the Finals, was playing 20 minutes a night,” head coach Michael Malone said of Jefferson. “He still has something left, and I have to give him a chance to play.”
  • Speaking of Malone, he’s under pressure this season to prove that he’s a coach capable of guiding the Nuggets to a spot in the postseason, according to Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post.
  • After parting ways with Roc Nation last May, Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler has returned to his old agency, reports Sam Amick of USA Today (Twitter link). Chandler, who was being represented by Excel Sports for most of 2017, will be repped by Sam Permut with Roc Nation, says Amick. With a $12.8MM player option looming for 2018/19, Chandler will either be seeking a new team this summer or entering next season on an expiring contract.
  • Jamal Murray, who has been in the NBA’s concussion protocol this week, has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable for the team’s Friday game against Phoenix, per Mizell.

Michael Malone Suspended; Jokic Fine Rescinded

The NBA has suspended Nuggets head coach Michael Malone for one game without pay for entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official during yesterday’s loss to the Lakers, the league announced today in a press release. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets travel to Sacramento to face the Kings.

The NBA also announced in the same press release that the fine given to Nikola Jokic for being ejected from yesterday’s game has been rescinded. The league says that Jokic properly received a technical foul for his actions but that he should not have been ejected.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Nelson, Irving

The Nuggets were in discussions with the Suns about an Eric Bledsoe trade, but it appears their decision not to offer too much for a new starting point guard is paying dividends. Jamal Murray, who has been Denver’s starting point guard since the beginning of the season, is playing well and the team is encouraged by his development.

“I love the pace he’s playing with,” said coach Michael Malone after a recent game (via Christopher Dempsey of NBA.com). “He’s got to set the pace that we want to play at, he’s got to be aggressive and he’s got to play with confidence. And you’re seeing that a lot more consistently right now. He’s starting to become a consistent starting point guard in the NBA.”

The 2016 No. 7 overall pick spent much of his playing time at shooting guard during his rookie season, but this year, he’s seeing all of his minutes at the one.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Denver had a deal in place to trade Jameer Nelson to a lottery team for a protected second-rounder prior to the season, though the team could “not stomach” sending the 35-year-old to a bad team, sources tell Zach Lowe of ESPN. The Nuggets ended up waiving Nelson, a move that allowed the vet to pick his own suitor.
  • Malone would have liked to keep Nelson on the team, though he is supportive of the organization’s decision to let the veteran go, Lowe relays in the same piece. “It was tough to see Jameer go,” Malone says. “The players trusted him. I find value in veteran mentors. In our meetings, of course I brought up all the reasons it made sense to keep him. But you have to think big picture. It wasn’t like I was kicking and screaming. By the end, we were all on board.”
  • The Nuggets had exploratory discussions with the Cavs about Kyrie Irving prior to them dealing away the point guard, though talks never got that far, per Lowe (same piece). The scribe notes that Murray, Wilson Chandler, and a lightly-protected first-rounder would have intrigued Cleveland, but Murray was never on the table.