Michael Porter Jr.

Simmons, Kawhi, Murray, MPJ Returned To Action On Monday

Nets guard Ben Simmons, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, and Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. all made their preseason debuts on Monday, returning to an NBA court for the first time in 2022.

Simmons missed all of the 2021/22 season due to a holdout, mental health issues, and back problems; Leonard and Murray sat out the season while recovering from ACL tears; and Porter was shut down due to a back injury last November after playing in just nine games.

In addition to being Simmons’ first game in 470 days, it was also the first time he has suited up for his new team since being traded from Philadelphia to Brooklyn. Simmons played 19 minutes against his old team, and while the Sixers beat the Nets by 19 points, the former No. 1 overall pick said he felt “amazing” being back on the court, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said after scoring six points and dishing five assists in 19 minutes. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

Leonard, meanwhile, was playing for the first time since being injured in the second round of the playoffs against Utah in June of 2021. He had 11 points and four rebounds in a victory over Portland in Seattle, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. While Leonard acknowledged that he probably won’t be playing 35-plus minutes out of the gate this season, he – like Simmons – said he was more excited than nervous to get back on the court.

“It was great,” Leonard said. “Just being able to put all that hard work that I did throughout the, 14, 16 months, just able to put it to (the) test and playing against NBA talent, it was good. Just being out there with the guys and talking, I missed it. It was a great experience for me.”

As for Murray, he called his return vs. Oklahoma City – his first game in 539 days – “a lot of fun” and told reporters that he “felt like a rookie out there” (Twitter links via Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports and Mike Singer of The Denver Post). He and Porter will need more time to find their rhythm, but both players came out of their preseason debuts feeling good, Singer writes in a full story for The Denver Post (subscription required).

While Simmons, Leonard, Murray, and Porter made their long-awaited returns on Monday, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is poised to do so on Tuesday after missing the entire 2021/22 season due to a broken foot. Kevin Durant said after the Nets’ loss on Monday that having all these stars healthy again is great news for the NBA.

“Being away for a year, you get a lot of anxiety not playing,” Durant said, per Friedell. “I know I did. Just anxious to see how I’m playing, where I’m going to play, what my role is on the team. But as a fan of the game, Kawhi being back is great for basketball, Jamal Murray being back is great for basketball, all the guys that have been out injured and being able to play again, it’s a great feeling seeing them out there.”

Nuggets’ Booth Talks Offseason Moves, Murray, MPJ, Jokic

Following Tim Connelly‘s departure for Minnesota, Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth was thrust into the lead role of Denver’s front office just weeks before the 2022 draft and wasn’t shy about immediately shaking up the roster this offseason.

Of the 17 players who currently have standard guaranteed contracts or two-way deals with the Nuggets for 2022/23, eight have joined the team since the ’21/22 season ended. That group includes wings Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown and rookies Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, among others.

Speaking to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, Booth said that last year’s team was “a little bit smaller” than the front office had envisioned, so it was a priority this summer to add some size, especially on the perimeter. Upgrading the defense was also a goal, according to Booth, who discussed a few specific roster moves in his conversation with Vorkunov.

Here are a few of the most noteworthy comments from the Nuggets’ new head of basketball operations:

On the motivation for the trade that sent JaMychal Green to Oklahoma City:

“It helped us open up another roster spot to get a more regarded or better defender on the perimeter. JaMychal brought a lot of toughness and explosion around the rim and he’s a great shooter, but (defending) in space wasn’t his strength. So, it allowed us to open up a roster spot where we can get somebody that could be more versatile and switch and do something like that.”

On whether Booth thinks the defense will be better in 2022/23, particularly on the perimeter:

“Yeah, definitely do. I think, again, with the injuries, and Jamal (Murray), I think, is an underrated defender. Obviously, it’s gonna take a while to get back into tip-top form for him coming back off the injury, but I fully expect him to be a two-way guy once he’s back feeling like himself.

“But Aaron Gordon had to cover a lot of holes last year; he had to go into the backcourt a lot more probably than Coach (Michael) Malone or himself would have liked to. So, hopefully with the addition of KCP and Bruce Brown and Christian Braun and some of the guys of this nature — Davon Reed, he’s back, he does some good things for us — Aaron won’t have to go into the backcourt quite as much.”

On the plan for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. as they return from injuries this fall:

“I definitely think they’ll both be healthy (to start the season). Especially with the nature of Mike’s injury, and even Jamal, we’ll probably have to be wary about back-to-backs and things of that nature. As we get close to the season Coach Malone and I will sit down with performance staff and map out a plan for what that looks like during the regular season.”

On attempting to maximize Nikola Jokic‘s prime years:

“That’s just a priority. That’s the No. 1 focus. Maximize the timeline. Put personnel around him that allows him to play his best and get the most out of his teammates. So, that’s the No. 1 priority in our organization right now.”

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Moore, Minott, Mitchell, Porter Jr.

Damian Lillard hasn’t joined many of his peers by demanding a trade or signing with another team as a free agent during his career. The Trail Blazers star just signed a two-year max extension and says there’s power in loyalty, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press writes.

“Something that’s missing in our league is the character and the fight and the passion and pride about not just the name on the back, but the name on the front and how you impact the people you come into contact with,” Lillard said. “I think because of how much I’ve embraced that, and haven’t pretended to embrace it, this just shows the power in that.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves rookie draft picks Wendell Moore and Josh Minott have shown promise but also growing pains during Summer League play, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. Moore has a shot to be the team’s No. 3 point guard and Minott, a frontcourt player, has intriguing potential as well. “I guess my playbook is going to open up a little bit for him, I’ll tell you that,” assistant coach Kevin Burleson said of Minott. “Some of the stuff he did, I didn’t know he could do. I didn’t see that in practice or the camp.”
  • While the Jazz reportedly are building their roster around Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said on Brian Windhorst’s podcast that there are whispers around the league that “(top executive) Danny Ainge is not convinced Mitchell can be the face of a contending franchise,” as HoopsHype relays.
  • Michael Porter Jr. offered another encouraging update on his health, Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports tweets. The Nuggets forward says he has fully recovered from his latest back surgery. “I’m doing really well. I’m feeling good,” he said. “I just continue to give all the glory to God. I’m feeling great. I’m able to workout as much as I want. No pain or anything. I’m in a really good spot. I’m excited to get back with the team.”

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Lillard, Cancar, Gobert

Michael Porter Jr.‘s season was short-circuited by back surgery but the Nuggets forward said he’s ready to go for next season, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports tweets.

On an NBA TV interview, Porter said, “I think I’m 100% at this point. It’s a blessing. I feel good. I’m excited to get back on the court and play basketball.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • In an interview with ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth, Damian Lillard said he’s healthy after recovering from abdominal surgery, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press tweets. “I wanted to fight through it. … It got to the point where I had to play it smarter,” Lillard said. “… My body is stronger than it was before in certain areas.” Lillard will be signing a two-year max extension with the Trail Blazers.
  • In the same interview, Lillard gave a ringing endorsement to the Jerami Grant trade with the Pistons. Reynolds relays in another tweet“I loved it. That was like the No. 1 thing I wanted to get done,” he said. “Jerami has been on winning teams in OKC and Denver. He brings something to the game that we haven’t had at that position.”
  • Vlatko Cancar‘s three-year contract with the Nuggets is worth $6.8MM, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. Cancar signed the contract on Thursday. As previously reported, it includes a team option in the last year.
  • Rim protection and rebounding were areas of needs for the Timberwolves. That’s why they were willing to pay a high price for Rudy Gobert, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. “We gave up a lot. There’s no two ways about it,” president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “Tremendous draft capital, really good players, really good guys. But when you’re able to add a guy that’s as good as Rudy and not touch your top two or three players, it’s really, really rare.”

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Porter, Caldwell-Pope, Braun

The Nuggets‘ Summer League practice on Tuesday was enlivened by the presence of Jamal Murray, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscriber link). Murray participated in several drills and took part in some scrimmages. Summer League coach Ryan Bowen said practicing was Murray’s decision and although he wanted to keep playing while the media was present, that idea was vetoed.

Murray, who missed the entire season due to a torn ACL, was involved in some non-contact drills on Monday that sparked his competitive instincts, Bowen explained. The reviews on Murray were positive, and coach Michael Malone called it “probably the most serious 5-on-5” that Murray has played since the injury, tweets Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports.

“He looked mobile, agile and hostile,” Malone said, citing a quote from “Remember the Titans.” “He looked confident. That’s the most important thing to me. I wasn’t charting his makes and misses. I was trying to see the confidence level. How was he moving, defensively … he looked good.” (Twitter link)

There’s more from Denver:

  • Jontay Porter, who’s on the Nuggets’ Summer League roster, offered a positive update on his brother, Michael Porter Jr., whose season was cut short by back surgery, Singer states in the same story. Jontay said Michael “looks great” and they’ve been playing 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 games to get themselves back into shape. Jontay played for the Grizzlies last year, but was limited to 11 games because of a knee injury.
  • In a press conference today welcoming veteranswingman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Malone said he was the main player the Nuggets focused on acquiring, Singer adds in a separate story. Malone likes having a 6’5″ guard who can play defense, and the team hasn’t forgotten the way that Caldwell-Pope shut down Murray in the 2020 Western Conference Finals. “He’s seen what it takes to win a championship,” Malone said.
  • The Nuggets also introduced first-round pick Christian Braun, and Malone suggested that he might have a regular role as a rookie, Wind tweets“I love his maturity. I love his IQ,” Malone said. “The things I really love about him the most are his toughness and physicality. Some guys shy away from physicality, Christian embraces physicality.”

Latest On Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving

Kevin Durant‘s trade request increases the chances of a Kyrie Irving trade to the Lakers, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

A straight Irving for Russell Westbrook swap would not work financially, so the Nets would either have to add another contract or include a third — and perhaps fourth team — for salary-matching purposes. Irving would be a better fit for LeBron James and Anthony Davis than Westbrook, providing better spacing offensively.

A potential deal could also lead the Lakers to part with first-rounders in 2027 or later.

If the Nets don’t want Westbrook’s salary, a third team could take that contract, with one of the Lakers’ picks and potentially Talen Horton-Tucker and/or Kendrick Nunn being involved.

A source told the Athletic that the chances of the Lakers landing Durant in a deal involving Davis is “zero.” Their focus, apparently, is on Irving.

We have more on the Durant/Irving situation:

  • The Nets don’t appear to be interested in Deandre Ayton, sources told John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link). Thus, a potential trade with the Suns may not include the restricted free agent or it would have to involve a third team.
  • Irving is “fully supportive” of Durant’s trade request, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (hat tip to RealGM). Irving knew Durant trade request was possible when he opted in to the final year of his contract.
  • Ben Simmons would be the major impediment to the Nuggets getting involved in the Durant sweepstakes, Mike Singer of the Denver Post notes. League rules stipulate that teams can’t have two players on a rookie scale max extension that have been acquired via trade. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. would both fit that description.
  • In the days before Irving’s choice to opt-in, sources close to Ayton raised the possibility of an Ayton-Mikal Bridges deal with the Nets, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick. It was unclear at that time whether or not Durant was going to ask for a trade.
  • In the same piece, Alex Schiffer says he’s heard the Nets want multiple All-Stars in any deal for Durant.

Nuggets’ Josh Kroenke: “It’s Championship Or Bust”

In a wide-ranging conversation with the media on Friday following Tim Connelly‘s exit to Minnesota, Nuggets governor Josh Kroenke said he has championship expectations going forward, according to an ESPN report.

We’re entering a new phase of the organization, and with this squad in particular, which is: It’s championship or bust. And this is the first time those words have been uttered around these halls, I think,” Kroenke said.

We have a two-time MVP, we have two more All-Star-caliber players coming off injuries,” Kroenke said, referring to Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray. “And I think that we are poised in a way that perhaps this organization hasn’t been in the past.

And that excites me. But that brings a lot of pressure. We’re no longer the underdog that’s kind of the lovable guys that are bouncing along from Denver, Colorado. I think that when we get healthy and show what we’re capable of, we will have a target on our back.”

Kroenke said he doesn’t regret signing Porter to a five-year, $172MM contract extension last summer, despite him only playing nine games in 2021/22.

I’d say we’re concerned about his injuries, not concerned about the contract,” Kroenke said, per ESPN.

He also said the team was prepared to pay the luxury tax, as Mike Singer of The Denver Post relays.

Yeah, I mean, I think that you know, first of all, my dad (Stan Kroenke) is the owner. I’m just making sure I don’t screw everything up on a day-to-day basis. … If you’ve drafted well, you better be ready to pay that tax, and we’re ready to pay that tax,” Kroenke said.

Here’s more from Kroenke’s press conference:

  • Kroenke endorsed GM Calvin Booth to replace Connelly as the top basketball decision-maker going forward. “I’ve always thought very highly of Calvin, I think he’s going to do a wonderful job for us,” Kroenke said, per Singer. “… He’s got a great mind and I think he’s open to suggestions but he showed me that he can make ruthless decisions when he needs to.”
  • The team sent out a tweet to leave no doubt about who will be in charge of the front office. “At the top of the org chart, it’s going to be Calvin Booth,” Kroenke said.
  • Multiple sources told Singer that Booth doesn’t have much “contractual security” as he transitions to the lead basketball executive, so Kroenke was asked if he was committed to Booth long-term. Kroenke suggested an extension could be coming soon. “Calvin and I are going to be sitting down, our whole front office and I will be sitting down in the very near future,” he said. “… We’re all talking and I think those guys know where they sit, and we’ll have some more announcements and some more information coming in the very near future.”
  • Kroenke said he regretted giving Connelly an opt-out clause after three years when the Nuggets gave him a contract extension in 2019, according to Singer. “I put that in his contract never anticipating that he would opt out and go to another NBA team and that’s what happened,” he said. “There was an option in his contract, he chose to exercise that option. And there was a major offer out there for him.”
  • Kroenke reiterated that the Nuggets made Connelly a competitive offer to stay in Denver, and said Minnesota’s offer was definitely unwelcome from his perspective. “Tim was under contract, the offer kind of came in through the side door, as they always seem to do in the NBA,” he said, per ESPN. “And so once those type of numbers start getting thrown around and get into someone’s head, it becomes very difficult to contain. I felt that we made a very competitive offer that would have allowed him to feel good about staying in Denver, and ultimately he felt that some of the upside there on the back end through some of the bonus schemes were probably too good to pass up for his family.” As Singer writes, Kroenke also twice characterized a team willing to pay significant money to poach a rival executive as “desperate.”
  • A new practice facility could be in store for Denver, says Kroenke, but Singer notes that the team’s governor made a similar statement five years ago and there’s been essentially no progress since.

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Connelly, Morris, Booth

Echoing Mike Singer’s reporting from earlier this week, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic confirm that Nikola Jokic remains fully committed to the Nuggets and intends to sign a five-year, super-max extension this offseason.

According to The Athletic’s duo, Jokic’s brothers Strahinja and Nemanja have met with general manager Calvin Booth and assistant GM Tommy Balcetis in the days since Tim Connelly‘s departure to discuss the team’s future, while Booth and head coach Michael Malone have spoken on the phone to Jokic, who is in Serbia. Everyone is in the same page going forward, per Charania and Amick.

As the Nuggets continue to build around Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., the focus for Booth and the new-look front office this offseason will be to add long, versatile, defensive-minded players, sources tell The Athletic.

The team will be open to surrendering more of its draft assets if that helps open up favorable opportunities to acquire win-now talent, according to Charania and Amick, since the goal is to compete for a championship and make the most of Jokic’s prime years.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • The Timberwolves’ willingness to include equity in their offer to Connelly was viewed by the Nuggets as an obstacle they couldn’t overcome, say Charania and Amick. In addition to the Nuggets, the Kroenkes own franchises in other sports – including the NFL’s Rams and the NHL’s Avalanche – and had no interest in setting a new precedent on equity that might affect future negotiations with team executives.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic takes a close look at the Nuggets’ situation going forward, wondering if the team will be open to trading Will Barton and/or Monte Morris this offseason. Hollinger suggests Morris could be more expendable due to Murray’s return and Bones Hyland‘s emergence.
  • Within his story, Hollinger notes that Connelly’s salary during his last season in Denver put him in the bottom half of the NBA’s lead basketball executives and suggests that the Nuggets have a history of investing minimally in their basketball operations department and organizational infrastructure.
  • Mike Singer of The Denver Post takes a closer look at what Calvin Booth will bring to the Nuggets’ head of basketball operations job, speaking to several people who have worked with him over the years. One source told Singer that Booth is more “structured” than Connelly and predicted he’ll have a lower tolerance for “locker room headaches.”

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Porter, Connelly, Gordon

The Nuggets were hoping all season to have Jamal Murray back in time for the playoffs, but he didn’t believe his surgically repaired ACL was strong enough to take the risk, writes Kyle Fredrickson of The Denver Post. Meeting with reporters Friday in the wake of Denver’s first-round exit, Murray explained that he hadn’t recovered enough to feel comfortable on the court.

“I remember saying at the beginning of my rehab, I want to come back when I’m 100 percent and not 85,” Murray said. “I don’t think I’m 85 right now. I know I can go get a bucket. But in terms of the intensity of the playoffs, I’m just not there yet.”

Murray, who suffered the injury last April, was cleared to participate in five-on-five practice about four weeks ago. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly said the team monitored Murray’s progress closely and made a “collective decision” to keep him out of action.

“We knew specifically with Jamal’s injury that the timeframes can be all over the place. We’ve done all the studies and it can be anywhere from X to Y. We didn’t want to put a firm timeframe on it,” Connelly said. “As he started to feel better and better, we didn’t want to be too definitive because we didn’t want to mislead anyone in this room. As the year progressed and we got into the postseason, I thought it would be irresponsible for him to enter that level of competition.”

There’s more from Denver:

  • Michael Porter Jr. expressed a similar sentiment, saying even if he had tried to play, he couldn’t have helped much, per Pat Graham of The Associated Press. Porter was limited to nine games this season and never returned after having lumbar spine surgery in December. “On one leg and stand in the corner and shoot threes,” Porter responded when asked if he could have played. “Would I have been at my best? I definitely would not have been at my best. At that point, it’s just thinking long-term versus short-term.” Porter adds that he and Murray encouraged each other through the rehab process to not try to rush back from their injuries.
  • After taking a gamble by giving Porter a max extension before the start of the season despite his history of back issues, Connelly will be under pressure this summer to find some help for Nikola Jokic, observes Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post.
  • Aaron Gordon bounced back strong after poor performances in the first two games of the series, notes Matt Schubert of The Denver Post. Although Gordon might be miscast as the second option on a title contender, he showed promise that he can contribute once Murray and Porter return, Schubert adds.

Tim Connelly Discusses Nuggets’ Roster, Future

Following the team’s first-round exit at the hands of Golden State, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly discussed a number of topics on Friday at his season-ending press conference, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Connelly said signing Nikola Jokic to a super-max extension this summer is a top priority.

It’s a pretty big (priority),” Connelly said. “… There’s nothing more important, organizationally, than to make sure Nikola stays here as long as he wants to play the game.”

Connelly also reflected on giving Michael Porter Jr. a five-year, maximum-salary extension prior to the 2021/22 season. Porter appeared in just nine games this season and clearly wasn’t himself prior to being shutdown and undergoing lumbar spine surgery in December, his third back surgery since 2017.

You analyze everything. Oftentimes the best indicator of future health is current health,” Connelly said. “Unfortunately, he had the injuries he dealt with this year. The previous couple years going into that contractual negotiation (last summer) we felt pretty good about it. Certainly his numbers were reflective of a guy that you’re going to have to give a lot of money.

“Hindsight is 20/20. I think we looked as much as we can. We’ve tended to be a team that rewards guys earlier instead of getting to the marketplace. We’re really looking forward to him being fully healthy, and I know he’s working his butt off to achieve that goal.”

The president said the reason the team never officially ruled out Porter or Jamal Murray for the season was because only the players knew how they felt: “It’s their body. … Whenever there’s an injury, the player has to have the loudest voice.”

Denver never applied pressure for either player to make a return if they felt they weren’t ready, Connelly added. Both players confirmed to the media that they were aligned with management’s thinking, Singer notes. Murray, who missed the entire season after suffering a torn left ACL last April, said he’s “not even sure if he’s 85% right now,” according to Singer (Twitter link).

Here are some more quotes from Connelly, courtesy of Singer:

  • Connelly said the small forward position and wing defense are areas that need to be addressed in the offseason. “Whenever you lose you have to be extremely self-critical and analyze areas where we’re not where we need to be. Losing Mike (Porter) was really big, but losing PJ Dozier, that was really two guys, all our depth at the small forward position, so we had to play some pretty wonky lineups. … I think it’s pretty evident where we need to get better.”
  • Connelly on DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, who’s an unrestricted free agent: “Boogie was fantastic. He brought a ton. … He helped stabilize that second unit.” The team plans to talk to Cousins about his future soon, Singer tweets.
  • Denver wants to retain two-way player Davon Reed and only decided against converting him to a standard deal (to become playoff-eligible) because it would’ve meant cutting someone else (Twitter link via Singer). “He’s a guy that we’re very high on for the future,” Connelly said.
  • Connelly on the possibility of paying the luxury tax next season and/or in the future: “If the team is good enough, (ownership will) pay accordingly.