Nikola Jokic

Jokic’s Agent Advises Nuggets Not To Pick Up Option

Nikola Jokic’s agent told the Nuggets that picking up his option for next season would hinder their chances of locking him up long-term, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic tweets.

If Denver exercises its team option for 2018/19, Jokic would become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Currently, Jokic is arguably the biggest bargain in the league. He made $1.47MM this season and the team option is just $1.6MM.

If the Nuggets declines their option, Jokic will be a restricted free agent this summer and they’ll be able to match any offer. The team option deadline is June 29th.

Jokic is represented by Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.

The Nuggets want to keep Jokic, but matching an offer sheet rather than paying him $1.6MM in 2018/19 would have major luxury-tax implications for next season unless they can dump some salary. Still, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly talked at season’s end about wanting to get Jokic’s signature on a long-term contract sooner rather than later, so the team and the center’s camp may be on the same page when it comes to that option decision.

Jokic had a breakout season in 2016/17 and continued to increase his production despite a stronger lineup around him. He averaged 18.5 PPG and 10.7 RPG in his third NBA season while connecting on 39.6% of his 3-point attempts.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, G League, Sefolosha

After missing the playoffs by one game for the second consecutive season, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are tired of going home after the regular season ends. Yet, as reported by Gina Mizell of The Denver Post, there’s reason for optimism, with Connelly declaring that “this is the most confident I’ve felt in our core group since I’ve been here.”

The first order of business for the Nuggets is locking up budding superstar Nikola Jokic to a long-term contract. Jokic actually has a team option worth $1.6MM for next season, but because he was a second-round pick and has been in the league for three or fewer seasons, he becomes a restricted free agent if Denver declines his option, allowing the Nuggets to match any offer from another team.

Both of the Nuggets other young potential stars – Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – are already locked in for next season, meaning the next order of business is re-signing sixth man Will Barton. “We’re hopeful we can get something done,” Connelly said. “(Barton is) our guy. We love him. I think if he’s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”

Barton added, “We’re building something real special here.  I love playing with Jok and Jamal and Gary. The guys we have in the locker room, I like being around. The coaching staff has really come a long way with trusting me and me trusting them. Just the whole (Nuggets) organization, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • In more after-season content from the Nuggets, Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com relays some of Connelly’s positive thoughts on the Nuggets’ season. “Certainly, when you’re on the outside, looking-in you have to address some needs,” Connelly said. “I think there will be some pretty interesting financial decisions we’ll make this offseason. But standing in front of (the media) now, I finally can say with full confidence that we have a core that can be really good for a long time. They all want to be here, and they are all about the right things.”
  • The Trail Blazers are closing in on setting up a G League team in Beaverton, OR, reports Adam Johnson of Two Ways and 10 Days. There have been suggestions of Seattle as a prime location for a Portland G League team, but it seems the Blazers are looking to bring a potential afilliate closer to home. Nike, the NBA’s new uniform supplier, is headquartered in the Portland suburb.
  • Jazz swingman Thabo Sefolosha may be out of the lineup with injury, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing a role against his former team, the Thunder, reports Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. “I try to just help when I see something like offensively, defensively, something that we can do a little differently,” Sefolosha said. “Just whatever I see, I like to communicate, whether it’s with the coaches or with the players, so I try to stay involved as much as I can.”

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.”

Northwest Notes: Butler, Lyles, Neto, Jokic/Millsap

With four crucial games left in the regular season, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler said he is “this close” to returning following practice on Tuesday, per Dave Campbell of The Associated Press. Minnesota’s next game is against the Nuggets on Thursday and it’s possible Butler will be available.

The Timberwolves have been without Butler since February 23, when he tore his meniscus and underwent surgery sidelining him for an estimated four-to-six weeks. In 56 games before the injury, Butler was arguably Minnesota’s best two-way asset as he played his usual strong defense while averaging 22.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 5.0 APG.

Just 2.5 games separate the seventh-place Timberwolves and the 10th-place Clippers with four games to go. Having a healthy Butler back in the lineup for this crucial stretch would provide a huge boost to the team’s playoff hopes.

Check out more Northwest Division notes below:

  • Former Jazz player Trey Lyles, now with the Nuggets, did not have many kind words about his former team. Jody Genessy of The Deseret News passes along some of Lyles’ comments, made during an appearance on teammate Richard Jefferson‘s Road Trippin’ Podcast. Lyles was critical of head coach Quin Snyder and expressed a general distaste for his tenure in Utah.
  • Jazz point guard Raul Neto has made significant progress on his fractured wrist, tweets Tony Jones of the Salt Lake City Tribune. No firm decision has been made, but it’s possible that Neto plays in tomorrow’s game against the Lakers, Jones adds.
  • Having both Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in the lineup healthy and producing has been a tremendous boost for the Nuggets, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes. “They’re my safety blanket,” head coach Michael Malone said. “If one of those two are in the game at all times, we have somebody to play through and to kind of calm things down when they’re not going our way.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Brewer, Millsap, Butler

Nikola Jokic‘s offensive production has dropped dramatically over the last three games, coinciding with the return of Paul Millsap from a wrist injury. Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters, including the Denver Post’s Gina Mizell, that his offense still revolves around his center. Jokic has averaged 12 PPG and while committing 12 turnovers over the last three games. “Nikola is still the focal point of our offense,” Malone said. “I don’t want Nikola thinking that he has to play second fiddle to anyone. … I want him to shoot the ball more and be more aggressive.”

In other developments around the Northwest Division:

  • Playing time, and the possibility of a starting role, led to Corey Brewer‘s decision to join the Thunder, Eric Horne of the The Oklahoman reports. “I didn’t feel like I could really pass that up,” Brewer told Horne.  Brewer played 12 scoreless minutes in his Oklahoma City debut on Saturday after being bought out by the Lakers and agreeing to terms with the Thunder. He reportedly also drew interest from the Wizards, Cavaliers and Bucks. The Thunder have sought help at shooting guard since Andre Roberson went down with a season-ending knee injury in late January.
  • Millsap hasn’t played more than 27 minutes in his first three games back but Malone said his workload will increase very soon, Chris Dempsey of Nuggets.com tweets. Millsap scored 11 points in 26 minutes against the Cavaliers on Saturday.
  • The Timberwolves are 2-2 in the first four games without Jimmy Butler and their defense, in particular, has suffered without him, as Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune details. Metrics show that the Timberwolves have the 11th-best defensive rating with Butler on the court. When he’s not playing, their defensive rating is the worst in the league. Butler is recovering from knee surgery.  “Jimmy always guards the best perimeter player,” veteran guard Jamal Crawford noted to Hine.
  • There was skepticism when the Jazz signed Joe Ingles a four-year, $52MM contract last summer but it’s proving to be a bargain, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Advanced metrics rate Ingles as one of the league’s top 10 small forwards this season and the intangibles he brings add to his value, as coach Quin Snyder told MacMahon. “There just hasn’t been anything that he’s not willing to do for the team,” Snyder said. “That’s where he’s found his game. He’s found his game making the team better when he’s on the floor.”

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Hernangomez, Mudiay, Nurkic

The Nuggets will face a crucial decision with third-year center Nikola Jokic after this season, and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports examines the possibilities. Denver has a team option to keep Jokic for the minimum salary of a little more than $1.6MM next season, but that would make him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. The Nuggets could choose to decline that option, making him a restricted free agent this summer with Denver being able to match any offers. Feldman estimates Jokic could get about $109MM [about $27MM annually] over four years in restricted free agency or $146MM over five years [about $29MM annually] in an offer from the Nuggets.

There are benefits to keeping Jokic on a minimum salary for another year with more than $110MM already committed for 12 players next season. Giving Jokic a max deal for 2018/19 could put the team so far into the luxury tax that it couldn’t escape by trading Kenneth Faried or Mason Plumlee. Opt-out decisions by Wilson Chandler [more than $12.8MM for next season] or Darrell Arthur [nearly $7.5MM] could help ease the tax burden, but neither is certain to do that.

There’s more today out of Denver:

  • After being slowed by illness for much of the season,  Juan Hernangomez is healthy and ready to contribute, relays Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. The second-year center contracted mononucleosis in October and was available for just two of the season’s first 12 games. He was sidelined by the flu in late December and has appeared in only 18 games so far. “I said to Coach [Michael Malone], ‘I’m ready if you need me,’” Hernangomez said. “I don’t say ‘I need to play.’ Of course I want to play. But I don’t [put] pressure on him, because he’s the coach and he makes the decisions. I just tell him I’m ready, in any case, and I’m ready to bring my energy.”
  • The Nuggets need to admit Emmanuel Mudiay was a failed draft pick and find a veteran to help them reach the playoffs, contends Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. The seventh pick in the 2015 draft, Mudiay has struggled with his shot since coming to Denver. Kizsla suggests Sacramento’s George Hill as an option, although the Kings would have to be persuaded to take Faried’s contract in return, or possibly Orlando’s D.J. Augustin as a lower-cost option.
  • Jusuf Nurkic made his first trip back to Denver this week since being traded to Portland last year and wasn’t eager to reminisce, Mizell writes in a separate story. Nurkic said he has “no relationship” with Malone. “Everybody knows why we didn’t work [in Denver],” Nurkic said. “To be honest, I’m happy I’m here. The story’s over. I have a new story, and I’m really excited where I am.”

2018 Free Agent Stock Watch: Denver Nuggets

After years of being a beloved up-and-coming Western Conference hopeful, the Nuggets have lost some of their sheen due to circumstances somewhat out of their control. The franchise made its intentions clear by signing Paul Millsap to a contract north of $31MM this season, which only adds to the frustration caused by a relatively mediocre start.

The Nuggets had their hands full adding Millsap to the fold alongside 22-year-old Nikola Jokic, so we can’t exactly fault the club for getting out to a slow start, but – at just 16-15 – they have. When word broke that the 32-year-old free agent would miss months with a wrist injury, the outlook grew even more bleak.

All told, the Nuggets may not be quite as mysteriously captivating as they were in the past, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a solid team eventually given the still-very-much intriguing young pieces that dot the roster.

Darrell Arthur, PF, 30 (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $23MM deal in 2016
While Arthur has played nine seasons with just two NBA franchises, carving out a role as a consistently reliable rotation player on both despite never logging more than the 21.7 minutes per game, his pedestrian career marks of 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game aren’t likely to yield much on the open market. For that reason, expect him to pick up his $7.5MM player option.

Will Barton, SG, 27 (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $10MM deal in 2015Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets vertical
In three and a half seasons with the Nuggets, Barton has made a name for himself as a solid spark plug off the bench. The soon-to-be 27-year-old unrestricted free agent will hit the open market in July and seems likely to command more from another suitor than the Nuggets would be comfortable matching given the other building blocks they’ll need to commit to.

Wilson Chandler, SF, 31 (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $47MM deal in 2015
Despite having a career year in 2016/17 and starting every game of the season for the Nuggets so far this year, Chandler isn’t a major part of Denver’s long-term plans. Given that we may see more penny pinching next summer than we did the last two because of a league-wide dearth of cap room, it’s hard to imagine the forward landing more than what he’ll be able to get just by accepting the $13MM player option he has for $2018/19.

Richard Jefferson, SF, 38 (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2017
After landing with the Nuggets on a minimum deal following his release from the Cavaliers at the start of the season, Jefferson will hit free agency once again next summer. At the ripe age of 38, no longer privy to the luxuries of competing for a championship, don’t put it past the podcasting superstar to retire.

Nikola Jokic, C, 23 (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $6MM deal in 2015
The Nuggets have options for dealing with Jokic’s inevitable free agency. There’s no denying that the affable big man with a 24.1 career PER will command max money whenever he’s eligible to sign a new deal — whether that happens next summer or the one after that is the question. Denver holds a team option for Jokic’s 2018/19 campaign. While they could technically turn down his team option and look to lock him up as a restricted free agent in 2018, the Nuggets are already flirting with the luxury tax for next season without a monster Jokic deal on their books (or a possible Barton deal, for that matter). The front office could be better suited accepting the team option and then making a major play for the big man in 2019, once the contracts of Chandler, Arthur and Kenneth Faried expire. Still, there are optics to think about in that scenario. Regardless, Jokic has earned big money, so let’s pull up some chairs and watch how Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas try to figure this out.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Grizzlies Rumors: Gasol, Youngsters, Draft Missteps

After starting the season with a 7-4 record, the Grizzlies have won just one of their last 16 games, plummeting to second-last in the Western Conference at 8-19. Despite the team’s massive slump, general manager Chris Wallace continues to insist that Memphis won’t entertain the notion of trading Marc Gasol this season, writes Zach Lowe of ESPN.

“We think our window is still very much open with Mike [Conley] and Marc. I think we’ll be heard from the rest of this year, and in years to come,” Wallace recently said. The Grizzlies’ GM reiterated that sentiment on Tuesday, according to Lowe.

Wallace and others in the Grizzlies’ front office are “adamant” that their stance on Gasol – and rebuilding in general – won’t change this season, even if the team doesn’t start winning. Lowe is skeptical, suggesting there are probably scenarios in which Memphis at least gauges Gasol’s value, even if the team doesn’t shop him outright. Still, the ESPN scribe acknowledges that the Grizzlies may still prefer to play out the season, grab a lottery pick, and redouble their efforts to contend with Gasol and Conley in 2018/19.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies, including a few additional tidbits from Lowe’s feature:

  • Gasol insists that he won’t ask the Grizzlies for a trade, even if the team were to fall to 30 games below .500. “I would want to see how we got there — what the process is,” Gasol said, according to Lowe. “But as long as [owner] Robert [Pera] wants me here, my teammates want me here, they think I’m part of the solution — and not part of the problem — that’s all I need.” Still, if Memphis decides it wants to move him, Gasol would accept that too: “If they think it is best, I would do anything for this franchise.”
  • Wallace believes the Grizzlies can build for the future even as they focus on short-term contention, pointing to Dillon Brooks, Andrew Harrison, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, and Ivan Rabb as young players who could evolve into solid rotation players. “How many teams who have been annual participants in the playoffs have as many guys under 24?” Wallace asked. Still, as Lowe notes, the Memphis GM admitted that it “remains to be seen” whether any of those players will develop into above-average NBA starters.
  • Taking a look back at some of the Grizzlies’ draft mistakes, Lowe cites sources who say that the club unsuccessfully tried to trade up for T.J. Warren in 2014. Memphis also considered drafting Nikola Jokic at No. 35 in 2014, but felt it was too high for him, per Lowe. Denver nabbed Jokic six picks later.
  • Like Lowe, Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has gone into extended detail this week about what has gone wrong for the Grizzlies this year. On Sunday, Tillery explored how Memphis’ retooling plan has backfired, while on Tuesday he wrote about the club’s culture being called into question.

Injury Updates: J. Collins, Leuer, Jokic, Curry

The Hawks will be without rookie big man John Collins for at least a couple weeks, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical, who reports that Collins has a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. While an MRI revealed no tear, the young center is expected to be sidelined for sidelined for two or three weeks, per Charania.

While Collins’ ailment shouldn’t be a long-term issue, it’s bad news for a Hawks team that’s already missing starting center Dewayne Dedmon and veteran big man Mike Muscala. While Muscala may return soon, Dedmon is expected to be out for three to six weeks, so Atlanta will likely have to lean on bigs like Miles Plumlee and two-way player Tyler Cavanaugh for the first half of December.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said today that forward/center Jon Leuer, who has been out with a sprained ankle, is expected to undergo a non-surgical process that will keep him on the shelf for another two to four weeks, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Van Gundy had indicated last week that Leuer’s recovery wasn’t progressing like the Pistons had hoped.
  • Nikola Jokic injured his ankle on Thursday night, and while the Nuggets are running additional tests today, initial X-rays were negative, and the team is optimistic that the injury is just a sprain, a league source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Stephen Curry‘s finger injury appears likely to hamper him for some time, but he and the Warriors don’t expect to sit him down for an extended stretch, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “I don’t think it’s something where if we give him a few days off, it’s going to disappear,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “I think it may linger for a little while, so he’s going to have to get used to it.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Ferguson, Aminu

The time is now for Nikola Jokic to blossom into a leader. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone recently told his third-year big man as much given the absence of veteran power forward Paul Millsap in the lineup, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes.

The Nuggets have stressed that they need to see Jokic exhibit more leadership qualities, his production on the floor, while impressive, no longer enough for a young team eager to claim its first playoff berth since 2013.

Mizell writes that Jokic came through this week, uncharacteristically speaking up to motivate a lethargic looking Nuggets roster one night and then showing off his mental toughness by returning to the court on an injured ankle the next time out.

There’s more from the Northwest Division: