Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Nuggets Win First Title, Jokic Named MVP

The Nuggets secured their first championship on Monday night, completing a 4-1 series victory over the Heat with a 94-89 victory. The Nuggets joined the NBA in 1976 after the league’s merger with the ABA.

Nikola Jokic, the league’s two-time Most Valuable Player in the regular season, was named the MVP of the Finals, NBA Communications tweets. He had 28 points, 16 rebounds and four assists in the clinching victory. For the series, Jokic averaged 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists per night.

Jokic and the team’s other star, Jamal Murray, carried the Nuggets throughout the playoffs. However, the team’s role players made some of the biggest plays in Game 5.

Bruce Brown had the go-ahead put-back in the late going and hit clinching free throws. In between, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a key steal and made two clutch free throws.

Denver is well-positioned to make a run at back-to-back titles and beyond. Jokic, Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. are all signed through at least the 2024/25 season. Caldwell-Pope has two more years left on his contract, though he can opt out next summer.

There’s a good chance Brown will go elsewhere. He will almost certainly decline his $6.8MM option and the team doesn’t own his Bird rights, limiting its ability to offer much of a raise.

Jeff Green and a handful of other veteran reserves will be unrestricted free agents, though the Nuggets have some quality young players on rookie contracts poised to take on bigger roles, including Christian Braun and Peyton Watson.

The Heat have some key players entering free agency, most notably Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Kevin Love.

With the Finals decided, the 2023 NBA offseason is officially underway. The draft will be held in 10 days with free agency beginning the following week.

Nuggets Notes: Potential Dynasty, Jackson, Reserves, Kamagate

The Nuggets are one victory away from their first NBA title, but they have the foundation in place to win several more, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Hollinger notes that the team’s core players are all in their prime with Nikola Jokic at 28, Aaron Gordon at 27, Jamal Murray at 26 and Michael Porter Jr. at 24. All four are signed for at least two more seasons, and Denver isn’t facing any significant tax issues despite having three max contracts.

The only expected loss from this year’s rotation is Bruce Brown, a free agent addition last summer, who’s expected to turn down his $6.8MM player option and test the market again. The Nuggets don’t own Brown’s Bird rights and won’t be able to compete with the offers he’s likely to receive.

They may be in the same position with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope next year, Hollinger adds. Denver worked out an extension with the veteran guard after acquiring him from Washington, but he has a $15.4MM player option for 2024/25 that he might decide to decline.

Hollinger points out that Nuggets have navigated the cap by amassing young talent on affordable contracts. Late first-round picks Christian Braun and Peyton Watson will make a combined $4.5MM next season, and they both appear ready to become consistent rotation pieces.

There’s more from Denver:

  • Reggie Jackson hasn’t played much since signing with the Nuggets after a trade and a buyout in February, but the 33-year-old guard is happy to still be in the league, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Jackson thought about retiring when he was with the Pistons as persistent ankle injuries kept him off the court. “I can’t believe I’m here now,” he said. “Especially after Detroit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore and then being resurrected in L.A. (with the Clippers). The build-up there, the fun there. Then being traded, it’s coming full circle.”’
  • Denver’s bench players have contributed to the championship run by not making waves about their playing time, observes Tony Jones of The Athletic. Jackson, DeAndre Jordan, Thomas Bryant, Ish Smith and others have been content with limited minutes and sometimes none at all. Jones adds that the only Nuggets player who has been unhappy with his role this season was Bones Hyland, who was traded in February.
  • Ismael Kamagate, whom the Nuggets selected with the 46th pick last year, is finalizing an agreement to play for EA7 Emporio Armani Milan next season, tweets Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews. A recent report indicated that he likely wasn’t in Denver’s plans for 2023/24.

Northwest Notes: Caldwell-Pope, Nuggets, Jazz, Ayton

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope credits superagent Rich Paul for engineering the trade that brought him to Denver. The Nuggets acquired the sharpshooting guard from the Wizards, giving Caldwell-Pope — who won it all with the Lakers three years ago — another shot at a title, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I got a chance to compete for a championship again. Just knowing this team from playing them, I knew what we had and what I was coming into.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets held training camp in San Diego last fall and look back at those days as their beginning of their championship run. They forged chemistry during those days, leading to trust and unselfishness on the court, according to Harrison Wind of “I could tell from Day 1 of training camp in San Diego that this group was going to be special,” coach Michael Malone said.
  • Illinois State wing Seneca Knight and North Carolina State guard Jarkel Joiner are among the prospects who will work out for the Jazz on Thursday, Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Knight averaged 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, while Joiner averaged 17.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.
  • The Suns may look to deal center Deandre Ayton and the Jazz have been mentioned as a potential landing spot. With Walker Kessler entering his second season after a strong rookie campaign, Walden explains in a separate Salt Lake Tribune story why there’s no reason for Utah to expend draft capital on Ayton.

Lakers Notes: Role Players, Russell, Bamba, KCP, James

Among the many issues the Lakers face as they try to dig themselves out of a 3-0 hole in the Western Conference Finals is the lack of production from their role players, Janis Carr of the Orange County Register writes.

Beyond their two superstars and Austin Reaves, the Lakers got modest contributions from the remaining members of the rotation in Game 3 against the Nuggets. D’Angelo Russell (three points), Dennis Schröder (five points) and Jarred Vanderbilt (two points) were non-factors offensively.

“I thought they did the best they could, all of them,” coach Darvin Ham said. “They competed. I’m disappointed but I’m not upset. Yeah, it sucks to lose, but those guys, they fought their hearts out. They tried to do it. They tried to execute what we gave them.”

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Russell admitted he’s baffled by his ineffective play, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. Russell, who’s headed to free agency, shot just 1-for-8 from the field on Saturday. “I really don’t. I don’t know,” he said when asked about how his approach needs to change. “I’ll try to figure it out.” He’s averaging just 7.0 points in the series after contributing 14.7 PPG in the second round against Golden State.
  • The Lakers will have another frontcourt option for Game 4 on Monday. Mohamed Bamba is expected to be available, Ham told Chris Haynes of TNT (Twitter link). Bamba, who has appeared in only three postseason games due to a left ankle injury, hasn’t played since Game 6 in the first round against Memphis.
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s defensive contributions and 3-point shot-making were often taken for granted during the Lakers’ 2020 title run at the Orlando bubble. His all-around contributions for the Nuggets in this series are a painful reminder of the ill-fated Russell Westbrook trade in 2021, which included Caldwell-Pope as part of the package, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN notes. KCP is averaging 15.3 points on 51.4% shooting in the series.
  • LeBron James is showing his age by his inability to carry the Lakers in this series, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times opines. James played well enough in Game 3 but wasn’t great, and he needed to be great to bridge the gap that exists between the Nuggets and Lakers.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Caldwell-Pope, Jokic, M. Jackson

Jamal Murray‘s return from an ACL tear turned the Nuggets into serious title contenders, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. Coach Michael Malone points to a December 8 game against Portland when Murray sank a game-winning shot and ran off the court in celebration.

“That was the night that we were reminded of Jamal’s greatness,” Malone said. “It was also a jump-start for us as a team. We started playing really well after that night.”

Denver pulled away from the field and spent more than 100 days as the top team in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are 6-0 at home in the playoffs and have posted convincing series wins against Minnesota and Phoenix on their way to the conference finals.

Jones sees a similarity to the Spurs teams of last decade and suggests that the combination of Nikola Jokic and Murray evoke memories of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

“We understand how much talent we have on the roster, and I think this team has proven that it can beat anybody,” Malone said. “I think with the two-time MVP, this team has worked very hard to get to this point. This is not luck or happenstance. We’re healthy, which is important. But we’re a very good basketball team.”

There’s more from Denver:

  • The offseason addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was acquired in a trade with the Wizards, brought some championship experience to the roster. Malone emphasized the need for poise prior to Thursday’s closeout win in Game 6, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post, and Caldwell-Pope responded with 17 points in the first quarter. The veteran guard sees an atmosphere similar to the Lakers’ title team he was part of in 2020. “Just being around these guys every day — practice, shootaround — I can just see it in them,” Caldwell-Pope said. “The confidence is there.”
  • Suns star Kevin Durant was impressed after watching the series-long performance from Jokic, who had three triple-doubles in the six games, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. “Jokic is an all-time great,” Durant said. “He’s going to go down as one of the all-time great centers to ever touch a basketball.”
  • ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson has apologized for leaving Jokic off the top five on his MVP ballot, relays Cydney Henderson of USA Today. Jokic was first, second or third on 99 of the 100 ballots, but didn’t crack Jackson’s top five. “Made an honest mistake with my MVP votes,” Jackson tweeted. “My apologies to the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic. He’s not only a legitimate MVP candidate who deserved my vote, but he is truly one of the all time greats!”

And-Ones: Thompson Twins, Dekker, In-Season Tournament, More

Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson, twin brothers who bypassed college to compete in the Overtime Elite program, are projected lottery picks in the upcoming 2023 NBA draft. Israel Gutierrez of ESPN recently caught up with the brothers during Game 3 of the first-round series between Atlanta and Boston.

While much of the hype leading up to June’s draft has centered on French phenom Victor Wembanyama, the projected top overall pick, and G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson, a projected top-three pick, Amen says he’s confident he’s one of the top players in the world.

They always bring up those names, ‘How you going to pass Victor and Scoot, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” Amen said. “And it’s just like, I’m going to do my thing. I’m going to run my race. And I think if I run my race, I’m one of the best players there is.”

The biggest question marks surrounding Amen and Ausar are the level of competition they faced at OTE and their jump shots, writes Gutierrez. Both players worked extensively on their jumpers over their two years at OTE, but it’s still a focus for improvement going forward.

I’m improving on shooting, working on pick and roll reads, just reads in general,” Ausar said, per Gutierrez. “My ability to get paint touches, collapse the defense and kick it out for others. Then for myself, just getting open and being able to rise up over defenders and hit a jump shot, or get to the cup.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA forward Sam Dekker, a 2015 first-round pick, has signed a long-term extension with the London Lions of the British Basketball League, the team announced in a press release. The team captain averaged 18.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 2.9 APG during the 7Days EuroCup last fall and is under contract through 2026, per the Lions.
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic spoke to four NBA players who are Premier League fans about the NBA’s new in-season tournament, which will begin next season and was roughly modeled on European soccer tournaments. All four like the idea and believe it could be an interesting way for younger teams to get experience in a more competitive environment. “It’s gonna be really good for our league,” Pacers guard T.J. McConnell said. “Seasons can — not necessarily drag on — but adding an in-season tournament there just to like reinvigorate fan interest and give something that the players are playing for, another competitive type of environment, I think it’s going to be really good.”
  • Although the majority of the moves didn’t draw as much attention as the blockbusters over the past year, five guards acquired via trades have made a significant impact in their respective teams’ playoff runs, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. The five players Hollinger points to are the NuggetsKentavious Caldwell-Pope (a trade he says he wasn’t a fan of at the time, but has been proven very wrong), the KnicksJosh Hart, the CelticsMalcolm Brogdon, the SixersDe’Anthony Melton, and the LakersD’Angelo Russell.

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Nuggets, Gobert, Thunder

Superstar center Nikola Jokic had another huge game on Tuesday as the Nuggets took a 3-2 lead in their series with Phoenix, racking up 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists for his fourth triple-double of the playoffs. Jokic’s 10th career postseason triple-double moved him ahead of Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles by a center in NBA playoff history, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Discussing Jokic’s historic performance after the game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone made light of the in-season discourse surrounding his center’s triple-doubles, joking that he “must be stat-padding.” Malone also made sure to stress how much the franchise appreciates Jokic and his “incredible” performance.

“He makes everyone around him better,” Malone said. “Never gets rattled. ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ And we’re just so thankful that he’s a Denver Nugget.”

Between Games 4 and 5, Jokic was hit with a $25K fine for a brief sideline incident involving Suns owner Mat Ishbia, but Jokic and Ishbia had a friendly exchange prior to Game 5 and clearly don’t have any bad blood, notes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. During a TNT interview after Tuesday’s win, Jokic was asked about that pregame interaction with Ishbia and joked that he was trying to see if the Suns owner would pay his fine (Twitter link via Youngmisuk).

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • As great as Jokic has been against Phoenix, the contributions of the Nuggets‘ role players – starting with a pair of veterans acquired last summer – shouldn’t be overlooked, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post (subscription required). Bruce Brown‘s 25 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s strong defense on Devin Booker helped Denver secure a Game 5 victory.
  • While fans in Minnesota were upset about Jaden McDaniels‘ absence from this year’s All-Defensive teams, the bigger concern for the Timberwolves is that Rudy Gobert‘s play this past season didn’t earn the three-time Defensive Player of the Year a single vote, says Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. It remains to be seen whether Gobert was more affected by health issues than he let on his year or whether his decline has begun, Rand writes.
  • Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman believes it’s unlikely that the Thunder dip into their stash of future draft picks to make a trade for a core player this offseason. In Mussatto’s view, head of basketball operations Sam Presti is more likely to use his draft assets to make sure he gets the player(s) he wants in this year’s draft, like he did when he traded three protected first-rounders for the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft.

Northwest Notes: Jokic, KCP, Jazz, Messina, Towns

While most NBA fans look forward to Tuesday evening’s announcement of the 2022/23 Most Valuable Player, Nuggets star and MVP finalist Nikola Jokic claims he’s not exactly waiting on that news with bated breath. As Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes, Following a huge Game 2 on Monday (39 points, 16 rebounds), Jokic said that, weather permitting, he’d like to be “in the swimming pool” when the NBA reveals this season’s MVP.

“I don’t really think about it,” Jokic said. “Like zero interest.”

Jokic has certainly had the most impressive postseason of the three finalists, given that Joel Embiid has missed two of five Sixers games due to a knee injury and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Bucks were upset by the eighth-seeded Heat in round one.

Of course, MVP voting was completed before the playoffs began, but teammate Jamal Murray and head coach Michael Malone pointed to Jokic’s Game 2 performance as a perfect example of why he has won two MVP awards and deserves a third. According to Youngmisuk, Malone said on Monday that if Jokic doesn’t win this year’s award, he intends to tell the star center that he’s “he’s the MVP in my eyes.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s big night on Monday (41 minutes played, 4-of-4 on three-pointers) served as reminders of why the Nuggets wanted him so badly last summer and how instrumental he has been to the team’s success this season, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). “KCP does everything for us,” Denver guard Bruce Brown said. “Me and him kind of in the same role. … He’s the only champion in here, so I learn as much as I can from him.”
  • The Jazz‘s coaching staff is said to be undergoing offseason changes, and former Spurs assistant Ettore Messina – who worked alongside Will Hardy in San Antonio from 2015-19 and is now a head coach in Italy – was recently identified by Sportando as a possible target. Asked by Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune about the rumor, Messina neither confirmed nor outright denied it. “Eric, I do not have much for you,” he told Walden in a text message. “I am enjoying what I’m doing with (Olimpia) Milano.”
  • Should the Timberwolves seriously consider the idea of trading Karl-Anthony Towns this offseason? Chris Hine of The Star Tribune explores that question in detail, discussing why it might make sense while also presenting the arguments against such a deal.

Nuggets Notes: Connelly, KCP, Murray, Defense, Malone

Former Nuggets president of basketball operations and current Timberwolves executive Tim Connelly feels strange facing his former team in the first round of the playoffs, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). Connelly still communicates with members of the Denver organization on a regular basis.

“I mean, we talk all the time. It’s more just stupid memes or non-basketball stories we talk about. These people are like family,” he said.

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • They gave Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a two-year, $30MM extension last offseason after acquiring him from the Wizards, and his defense and championship pedigree played a big role in that decision, Harrison Wind of writes. Michael Porter Jr. considers KCP the ultimate glue guy. “It doesn’t matter if he gets 12 shots that night, four shots that night, he’s going to still play the right way,” Porter said. “He’s going to make the extra pass. He’s going to play defense.” Caldwell-Pope had 15 points and committed just one turnover in 31 minutes during the team’s Game 1 109-80 victory.
  • Following a laborious recovery last season from a serious knee injury, Jamal Murray is relishing the return to the postseason, Singer writes in a subscriber-only story. Murray had a game-high 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists on Sunday night with just one turnover. He said the last time he was as excited for any game was the first game back from his ACL tear.
  • Coach Michael Malone repeatedly said during the season that defensive improvement would be the key to a championship run. He saw a lot of good things in Game 1, as the current group displayed its defensive versatility, according to Tony Jones of The Athletic. “It was a stellar defensive performance through four quarters,” Malone said. “Guys were locked in through the entire game. That’s the kind of effort we are going to need through the series. It’s important that we don’t let this win linger. We have a lot of work to do.”
  • However, Malone doesn’t want his team to rest on its laurels heading into Game 2 on Wednesday, Jones adds in a separate story. Their practice film session on Tuesday emphasized the negative. “I made sure to tell the guys that we haven’t done a damn thing,” Malone said. “We’re trying to win a championship, and if we are going to do that, we have 15 more games to win. There are a lot of things that we could have done better in Game 1. That’s what film was about and what practice was about (Tuesday) morning. We want to identify the areas where we can be better. My job is to keep the guys humble.”

Northwest Notes: Thunder, KAT, Malone, Nuggets, Nnaji

As the NBA’s youngest team, the Thunder have didn’t have high external expectations entering 2022/23. However, their rebuild has taken significant steps forward thanks to a strong foundation of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams, and Seerah Sohi of The Ringer believes that Oklahoma City might have the most interesting team in the league.

Despite prioritizing player development over immediate success, the Thunder — who still possess several additional draft picks in the future — find themselves in the play-in mix with just two games remaining on their schedule. Sohi points out that Chet Holmgren, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, is scheduled to return next season and could fill a void in the middle. She also notes that the team’s situation seems similar to Memphis a few years ago — a rising upstart that might shoot up the standings in ’23/24.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • After attempting just three shots in the Timberwolves‘ worst loss of the season on Sunday against the tanking Trail Blazers, Karl-Anthony Towns spoke to head coach Chris Finch to ensure they would be on the same page going forward, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “We had a conversation,” Towns told reporters after scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in an essential victory over the Nets. “We have a great relationship, so that conversation obviously paid dividends tonight. We had a good conversation about philosophies. We got it done today.”
  • Head coach Michael Malone ripped the Nuggets‘ effort against the Rockets after getting blown out on Tuesday night, calling the team “soft,” according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “We had a chance to clinch number one (seed) tonight and we talked about it this morning, the opportunity at hand,” Malone said. “And we definitely did not take that opportunity seriously because the way we played tonight was unacceptable playing like that, this late in the year. If that’s how we’re going to play, we’ll be out in the first round. Easy. Easy.” The Nuggets wound up clinching the top seed in the West for the first time in franchise history last night after Memphis lost to New Orleans.
  • Nuggets big man Zeke Nnaji missed his second straight game on Tuesday due to a knee injury, but it’s not considered serious, reports Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports (Twitter link). The third-year forward/center is expected to return to the team’s second unit for the postseason.
  • Nnaji (right knee sprain) and the Nuggets‘ entire starting lineup — Jamal Murray (right thumb sprain), Nikola Jokic (right calf tightness), Michael Porter Jr. (left heel injury management), Aaron Gordon (right shoulder inflammation) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (non-COVID illness) — are listed as questionable for Thursday’s matchup with the Suns, per Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports (Twitter links).