Will Barton

Community Shootaround: Second-Best Team In The West?

The 2018/19 NBA season is now over a quarter of the way through, with many teams having played at least 30 games. At this point, the Western Conference is still extremely crowded, with 12 teams that are .500 or better fighting for playoff spots. Even the top of the conference is tough to figure out, with teams like the Nuggets, Thunder and Lakers battling to distinguish themselves as the second-best team in the conference (behind a healthy and engaged Warriors team).

The Nuggets have continued to impress after a fast start, as they have withstood several injuries to key players such as Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. They currently own the league’s 8th ranked offense and 5th ranked defense while posting a 19-9 record, good for first in the conference.

The Thunder have used the league’s best defense to carry them to a 20-10 start. Paul George is having the best season of his career as the Thunder continue to stifle opposing offenses. The addition of Dennis Schroder has stabilized the team’s bench units, something previous Thunder teams couldn’t rely on.

Finally, the Lakers have rebounded from their slow 0-4 start to find themselves at 18-12. LeBron James has been his usual terrific self while several of the team’s young players have continued to settle in around him. Of course, it’s also possible that the Lakers make a trade to further improve their team as a result of the crowded playoff picture in the West.

When fully healthy and engaged, the Warriors are still regarded as the clear favorites in the Western Conference. However, the battle for second-best in the conference will likely continue throughout the season and early rounds of the playoffs.

With all that being said, who do you think is the second-best team in the Western Conference? Perhaps you believe that it could be a team that hasn’t been mentioned here. Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Northwest Notes: Harris, Wolves, Barton, Blazers

Nuggets guard Gary Harris is considered day-to-day with a right hip injury sustained Monday when the team played Toronto, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. Harris didn’t play in Wednesday’s game against Orlando, and has already been ruled out for Friday’s game in Charlotte.

“He’s out,” coach Mike Malone said this week, according to Singer. “Just a hip injury, and he’ll continue to get some treatment and see where it’s at and how long he’s gonna be out. But as of right now, he’s just day-to-day.”

Harris is a key piece in the Nuggets’ core group, averaging 16.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this season. Malone said he’ll take it game-by-game to determine who should start in Harris’ place for the time being.

“On that given night, which player we feel is going to be a better matchup for us in terms of who they’re guarding, who the other team offers in their starting lineup and also, it’s not just about how it affects the starting unit — how does it affect the bench unit?” Malone said. “Whether it’s Torrey, whether it’s Malik (Beasley), whether it’s somebody else, we have options and I think we can look at it game-by-game while Gary is out.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves had a shouting match during halftime of the game against Houston on Monday, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. As a result, the team then worked together in the second half to pull off an impressive victory. “We screamed at each other about how we wanted to fix our mistakes on defense and how we were as a group going to do it before Thibs talked to us,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “And we went out there and did it.”
  • Will Barton will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis moving forward, the Nuggets announced on Thursday. Barton continues to progress in his rehabilitation from right hip and core muscle surgery.
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian casts a vote for Merritt Paulson to end up with ownership of the Trail Blazers if the team get put up for sale. Paulson is the majority owner of the Portland Timbers, a Major League Soccer team, as well as the Portland Thorns, a National Women’s Soccer League team.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Barton, Jokic, Westbrook

The Timberwolves are back to where they started before the first Jimmy Butler trade with a young nucleus built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, writes Chip Scoggins of The Star-Tribune. Coach/executive Tom Thibodeau changed the blueprint in Minnesota last year when he acquired Butler from the Bulls in hopes of finding a veteran leader who could vault the team to the top of the West. Now the Wolves are back to square one, only instead of having Zach LaVine, who was sent to Chicago in the Butler deal along with a draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen, their core will include Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

Thibodeau has reduced job security after the Butler incident, and Scoggins suggests his first move should be to try to repair relationships within the organization. He let Butler virtually run the team over the past two months — catering to his outrageous behavior in an effort to convince him to stay —  which created dissension in the locker room that won’t be easy to erase.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets guard Will Barton is making progress in his rehab after surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, according to an Associated Press story. There’s still no timetable for his return, but Barton said he’s “getting stronger every day.” Team doctors planned to re-evaluate his progress six weeks after the October 23 procedure, so his comeback could start in early December. Barton said strengthening core muscles is the focus of his rehab work.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone defended center Nikola Jokic, who was fined $25K this week for using “derogatory and offensive language” in a postgame interview, relays Mike Singer of The Denver Post“There’s so many things being said about this poor kid, and I understand some of it, but those of us who know him, like most people in this hallway, give the kid a break,” Malone said. “He made a mistake, he’s paying for it, get off his back a little bit. He’s a great kid. He loves everybody, and he meant no offense to anybody.”
  • The Thunder are citing progress for Russell Westbrook, who is recovering a a sprained left ankle he suffered in Monday’s game, writes Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman. With a packed schedule this week, OKC hasn’t had time to fit in a practice to fully evaluate Westbrook’s condition. “He’s got to get out there, he’s got to practice, move and cut and do those things, so that’s going to take a little bit of time,” coach Billy Donovan said at Saturday’s shootaround.

Nuggets’ Will Barton To Miss At Least Six Weeks

OCTOBER 23: Barton has undergone successful surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, according to the Nuggets, who noted in a press release that the veteran swingman will be re-evaluated in six weeks.

OCTOBER 22: Nuggets swingman Will Barton will have surgery for an adductor muscle injury on Tuesday and is expected to miss 5-6 weeks, ESPN’s Marc J. Spears tweets. The injury is in the right hip area.

Barton was off to a solid beginning as the team’s starting small forward. He averaged 16.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 3.0 APG during the team’s first two games before he felt something pop during the second half against Phoenix on Saturday. He missed Denver’s victory over Golden State on Sunday.

Barton, 27, averaged career highs in points (15.7) and assists (4.1) last season.

It’s unlikely Denver will pursue trade options unless the timetable for Barton’s injury changes. With the 6’6” Barton on the shelf, Torrey CraigJuan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley will see an uptick in minutes.

The undrafted Craig, 27, broke into the league last season and started on Sunday. Hernangomez, a 2016 first-rounder, is a career 37.1% 3-point shooter. Beasley, another 2016 first-round pick, appeared in 62 games in reserve for Denver last season.

Injury Updates: Knox, Hayward, Barton, Valentine

Knicks rookie Kevin Knox could miss up to a month of action after spraining his left ankle Saturday night, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The injury took place late in the first quarter in a collision with Celtics guard Terry Rozier. Knox had to be helped to the locker room for x-rays, and the initial timetable for recovery has been set at two to four weeks.

It’s a tough way to start a career for the 19-year-old, who was originally pegged to be a starter before an uneven performance in the preseason. The Knicks are still counting on Knox to be an important contributor and want to give him as much court time as possible to help him adjust to the NBA.

“I had a real bad feeling in my gut when he went down,” coach David Fizdale told Marc Berman of The New York Post. “From my angle, I could basically see the [ankle] hit the floor, roll to the floor. I knew right away when he stayed down it was a good one. I feel for the kid. He’s had his fair share of adversity already. That’s what I joked to him about. ‘Welcome to the NBA. You play like crap. You play great [in Brooklyn], then you get hurt.’ It’s the roller coaster of our league. This is good for him. He’s going to learn from this.”

The new season is still in its first week, but there’s more injury news to pass along:

  • Gordon Hayward sat out Saturday’s game with “general soreness” in the area of his surgically repaired left ankle, notes Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. The Celtics forward, who is playing limited minutes, felt pain in the ankle after Friday’s game in Toronto. “We didn’t plan on that,” coach Brad Stevens said about playing without Hayward. “This is something we’ll take game by game, night by night. Obviously with the minutes restriction we’re monitoring it very closely. It’s general soreness, so not overly concerned about it.”
  • An MRI is scheduled today for Nuggets guard Will Barton, who had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair after hurting his hip Saturday, according to an ESPN report. Barton fell to the floor after making a layup in the third quarter and said he heard a pop when he started to jump. Barton signed a four-year, $54MM deal over the summer and entered this season as a full-time starter for the first time in his career.
  • Bulls swingman Denzel Valentine is trying to stay positive despite the latest setback in his recovery from a sprained left ankle, relays Sam Smith of NBA.com. Coach Fred Hoiberg said Valentine’s condition will be re-evaluated in another 10 days to two weeks. “I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand deal,” Valentine said. “I can’t sit here and be negative. I’ve just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”

Nuggets Notes: Season Outlook, Barton, Lyles, Beasley

Offensive prowess and chemistry could carry the Nuggets to the playoffs, Jordan Hicks of Basketball Insiders declares in his detailed season preview.  They finished sixth last season in points per game and fifth in assists and that should only improve with the free agent addition of Isaiah Thomas, Hicks continues. They also have a handful of core players who have been together for at least one season and their 0n-court chemistry is a major plus, Hicks adds.

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Swingman Will Barton should move into the lineup at small forward, the first time he’s had a full-time starting spot, according to Nuggets insider Chris Dempsey. Barton re-signed with the club this summer on four-year, $53MM contract and that spot opened up when Denver traded away Wilson Chandler to the Sixers. Barton will essentially give the Nuggets a three-guard lineup, a look that was highly effective for them a season ago, Dempsey notes.
  • Forward Trey Lyles could be the team’s breakout player this season, Dempsey writes in another profile. Lyles could average 25 or more minutes per game and will be counted on, along with Thomas, to provide scoring punch off the bench, Dempsey continues. Lyles excelled in nearly every offensive action last season, Dempsey notes, providing the best combination of 3-point shooting and post-ups other than Nikola Jokic.
  • Shooting guard Malik Beasley is poised to see an uptick in minutes, Dempsey predicts in still another player profile. Beasley showed defensive tenacity during summer league games and he’s worked diligently on his jump shooting and ball-handling, Dempsey adds. Beasley appeared in 62 games last season but averaged just 9.5 MPG.

Nuggets Sign Will Barton To Four-Year Deal

JULY 9: The Nuggets have officially signed Barton to his new four-year contract, according to a press release from the team.

“Will Barton is a fearless competitor that never backs down,” president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said in a statement. “He has continuously pushed himself to be the best player and teammate he can be and gives it his all no matter what role he is asked to play. We are very excited to have gotten this deal done and to keep an important player like Will as a key part of our future.”

JUNE 30: The Nuggets will come to terms on a four-year deal with free agent swingman Will Barton, Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweets. The news comes an hour before the official free agency period begins.

The four-year contract will be worth $54MM, Chris Haynes of ESPN tweets, with a player option in the final year. Per Zach Lowe of ESPN, the final year of the four-year deal will include a player option.

Barton, a 27-year-old shooting guard, is coming off a career year with the franchise. The prolific two guard averaged 15.7 points per game on the season but 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists in games that he started.

It was previously reported that Barton would be meeting with the Pacers later tonight but Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders writes that that meeting was never scheduled.

With Nikola Jokic‘s recently reported five-year extension factored in, the acquisition of Barton at over $12MM annually will put the Nuggets on pace to shatter the luxury tax line.

Of course club president of basketball operations Tim Connelly will have plenty of time to rectify that and, as we wrote earlier, will be looking to shed contracts in trades.

At the end of the day, while the deal could put the Nuggets over the tax if they can’t unload any of their unwanted contracts, they have $34MM set to expire next summer when Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur all come off their books.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pacers May Pursue Doug McDermott, Joe Harris

With Will Barton expected to re-sign in Denver, the Pacers will turn their attention to Doug McDermott and Joe Harris, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

McDermott, 26, became a free agent on Wednesday when the Mavericks withdrew their qualifying offer. He split this season between New York and Dallas, playing 26 games for the Mavs after a February trade and averaging 9.0 points per night while shooting 49% from 3-point range.

Harris, also 26, is coming off his best NBA season. He averaged 10.8 points and shot 42% on 3-pointers in 78 games for the Nets.

Nuggets Likely To Re-Sign Will Barton

Free agent Will Barton should have a new contract with the Nuggets shortly after free agency begins, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who cites “strong momentum” toward getting a deal done.

The 28-year-old guard is coming off his best NBA season, averaging career highs in points (15.7), rebounds (5.0) and assists (4.1). He appeared in 81 games, starting 40, and helped Denver stay in the playoff race until the final night of the season.

The Nuggets are set to take on a lot of money with Wilson Chandler opting into the final year of his contract and Nikola Jokic due for a significant raise. Even so, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly insisted that keeping Barton “was still a priority” for the organization.

All these moves could leave Denver with a team salary in excess of $140MM, which would result in a massive luxury tax bill.

Pacers Declining Lance Stephenson’s Team Option

3:09pm: The Pacers have officially confirmed that they’re declining Stephenson’s option.

“This was a very difficult decision, but as free agency begins on July 1, we want to have flexibility so that we can prepare for all of our available options,” president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement.

2:23pm: The Pacers won’t exercise their 2018/19 team option on Lance Stephenson, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). By turning down the option, Indiana will save $4.36MM and will allow Stephenson to reach the free agent market.

Stephenson averaged 9.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.9 APG for the Pacers in 2017/18, appearing in all 82 games. While his shooting numbers (.427/.289/.661) were all below his career marks, it’s still a little surprising to see Stephenson’s option declined — his option salary was fairly modest, and he was part of Indiana’s rotation for the entire regular season and postseason.

Still, the Pacers are in position to open up some cap room this summer, so parting ways with Stephenson will allow them to maximize their space. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes (via Twitter), the club has its eye on free agents like Will Barton and Tyreke Evans. Marcus Smart has also been cited as a potential target. If Indiana is unable to sign an impact free agent, the team could also use its cap flexibility to accommodate a trade.

The Pacers’ precise cap outlook for 2018/19 remains somewhat up in the air, as the team has several non-guaranteed salaries and options on its books for next season. Reports have indicated that Indiana is expected to retain Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison, who each have partial guarantees on their $10MM salaries. Al Jefferson also has a partially guaranteed deal, while Thaddeus Young is still weighing his decision on his $13MM+ player option.

In the unlikely event that Jefferson and other players on smaller non-guaranteed salaries are cut and Young turns down his option to sign elsewhere , the Pacers could create upwards of $30-35MM in cap room, though that scenario seems unlikely.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.