Posts Tagged ‘Danilo Gallinari’

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 28

VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins passes away at age 58


Remembering Chocolate Thunder | Davis bulks up | Buss believes Bryant worth big extension

No. 1: Remembering Chocolate Thunder — The NBA family lost one of its greatest ambassadors on Thursday when Darryl Dawkins passed away at the age of 58. Our own Fran Blinebury, who covered Dawkins with the Sixers and even collaborated with him on a weekly column, reflects on one of the biggest personalities the league has ever seen…

Some news makes you feel older, more than a glimpse at gray hairs or lines on a face looking back from the mirror ever can. Because Dawkins was the ultimate man-child, light-hearted and perpetually friendly long after he broke into the NBA in 1975 with the 76ers as an 18-year-old out of Maynard Evans High in Orlando, Fla.

Four decades later, little had changed except the age on his driver’s license and when I saw him last February at the All-Star Game in New York, he was still a true original and the most fun person I’ve ever covered in the NBA.

Stevie Wonder dubbed him “Chocolate Thunder,” and no label of sheer power coated in a kid’s shell of sweetness and joy was ever more appropriate.


No. 2: Davis bulks upAnthony Davis finished fifth in MVP voting last season and has seemingly just scratched the surface of his potential. New Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry will help Davis take the next step, but Davis is doing his part by putting on some weight, as’s Jim Eichenhofer writes…

Imagine for a moment living in the foodie heaven of New Orleans and getting the green light from a trainer to eat larger portions at meals, including a recommendation to devour more seafood. It sounds like a dream scenario for any weight-conscious New Orleanian, but it’s been a reality this summer for All-NBA Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis. Entering his fourth pro season, the 22-year-old has worked to add more muscle and bulk to his frame. As a result, with training camp one month away, the 6-foot-10 Davis is 12 pounds heavier than he was last season, up to 253, while maintaining 10 percent body fat.

Without a lengthy commitment to USA Basketball this offseason, Davis has been able to consistently focus on a weight-training routine and modifying his diet. He spent a combined total of eight weeks in Los Angeles and Anguilla working daily with new Pelicans head strength and conditioning coach Jason Sumerlin, who continues to adjust the approach of Davis, a noted pizza lover.


No. 3: Buss believes Bryant worth big extension — The Los Angeles Lakers added some key pieces via the Draft (D’Angelo Russell) and trade (Roy Hibbert) this summer, and they’ll be getting Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle back from injury. But what’s supposed to be the league’s marquis franchise didn’t get any big names via free agency. One thing that may have gotten in the way was Bryant’s $25 million salary, which prevented the Lakers from approaching two big free agents with a package deal. Despite Bryant’s age and health issues, Lakers owner Jim Buss, in a wide-ranging interview with Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times, said that Bryant is getting what he deserves…

Bryant, with one year left on his contract, will be the highest paid player in the NBA this season at $25 million. Buss gave Bryant a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before he even returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon six months earlier.

Since then, Bryant has played in only 41 games over the last two seasons because of a fractured kneecap, followed by a torn rotator cuff last season.

Buss has received plenty of criticism for over-investing in the aging star, who just turned 37 as he heads into his 20th season.

“The man has done so much for the Lakers and the fans of the Laker nation, he deserves the money,” Buss said. “I don’t understand anybody trying to break down what I did for him. Let’s break down what he did for us, then say, what is he worth? To me, he’s worth that.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephanie Ready will be the first full-time female NBA game analystChuck Hayes is not rejoining the RocketsAn Achilles injury has knocked Alexis Ajinca out of Eurobasket … Mike Conley likes mixing patters and colors … and the Kings are bringing Marshall Henderson to training camp.

ICYMI: The best of Chocolate Thunder:

VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins’ top 20 Dunks

Faried has big hopes for Lawson, Nuggets

VIDEO: Kenneth Faried helps out at a Basketball Without Borders event

It was a bittersweet summer in Denver for point guards. The Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, who might be a good one. And they parted with Ty Lawson, who already is a good one, but there’s a catch.

You know the story. Shortly after the Nuggets drafted Mudiay, Lawson was ticketed for suspicion of driving under the influence, the second time since January that’s happened. The Nuggets acted swiftly, trading him to the Rockets, and Lawson entered a one-month court-appointed rehab program, which he’s now wrapping up. It hit the Nuggets hard and Kenneth Faried even harder.

“That’s my best friend, my point guard, my boy,” said Faried, the energizer of the Nuggets, in a conversation recently. “He’s been through a lot. He’s helped me a lot. When I first came on the team, he gave me a lot of good advice. People don’t know that. So it’s hard to see a friend like that go.”

It makes you wonder about the advice Lawson gave. As close as they are, the two clearly went about their business differently. Faried is from hardscrabble Newark, N.J., had poor grades in high school and therefore couldn’t qualify academically for the major colleges (but eventually starred at Morehead State). Then he buckled down, became a top student with a 3.5 GPA, worked his way into the first round of the 2011 Draft and then to a $50 million contract extension two summers ago.

Lawson emerged as a solid playmaker and borderline All-Star shortly after being taken with the No. 18 pick in the 2009 Draft and arguably became the face of the franchise. But off-court issues have dogged him. And just before the latest suspected alcohol-related incident, he bemoaned the Nuggets’ decision to draft Mudiay. In a video that went viral, Lawson wondered aloud whether he was headed to Sacramento, where his old coach, George Karl, was in charge. That and other incidents annoyed the Nuggets. Lawson was on the trading block anyway, and the arrest forced their hand.

So, how is Lawson doing?

“I think he knows what’s going on,” said Faried, who speaks with Lawson often. “And he understands 100 percent what he has to do.”

That’s good news for the Rockets, at least for now.

As for the Nuggets? Faried said once the trade happened, “I went to the gym.” That was his way of dealing with the stress, and also preparing for what’s to come.

“I know what I have to do,” he said. “I have to be more of a leader. I get the biggest paycheck, so I have to be that leader. I want to lead by example, so when I do say something, my words will have volume.”

Being a leader will be welcome in Denver, because the Nuggets were a mess under former coach Brian Shaw. Players openly rebelled, gave half-efforts and refused to buy into the system. They were mocked around the league for their unprofessionalism as David West (now with the Spurs) wondered if the Denver locker room had any “grownups.”

The Nuggets are in a state of transition from the Karl era, still searching for an identity. Mike Malone is now the coach and Faried looks forward to a pre-training camp dinner with the coach to see “what he wants from me and also what I want from him.” The team now belongs to Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the last two recently gifted with contract extensions. Also, plenty will depend on how rapidly Mudiay takes to running the show, who is expected to get the keys to the team right away (like Lawson once did).

“I’m interested to see how he takes to training camp and takes to coaching,” Faried said, “and also to other players, us veterans. The constructive criticism. I saw him in summer league and he looked good.”

The Rockets are also interested to see how their new point guard takes to coaching, to criticism and more importantly, to a second lease on life. Lawson knows how to run a team … he showed that in Denver. But how can he run his own life? He showed that in Denver, too.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 6

VIDEO: Looking back on David Robinson’s epic career

Green sees Popovich staying with Spurs for life | Afflalo says Anthony helped recruit him to Knicks | Gallinari surprised Nuggets gave him extension


No. 1: Green doesn’t think Popovich will ever fully leave Spurs — Today is the 50th birthday of ex-San Antonio Spurs legend and Hall of Famer David Robinson. Robinson, of course, won two titles with San Antonio under the coaching of Gregg Popovich, who is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and has led the Spurs to three more title since Robinson’s retirement. Given San Antonio’s stellar offseason in the free-agent marketplace, current Spurs swingman Danny Green tells Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News that he can’t envision Popovich ever fully cutting ties with the team: 

Still setting goals, Spurs guard Danny Green looks forward to playing for coach Gregg Popovich through the end of the four-year, $40 million Spurs contract he signed after becoming a free agent in July.

Like many Spurs players and fans, Green always had presumed Popovich would depart the Spurs bench as soon as team captain Tim Duncan opted for retirement. But with the signing of free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and the new, five-year contract for teammate Kawhi Leonard signed in mid-July Green now believes Popovich will stick around past the end of 39-year-old Duncan’s career — whenever that comes.

“Without LaMarcus and Kawhi (Leonard) I think he’s out the door when Timmy leaves,” Green said on Wednesday after an appearance at the Spurs youth camp at George Gervin Academy. “Them being here I think extends his tenure just a little bit longer.

“Pop loves the game, obviously. I don’t see him stepping away fully. Even if he ever did he’d always be in the front office, or around or something. But him, or them — he and (general manager) R.C. (Buford) — bringing in the talent they brought in this past (off) season depending on how long they stay, I think we’ll be successful and LaMarcus will want to stay as long as possible and, hopefully, finish his career here with me, Kawhi and Pop.

“I think that keeps (Pop) here a little longer.”

VIDEO: Danny Green discusses the Spurs’ offseason

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Morning shootaround — July 17

VIDEO: Josh Smith signs with the Clippers


NBPA takes issue with NBA’s view on finances | Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith | Bucks and Henson negotiating an extension | Nuggets see Gallo in their future

No. 1: NBPA chief takes issue on NBA’s stance on finances — Well, figure that we’ll be occasionally hearing scattered back-and-forths from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts between now and possibly 2017. After Silver stated a few days ago that teams are losing money and cited rising expenses, Roberts insists the league is in far better shape financially than Silver indicated. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN took a stab at the latest between Silver and Roberts …

After the NBA’s Board of Governors met on Tuesday, Silver said that the league’s revenue “was much higher than we had ever modeled” but also said that a significant number of NBA teams are losing money because of rising expenses.

The league is set to receive a revenue windfall in the coming year when a new national broadcast deal kicks in. In turn, the salary cap will escalate rapidly and could near $90 million for the 2016-17 season.

The players union, if it chooses to, can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017, though Silver said on Tuesday he didn’t believe such an outcome was certain.

“You know, I’m not sure if the players’ association is going to opt out,” Silver said. “Michele [Roberts] made some early remarks suggesting maybe they were leaning that direction, but she hasn’t told me that she plans to opt out. And I know that in discussions that she and I have had and I’ve had with players’ association representatives, it’s clear the goal on both sides is to avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt-out.”

The collective bargaining agreement between owners and the union stipulates that players receive a fixed percentage of the NBA’s overall revenue. The precise number was a battleground in the last negotiation between owners and players.

If the aggregate salaries committed to players fall short of that amount — as they currently do — the owners make up the difference. Silver said the league, despite being flush with revenue, is bracing for such a result.

“There are projections that for next year we could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players’ association,” Silver said. “That’s not of course the ideal outcome from our standpoint. It’s not something we predicted when we went into this collective bargaining agreement.

In the past year, Roberts has challenged the underlying principle of a salary cap and mocked the suggestion of NBA owners losing money. On Thursday she took aim at Silver’s characterization that the NBA owners “largely are paying our players off the gross” under the current collective bargaining agreement.

“Under the CBA, we do not have a gross compensation system,” Roberts said. “The players’ 50 percent share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.”


No. 2: Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith — The Clippers have had an interesting offseason to say the least. Much of it was tied up in the DeAndre Jordan drama, but both before and after Jordan reneged on a verbal deal with the Mavericks to return to the Clippers, LA made a few low-risk and potentially high-reward deals. First was trading for Lance Stephenson, and now signing Josh Smith on a one-year deal for the $1.5 million minimum. Both players were available because despite their talent, they were deemed expendable by their former teams for different reasons. Stephenson had a disappointing first season in Charlotte and, coupled with his goofy personality, was not worth the trouble (although Stephenson was mainly on good behavior in Charlotte). Smith had a decent showing with the Rockets after being dumped by Detroit, and even helped the Rockets beat the Clippers in the second round. For the Clippers, these deals could work because the issue with Stephenson and Smith aren’t talent-related. Here’s Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie on the Smith signing …

With marquee signing Paul Pierce able to play as a stretch-4, Rivers can go super small with Griffin, Smith, or potentially Glen “Big Baby” Davis (still a free agent) as a nominal center or play more classic lineups without sacrificing much quickness. Smith also joins Lance Stephenson as a new reserve with a collection of skills, all while minimizing the likelihood that the Clippers will have to depend on one of these often frustrating players to their own detriment. Adding Smith increases what the Clippers can do while simultaneously diffusing risk.

That’s not to say that this is a can’t-miss pickup. Smith will probably have to see the bench when he threatens to shoot Los Angeles out of games, and his awful free-throw shooting ensures that teams will intentionally send him and Jordan to the line whenever it seems prudent. It’s also worth noting that Smith has not always had the best attitude, even if his reputation as a malcontent is overblown and the Clippers did just fine with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup.

But few teams add players of Smith’s caliber at this price to fill a glaring need. The Clippers’ bench has been a problem area for several seasons and has looked even more lacking in the frontcourt. Smith isn’t an All-Star candidate anymore, but L.A. doesn’t need him to be one. If he fills his role without complaints, breaks out in a few more playoff games and doesn’t cause major troubles, he will do just fine. Two weeks after Jordan appeared headed to Dallas, the Clippers have escaped also-ran status and look like a stronger contender than they were in June.


No. 3: Bucks and Henson negotiating an extensionJohn Henson is a developing front-line player with unique defensive skills, and because of that, the Bucks are high on his future. Despite signing Greg Monroe to a free agent contract this summer, Milwaukee is busy trying to lock up Henson, who plays the same position (and also center in certain situations). It’s further proof that the Bucks’ plan is to keep its nucleus intact and allow it to grow, rather than chase free agent superstars who are unlikely to leave their own teams anyway. Henson can play alongside Monroe on the front line if the Bucks go big, or be the first player off the bench. In either event, the Bucks are hoping the price is right with Henson, who’s eligible for an extension this fall. Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has some details …

John Henson is in line for an expanded role this season, playing behind Monroe but also next to him in certain lineups if Bucks coach Jason Kidd decides to pair the 6-foot-11 duo.

“We think John is a great complement to Greg with his defensive ability and his ability as a premier shot-blocker in the league,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said.

Monroe will provide the low-post offense while Henson can discourage opponents from driving the lane. The former North Carolina player averaged 2.01 blocks per game last season, ranking fifth in the NBA, and had four games with six or more blocked shots.

Last week Hammond identified the 24-year-old Henson as one of six young players comprising the Bucks’ core group, along with the 25-year-old Monroe, 20-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams and 23-year-old Khris Middleton.

Henson, who spent a few days in Las Vegas as part of a large Bucks contingent at the NBA Summer League, admitted it felt good to hear that affirmation of his progress.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward,” he said. “I hope to keep improving.”

A source indicated serious talks between the Bucks and the fourth-year player are ongoing, with the goal of reaching an agreement on a multiyear contract extension. Henson is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract and is eligible to sign an extension this summer.


No. 4: Nuggets see Gallo in their future — The Nuggets are clearly a team in transition and will probably have a fair amount of turnover in the near future. But they locked up Wilson Chandler to a contract extension and apparently are willing to do the same with Danilo Gallinari, their oft-injured but still-dangerous shooter. Gallo is entering the final year of his contract at $11.4 million, and even though he missed a stretch of 18 months after a pair of knee surgeries, the Nuggets have seen enough since his return to have confidence in his ability to help. Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post has details …

The Nuggets are a team in need to raise their shooting profile, and Gallinari helps them reach that goal. Given the Nuggets current financial situation, an extension will have to be structured to kick in at the start of the 2016-17 season, similar to what Kenneth Faried did a year ago. And that would be advantageous to Gallinari, who could negotiate a deal based on the estimates of how the salary cap will rise, and it’s expected to make a huge jump. That’s what New Orleans star Anthony Davis did with his extension.

Gallinari is one of only two small forwards on the roster, so the Nuggets are thin in that area. And despite some injury worries — Gallo has played more than 60 games in just three of his six seasons — he’s a player just hitting the prime of his career.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is looking to play some Saturday night games on ABC starting next season … Andre Iguodala had some fun demanding a trade … Luc Mbah a Moute failed his physical


In MVP chatter, touches speak loudly

VIDEO: James Harden explodes for a career-high 50 points on Thursday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — You often hear broadcasters say that Player X needs to touch the ball on a critical possession down the stretch. And when they need a big bucket, most teams do just put the ball in their best player’s hands and tell him to go to work.

But that player will be on the floor for about 70 possessions per game and more than 5,000 possessions over the course of the season. In the past, we’ve measured how well a team performs when a player is on or off the floor. And now, SportVU’s player tracking cameras can tell us how important it is that a player actually touches the ball.

For example, here are the top six MVP candidates, with their team’s efficiency when they touch the ball (in the frontcourt), when they don’t touch the ball, and when they’re off the floor…


For all six, their presence on the floor is pretty darn important to their team’s offense. But while the other guys also need to touch the ball, the Cavs’ offense is potent whether LeBron James touches it or not.

The Clippers have the No. 1 offense in the league (by a hair over the Warriors) and Chris Paul obviously deserves a ton of credit for it. The difference between L.A.’s efficiency on possessions he has touched the ball (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and on possessions he has not touched it or been off the floor (98.3) is the largest in the league among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions. It’s a crowded field, but Paul has a legit MVP case.

Davis, of course, can’t just bring the ball up the floor like the rest of these guys can. (Well, maybe he could, but he has yet to unleash that facet of his game.) He’s touched the ball on only 53 percent of the Pelicans’ possessions while he’s been on the floor. That ranks 118th among 218 players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions and, obviously, last among the six guys we’re focusing on.


In fact, there are 36 power forwards and centers, led by Blake Griffin at 68.0 percent, with a higher touch percentage than Davis. Kris Humphries (56.1 percent) has been more likely to touch the ball on a Wizards possession he’s been on the floor for than Davis has been to touch it on a Pelicans possession.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams acknowledged the challenge of getting the ball to Davis as much as he needs it before a game last week.

“That’s why it’s difficult at times,” Williams said, “for him to have the kind of night [43 points, six assists, 17-for-23 shooting] like he did [in Milwaukee on March 9], because he can’t get the ball in an out-of-bounds situation, bring it up and go to work.

“We have made more of a focus to get him the ball, but we also don’t want to exhaust it so much that nobody else gets a rhythm. And I think he likes it that way, because it keeps teams off-balance at times.”

Some more notes from SportVU’s touch-no-touch numbers …

  • John Wall leads the league in touch percentage at 89.4 percent. He touches the ball in the frontcourt on nine out of every 10 Wizards possessions he’s on the floor for. Not coincidentally, he leads the league in time of possession per game.
  • Stan Van Gundy likes to have the ball in the hands of his point guards. Brandon Jennings is right behind Wall at 88.9 percent and third on the list is D.J. Augustin (Detroit minutes only) at 87.9 percent. Reggie Jackson touched the ball on just 70 percent of Thunder possessions, but has touched it on 87 percent of Pistons possessions he’s been on the floor for.
  • Robin Lopez is last in touch percentage, having touched the ball on only 33.5 percent of the Blazers’ possessions he’s been on the floor for. He’s followed by Andre Drummond (33.9 percent), Anthony Morrow (35.7 percent), Bojan Bogdanovic (35.9 percent) and Andre Roberson (37.9 percent). Those poor Thunder wings.
  • With Danilo Gallinari on the floor, the Nuggets have scored 112.7 points per 100 possessions when Gallinari has touched the ball and only 91.3 when he hasn’t. That’s the largest discrepancy among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 possessions and it requires further examination. Gallo hasn’t shot the ball particularly well and his teammates haven’t shot it particularly well off his passes either.

Gallinari seeks return to All-Star-level form

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — On April 4, 2013, when Danilo Gallinari drove past Dirk Nowitzki and planted his left foot just above the restricted circle, he figured he was going up for layup or maybe a dunk, and on his way to another big game — the basket would have given him 11 points with more than four minutes left in the second quarter — while putting the Denver Nuggets on course for an 18th consecutive home win.

At the time, the 6-foot-10 forward was averaging career highs of 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and was shooting the 3-ball at a 37.3-percent clip. The Nuggets, under coach George Karl, were 52-24, third in the Western Conference standings and top-four in the NBA in offensive efficiency with the postseason just two weeks away.

But when Gallinari planted his left foot, he never made it off the ground. His knee buckled. He immediately grasped it with both hands and hopped to the baseline and dropped to the floor. Soon he would be helped up and would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Gallinari has not been seen in uniform since.

So much has changed. Karl was fired and Brian Shaw was hired. Gallinari missed all of last season following surgery and the Nuggets, besieged by a slew of other injuries, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the year before drafting Carmelo Anthony.

After extensive rehab, Gallinari, 26, is excited to make his return. He expects to play in the Nuggets’ first preseason game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 6. In an interview with on Thursday, he said he anticipates a quick return to his pre-injury level of play that he says was deserving of a spot on the 2013 All-Star team.

“I was playing very well,” Gallinari said. “I thought at that point right before the All-Star Game, I should have been called for the All-Star Game […] because we were one of the best teams in the league, and so I think you have to call, you have to call somebody from the Nuggets to represent a great franchise and a franchise that was doing very good. I thought that me and Ty Lawson, we were the two that could have, should have been called for the All-Star game. So I thought I was right at that level, and so my goal is to get back at that level, if not better.”

Gallinari said he believes he has conquered the challenging psychological aspects of returning from an injury of this magnitude. Physically, he said he is happy with how the knee has responded as he’s incrementally increased his workload. He said he will be close to participating in all aspects of practice when training camp opens next week.

“I’m not at the same level that I left basketball because I haven’t played a game in a while,” Gallinari said. “The more I will play games the better I will feel. I’m very excited. I think I will be ready for the first game of the preseason; we are very close. Everybody is very excited. We all cannot wait to start this season.”

Blogtable: Up-and-comer in the West

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown

> Which team has made the biggest offseason leap in the West? How high can they go?

Steve Aschburner, Did San Antonio sweep the sidewalks and trim the hedges outside the AT&T Center? Winner! That’s plenty of improvement for the champs. … OK, I’ll play along. I would say Denver given the return to health of key guys (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson), the emergence for Team USA of Kenneth Faried and the addition of Arron Afflalo. But the Nuggets overachieved through their setbacks last season, in my view, so their improvement might not be easily discerned in the standings. That’s why I’ll go with the trendy pick, New Orleans. Health matters to the Pelicans, too, and a crunch-time front line with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik protecting the rim could be as good as gargoyles on the glass, swatting away shots.

Anthony Davis' gold medal turn may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Anthony Davis’ gold medal turn at the World Cup may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, I’ve got an eye on the Mavericks. The addition of two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — could make them a threat. I don’t see Dallas as a championship contender, but if all breaks right the Mavs could make a run at a top four seed.

Jeff Caplan, The Mavericks added the most talent with center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons around Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. I really liked bringing in steady vet Jameer Nelson to run the point, eliminating them leaning heavily on Raymond Felton as a starter. That’s three new starters, which could mean some initial growing pains, but all these players are team-oriented, so it shouldn’t be too tough. They added some interesting depth with Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson. They’ll miss Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, but both players are well past their primes. If they stay healthy, Dallas could push for a top-four spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The Nuggets or Pelicans. Denver won 36 games last season and now expects to get Danilo Gallinari back after he missed all 2013-14, JaVale McGee back after all of five appearances, and adds Arron Afflalo in trade and first-round picks Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. That’s the possibility of three new starters and the certainty of much better depth. That’s worth the 12-14 extra wins it will take to make the playoffs. New Orleans won 34 and now not only gets Anthony Davis fast-tracking to stardom, but also Omer Asik next to him at center. Good luck scoring inside on the Pels. One of the keys is what they get from Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson coming off injuries.

John Schuhmann, Dallas has the potential to be a top-four team in the West with the additions it’s made. The Mavs already had an elite offense, which should be enhanced by the addition of Chandler Parsons. And Tyson Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu should help them get back to being an above-average defensive team again. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, these guys gave the Spurs a scare in the first round, and Dirk Nowitzki still has some gas in the tank.

Sekou Smith, While I didn’t agree with all of the moves they made, there’s no question the Dallas Mavericks were the most fearless and aggressive outfit in the Western Conference during the offseason. Bringing back Tyson Chandler. Snatching Chandler Parsons. And doing it all while making sure Dirk Nowitzki remained on board and believing in the resurrection plan. That’s a master class on how to stay true to your core superstar while changing nearly everything else around him (not named Monta Ellis). The Mavericks will go as far as the new pieces will allow Dirk and Monta to go as the offensive catalysts for this bunch. No offense to Parsons, but the Mavericks didn’t need another superstar. They needed another role player with superstar potential willing to sacrifice all of his ambitions for the greater good, right now. I think they definitely put themselves back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference and somewhere far north of the No. 8 seed they earned last year.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I really like what Dallas did this summer. As Mark Cuban pointed out yesterday, they’ve picked up six players who started for other teams last season. They got a rim protector in Tyson Chandler, they got wing scoring in Chandler Parsons, two point guards in Felton and Nelson, and they add all those guys to a core that already included Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. And having Rick Carlisle on the sideline is a pretty good way to bring them all together. Last year they were a lower playoff seed that in the first round gave San Antonio their toughest postseason test. This just feels like one of those teams people forget about … until it’s too late.

Optimism continues to rise in Denver

VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about the USA win over Mexico

So, yeah, Kenneth Faried. He’s everywhere for Team USA, finishing on the break, crashing the boards, pounding away with typical bottomless energy, and emerging as the NBA player whose reputation has benefited most from the FIBA World Cup.

This is a step forward for Faried, even with the disclaimer that the event once known as the world championships does not automatically translate to NBA play, not when the international game is different and now when roles are much different for some national teams than they will be starting in late-September. That makes it an obvious step forward for the Nuggets back home as the latest in a series of offseason boosts, and that makes Denver more intriguing than before.

Maybe even playoff intriguing. Faried will be better for his time with Team USA and the positive performance will become an injection of confidence and energy, if that’s possible. Danilo Gallinari is encouraged about being ready for Day 1 of training camp and a full regular-season schedule, save perhaps avoiding back-to-backs early, in the return from two surgeries on his left knee and all 2013-14 on the sidelines. Arron Afflalo was added in a steal of a trade that sent Evan Fournier and a second-round pick to the Magic. JaVale McGee should be back after missing all but five games last season with a fractured left leg. No. 16 pick Jusuf Nurkic was the second-best center prospect in the 2014 draft, after the injured Joel Embiid, and No. 19 pick Gary Harris could crack the rotation as a rookie.

The Nuggets go from 36-46 and missing the playoffs by 13 games to opening training camp in a few weeks with the possibility of essentially three new starters, and veteran starters at that: Afflalo at shooting guard, Gallinari at small forward and McGee at center. There is the uncertainty of Gallinari and McGee because of injuries — and of McGee because it’s JaVale McGee — but it’s easy to see Denver in the conversation with Phoenix and New Orleans as Western Conference teams pushing into the playoffs.

There’s an extra 13 wins to be cobbled together from Gallinari at small forward plus Afflalo and some Harris at shooting guard plus McGee and some Nurkic at center. That’s in addition to the carryover starters, Faried at power forward and Ty Lawson at point guard, plus Randy Foye, in the opening lineup at shooting guard last season but likely bound for a reserve role now, and Wilson Chandler in the same situation at small forward and J.J. Hickson at center.

“I think at every position we’re pretty deep,” Lawson told’s Jeff Caplan last month. “At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told (coach Brian Shaw), I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.”

Small forward is the specific watch, and not just with Gallinari’s recovery. Draft night changed that. The Nuggets traded the No. 11 pick to the Bulls for 16 and 19, taking Denver out of contention for Doug McDermott in a double-down of the bet that Gallo would have a full recovery. McDermott would have been for the same position and the projected help for a team that had just finished 19th in the league in shooting. Chicago took McDermott with the selection instead. If he plays to expectations and Gallinari never gets all the way back, June 26, 2014, becomes a haunting memory.

It’s easy to see the Nuggets’ logic, though. They got a lot deeper and, with the Afflalo deal the same day, a lot stronger with Nurkic, needing to now address how a center not known for mobility will fit into the up-tempo game of Lawson and Faried. Nurkic was a candidate for the lottery and Denver got him at a position that has lacked stability for years, plus potential help at shooting guard with Harris. And if Gallinari does make it back, the decision looks even better.

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams. You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up. As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise. Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad. With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile. Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there. You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West. Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?

VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In our Wednesday Blogtable, the staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky RubioAndrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim DuncanGregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)