Posts Tagged ‘Danilo Gallinari’

Gallinari hopes to be ready for camp

TREVISO, Italy –An upbeat Danilo Gallinari, speaking while attending the last of the three days of the adidas Eurocamp at the La Ghirada Sports Complex, says his knee rehab is going so well he could be on the court for the start of Nuggets training camp

Gallinari is still recovering from two operations on his left knee that has sidelined him for more than a year and remains 2 1/2 months away from his next rehabilitation benchmark. He said he is ahead of schedule in being able to run and jump without limits in June — after surgery in January that marked the second procedure on the knee within nine months.

Next, he plans to join the Italian national team for seven to 10 days of practices, but not games, in mid-August.

Those would be his first full workouts, free of restrictions, and become a major progress report. If there are no setbacks in his native Italy, and the scheduled visit with his doctor in late August in Colorado goes well, Gallinari is hopeful of being cleared for Day 1 of Nuggets camp and the chance to play in exhibition games.

It is far enough in the distance, though, and enough hurdles remain that Gallinari cannot say with any certainty he will be ready by the end of September. Besides, he’s about the last person who needs to be reminded how tenuous the recovery can be. Gallinari was about eight months into the comeback from surgery to repair a torn cartilage suffered April 3, 2013, when it was determined, before Gallinari had returned to the court, that a second operation would be needed to reconstruct a ligament in the same knee.

“I think training camp is realistic,” he said. “It’s something that we really talked about with the doctor. It’s something that we really want to achieve and we believe is going to be possible.”

Gallinari has not played in 14 months. His return, whenever it happens, would be an emotional lift and, depending on his play, potentially a practical boost for a team that will also add the No. 11 pick heading into the second season under coach Brian Shaw.

“I’m not feeling any pressure,” Gallinari said. “The only thing that I’m feeling is that fire that I have inside right now. I never had it before in my career. When you cannot do what you love for more than one year, it’s like I was saying to the Italian media, it’s like, I don’t know, a mom that doesn’t see her son for more than one year. When you see him, it’s one of the best feelings ever. That’s what I feel right now.

“I think it’s going to change a little bit my mental approach. I’m going to be more aggressive. I think it’s going to help my leadership. I’m going to ready and very focused on the goals we have as a team. It’s something that is going to be in my mind every day. I don’t want nobody to stop me from winning.”


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari showed Nuggets.com how his rehab was coming along in May

Gallinari’s Second Surgery A Blow


VIDEO: Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points in a victory over the Bucks last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Denver Nuggets’ roller-coaster season took a severe nosedive Tuesday with the team announcing that 3-point shooting forward Danilo Gallinari will miss the rest of the season after undergoing a second surgery on his left knee in nine months.

Gallinari tore his ACL during a game on April 4 against the Dallas Mavericks and had surgery on April 30. Gallinari was initially hopeful of returning to the team during the first half of the season, but he has not been able to play at all. Nuggets general manager and vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained why:

“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Connelly said in a statement. “Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning.”

The Nuggets’ second-leading scorer last season and one of its top 3-point gunners, Gallinari’s loss is a blow to the middling Nuggets’ playoff chances under first-year coach Brian Shaw.

“It’s disappointing,” Shaw told the Denver Post. “The fact that we know how hard he worked rehabbing over the last few months to try to get back for this season. We feel for him, and know how tough a situation that is to deal with.”

Gallinari, 25, is the second player this season to experience a setback after the initial knee surgery, joining Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, who had surgery in late April to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He’s also undergone two arthroscopic procedures in the last three months due to related issues. Westbrook’s situation, however, is not as serious as Gallinari’s and he is expected to return to the Thunder’s lineup around the All-Star break.

That won’t be the case for the 6-foot-10 Gallinari, who would have been starting his third full season with Denver and his sixth in the league. He posted career highs in points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.2 ppg) and shot 37.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Without him this season, Denver’s offense ranks 11th in the league and its 3-point shooting percentage ranks 15th. The team has fluctuated between extremes, riding extending losing and winning streaks to a 20-20 record. Now they know Gallinari won’t be riding in to help bring a bit of consistency to the second half of the season.

“Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season,” Connelly said.

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors pursuing Hinrich? | Gasol tunes out trade chatter | Wallace lays into Celtics after loss | Nuggets could save money on Gallinari | Horford opens up on goals, season

No. 1: Report: Warriors may be interested in Hinrich — With last night’s victory in Milwaukee, the Golden State Warriors have been the hottest team in the league and are riding a 10-game win streak. But, as our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a conversation with GameTime on Monday night, all is not perfect, roster-wise, in Oakland. In particular, the Warriors are playing point guard Steph Curry and small forward/point forward Andre Iguodala an awful lot simply because the team has yet to find a capable backup playmaker. That may lend some credence to the report from USA Today‘s Sam Amick, who writes that Golden State could be interested in working a trade for Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich:

When news broke late Monday night that the Chicago Bulls had broken up their championship-contending core by trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the proverbial blood was in the water almost immediately.

Rival executives had been waiting and wondering whether the Bulls would have to go this route, to opt for Plan B because of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending injury by finally succumbing to the league’s collective bargaining agreement by way of a money-saving deal. And so they did, taking on Andrew Bynum‘s contract for the right to waive him and sneak under the luxury tax that is so much more punitive than it has been in the past. The Bulls landed three draft picks in the trade as well (a first and two seconds) but the strong message had been sent that the Bulls’ shop may finally be open for business.

Bulls fans, players and most certainly coach Tom Thibodeau may be in mourning today, as Deng was a fan favorite and this is as tough as NBA decisions come. But this is welcome news for everyone else around the league.

So, what’s next? We shall see.

While forward Carlos Boozer could be waived via the league’s amnesty clause during the offseason as yet another way to clear the Bulls’ books, it appears point guard Kirk Hinrich will be drawing the most immediate interest when it comes to the Bulls’ possible next move. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are among teams that had been showing serious interest in Hinrich long before the Deng trade. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because trade talks are typically private.

Even with the Warriors’ current nine-game winning streak, they remain on the lookout for a point guard to play behind Stephen Curry. While small forward Andre Iguodala spends ample time as a playmaking point-forward and veteran Toney Douglas provides spot minutes, this is the void that was created when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland as a free agent last July. Hinrich is certainly not the only possible solution on the Warriors’ radar, as they remain in the mix for Denver point guard Andre Miller as well.

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol not sweating trade talks — Before Andrew Bynum was traded to the Chicago Bulls early Tuesday morning (and, whom the Bulls cut a day later), his name was most closely linked with his former teammate in Los Angeles, Pau Gasol. For weeks, Gasol had to listen as his name was bandied about in the rumors for Bynum. But it wasn’t the first time Gasol has been in trade rumors since joining the Lakers and even though he dodged a bullet this time, Gasol is doing what he can to not worry about trade rumors, writes our own Jeff Caplan:

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

***

No. 3: Wallace lays into Celtics after loss to Nuggets — Small forward Gerald Wallace is the second-oldest player on the Celtics and seems determined to leave a lasting impression on Boston’s young core no matter what. Throughout the season, he’s been one of the most vocal members of the team — particularly when Boston isn’t giving a full effort — and was none too happy last night after the Celtics got waxed by the Nuggets in Denver, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Gerald Wallace has emerged as the Celtics’ voice of reason and biggest critic in his first season in Boston and once again he challenged the team following its embarrassing 129-98 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Denver canned 14 3-pointers, attempted 38 free throws and led by 22 points at halftime.The Celtics allowed 103 points through the first three quarters and looked discouraged and lethargic throughout the night.

“I’m very surprised. Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” he said. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”

Jared Sullinger‘s evening exemplified that of his team. He was called for two flagrant fouls in a 23-second span and was ejected in the third quarter. Sullinger now has five flagrant points and would serve a 1-game suspension with his next flagrant 1 foul.

“Hey, Denver was doing everything the right way, so everything was going their way,” Wallace said. “The way we played, the way we play as a team, the things that we do, we don’t deserve to get the calls they got. They got them. Jared’s first (flagrant) was 50-50 and the second one, I’ve seen that play done 50 times, that’s my first time ever seen it called a flagrant foul. Everything was going their way, so why should get the benefit of the doubt? We’re not playing worth a crap anyway.”

The Celtics have dropped eight of nine games and have allowed 248 points in the past two games. Wallace said he is done with team meetings and gatherings to figure out the issue.

“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror man. It’s gotta be the individual. It’s gotta be timeout for I and what I can do to help us win?” he said. “What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better? Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own and in this league, that’s hard to do.”

Finally, Wallace said the Celtics have all the right answers in the locker room but they don’t translate to the court.

“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court. And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

No. 5: Nuggets could save some money on Gallinari — Denver continues to wait for do-it-all forward Danilo Gallinari to return to the lineup. While there’s no timetable on his return, Gallinari is working out more and more as he continues to rehab his knee injury suffered late last season. The Nuggets would no doubt love to see him in the lineup again, but while he’s out, he could potentially save the team from paying some of his salary, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

As Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari continues to work toward a return from a knee injury, his time missed is approaching a level for which the team will get some of his money covered.

The magic number is 41. If Gallinari misses 41 consecutive regular-season games — and this goes back to last season — an NBA insurance policy will pay for part of his salary per game in every contest after that.

Gallinari has missed 40 consecutive regular-season games, dating to the final six games of last season, as he rehabs a left ACL injury. Starting Saturday in the Nuggets’ home game against Orlando, the insurance policy pays for 50 percent of his base salary per game, meaning the Nuggets will get about $61,800 covered each night he does not play until he returns. Gallinari is making more than $10 million this season, the second of a four-year contract.

“I don’t know how close he is or not,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “Obviously he would be a welcomed addition, but I’ll save my excitement for when it gets really, really close (to his return), whenever that is.”

***

No. 4: Hawks’ Horford shares goals for career, more — Atlanta fans everywhere are still getting over the news that All-Star big man Al Horford is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before that bad news hit, Horford was in the midst of another All-Star-type season. He recently sat down with our own Sekou Smith to talk about the Hawks’ offseason, Atlanta’s ability to remain a player in the East, teammate Paul Millsap and more:


VIDEO: Hang Time Blog’s one-on-one conversation with Al Horford

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After several players were waived on Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly 20 roster spots open league-wide … Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has a concussion and is likely out for a week … The Rockets are reportedly trying to trade forward Donatas Motiejunas … Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets have received a $5.25 million disabled player exception for Brook Lopez

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: The Jazz’s Derrick Favors gives us a nice in-game demonstration of what the phrase “going up strong” looks like with this two-handed and-one mash on Kevin Durant


VIDEO: Derrick Favors dunks over the Thunder’s Kevin Durant

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.

Nuggets’ Lawson Thriving With New Coach Shaw In Charge


VIDEO: Lawson’s double-double carries Nuggets over Mavs

DALLAS – After the Denver Nuggets surprisingly fired George Karl and hired Brian Shaw, everybody pondered the coming limitations lightning-quick point guard Ty Lawson would encounter outside of a structure-less offense rather than the untapped possibilities of playing within one.

“I knew that everybody thought that I can’t play in a system where it’s come down and run a play,” Lawson told NBA.com on Monday night following his fourth double-double of the young season. “But I can.”

Can he ever.

“He’s an All-Star,” assessed Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who watched Lawson slice his defense in consecutive games Saturday and Monday for 39 points and 20 assists. “He and [Tony] Parker are probably the two best paint penetration guys in basketball, and so it’s a big problem, it’s a huge problem. His speed is always in play and he’s shooting high 30s [percent] from 3. So if you lay way off of him he pulls up and shoots it.”

Fears that the 5-foot-11 speedster would be stripped of his identity and his brilliant ability to blow by defenders and attack the rim would be compromised by Shaw’s plan for a more traditional, playoff-tested approach to offense have gone unfounded. After an 0-3 start that included losses to streaking Portland and San Antonio, Denver has won three in a row, seven of 10 and moved above .500 (7-6) for the first time this season after Monday’s 110-96 win at Dallas.

“There’s obviously some differences in the way that George Karl played and the way that our team is playing, but we still want to run and try to take the first available shot,” Shaw said. “I think early on he was a little frustrated because my emphasis was on we have to play inside-out and get the ball inside and create penetration that way. But I think he’s picked and found his spots and he has a green light.”

Initially no one could be quite sure how the rookie head coach would go about implementing — and even Shaw was vague in the buildup to training camp — a more conventional, inside-out approach with a team built for speed. One assumption was that the Indiana assistant the past two seasons would try to ram the Triangle he learned in Los Angeles under Phil Jackson into the square hole that was a team that ran like thoroughbreds and didn’t boast a big-bodied, reliable low-post scorer.

“He’s cool, calm and collected,” Lawson of Shaw. “I knew he was going to try the Triangle or a variation of it and also still keep the running in our game. Late in games, that’s when we start running a lot of plays, when the shot clock’s running down, when we really need points. That’s helping us out a lot because you’re going to need that in the playoffs.”

A month into the season and Lawson is producing at career-high levels across the board: 20.7 ppg, 8.7 apg and 4.1 rpg. He’s got the coach’s green light to attack at will, but he’s also now equipped with a menu of plays to complement his impeccable freelance skills.

“We look inside first, like the first three seconds for a post-up, then it’s basically the guard’s turn,” Lawson said. “You go pick-and-roll, drag, just like Coach Karl, and if you have none of that, just get into a play real quick. And the plays — they’re unbelievable — we’ve got counters; these plays are something that I think a lot of coaches should have in their repertoire.”

Denver’s pace has actually picked up from last season, averaging 100.47 possessions per 48 minutes compared to 97.6. The Nuggets are averaging 103.6 points per 100 possessions, down a bit from last season (107.6) but still good for ninth-best in the league.

Unchanged is how Lawson makes teams pay with near-indefensible bolts to the basket. According to the new player tracking stats on NBA.com, Lawson is averaging 10.8 drives per game, second in the league behind Dallas’ Monta Ellis (11.4). And no team is averaging more points per game on drives by a player than the Nuggets on Lawson drives (13.9), a reflection of his ability to collapse defenses and dish to the open man.

“He’s always in attack mode and it’s eventually like a boxer, just punching and punching and punching non-stop,” new backcourt mate Nate Robinson said. “He just continues to punch, never gets tired, just punch, punch, punch and at the end he’s going to wear you out and wear you down, and that’s how he plays.”

The player tracking stats also reveal that Lawson ranks third behind Chris Paul and John Wall in both creating assist opportunities per game and in points created by assists per game.

“I feel like I can get in the paint on anybody and at least find somebody or get to the basket and cause confusion, cause chaos,” Lawson said. “That’s what I want to do every time I come down the court is cause chaos so where somebody has to help or I can score and get it done like that.”

Shaw’s top priority during the summer was connecting with and understanding his point guard. Rather than preach to Lawson how the offense would run, both came together with open minds about how best to run it.

“We had a lot of talks. When he first came in we talked for like an hour about what he was trying to do and I threw my ideas out there and we were just bouncing ideas of each other,” Lawson said. “Once I learn something I try to master it.”

Of having a batch of plays at his disposal, Lawson said: “It’s helping me a lot finding shooters, getting easier assists and also scoring.”

The Nuggets still aren’t whole. Center JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his shin and forward Danilo Gallinari continues to recover from ACL surgery. But slowly, a team whose general manager jumped to another team, fired its coach with more than 1,100 career victories and lost defensive-minded swingman Andre Iguodala in free agency, is coming around.

“Right now everybody’s happy,” Lawson said. “I’m happy. Everything is working out.”

Back And Forth With Bones: Nuggets-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 0-7 Utah Jazz try to get off the schneid, hosting the 1-4 Denver Nuggets on NBA TV.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, tonight we have the Nuggets and Jazz, who are arguably the two worst teams in the league right now. There are better games on League Pass, but this one isn’t without some intrigue.

Denver has obviously undergone a stylistic change under Brian Shaw. After attempting over 45 percent of their shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, they’ve attempted just 32 percent of their shots from there this year. They’re down to 10th and 20th in fast break points and offensive rebounding percentage respectively, after leading the league in both of those categories last year.

Their frontcourt rotation has been a mess without Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler (who is supposed to return tonight). I believe Shaw wants to work the offense through their bigs, but I don’t see any bigs on that roster that can function as a focal point offensively.

Meanwhile, I thought the Jazz would be better defensively after seeing their numbers with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor last season, but they rank 27th on that end, unable to get boards or keep their opponents off the line. Offensively, Gordon Hayward has the goods, but this team can’t hit a shot from the outside.

So, questions for you:
1. Are you on board with what Shaw is trying to do? Is it just a matter of time (and health) before the Nuggets get on track, or do they need to get back to running and attacking the basket?
2. Do the Jazz have more ability to be a decent offensive team (maybe the shots will start falling at some point) or a decent defensive team (as the bigs develop)?


VIDEO: Jazz broadcaster David Locke discusses Utah’s tough season

Barry: The Jazz are absolutely horrible at getting ball to go through the hoop, important that you can do that — it is called scoring. Last in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

They’re getting exposed at point guard and can’t put pressure on opposing teams, most of which have pretty good ones, especially in the West.

It’s new territory for the team in terms of bearing heavy minutes, when and how to conserve legs and effort. Bigs worried about picking up scoring takes away rebounding focus. It will be interesting to see if they play confident or embarrassed to open up the game.

For the Nuggets, Shaw is still trying to find rotations that mesh with injuries to key players (Gallo, Kenneth Faried and now JaVale McGee). There’s no way Denver can play through bigs, so it will be interesting to see how Brian is managing the guard play.

Ty Lawson is playing a ton of minutes. Randy Foye next, but top three gunners are Ty (85 FGA), Nate Robinson (45), and Foye (44). They’re losing a bit of a defensive mentality/flexibility with Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala gone.

Karl loved misfits, mismatches and mental games. It’s hard for new coach to get there without a better understanding, but even tougher when the old coach won a bunch too!

1st quarter

The Jazz got off to a strong start, scoring 26 points on a stretch of 16 possessions in the middle of the first quarter. The Nuggets shot just 8-for-21 in the period, but were only down six.

Schuhmann: The Nuggets are trying to post up Faried early on. I don’t get it.

Barry: And apparently are afraid to touch the paint on the defensive end. Some of the possessions are leaving them with bad floor balance and Jazz looking to run with purpose to score to start a game they really need to win.


VIDEO: Derrick Favors gets up to reject J.J. Hickson

They need a release from the winless start and a close game doesn’t do it.

Schuhmann: Turnovers have been an issue for the Jazz – 2nd highest rate in the league – and they don’t have any through 18 possessions. Favors looks more comfortable in the post than any of the Denver bigs.

Barry: Great patience vs. Mozgov. Fatigue moves the last two, but he responds with a block.

Barry: Good first quarter, but guys got a little tired for Jazz. Feels like Denver got away with one.

2nd quarter (UTA leads 26-20)

The Jazz scored on just three of their first 14 possessions and committed seven turnovers in the period after committing none in the first. The Nuggets had turnover issues of their own, but went on a 19-8 run late in the period to take a five point lead. Four points from Hayward made it a one-point game at the half.

Schuhmann: The Denver offense looks best when Lawson is attacking off the dribble. Not sure what else they can rely on.

Barry: They’ve just lost a lot of dynamic play on the wings with Brewer/Iggy gone and utility/tough matchups in Chandler/Gallo. You can see how they bog down.

Barry: But I do see signs of DHO (dribble hand-offs) and use of the pinch post in the Nuggets’ offense.


VIDEO: Andre Miller loses Jamaal Tinsley with a crafty crossover move

Schuhmann: That move by Andre Miller made my night.

Barry: And his.

Barry: Interesting for Utah to try to take advantage of Hayward in the post on Miller when doubles don’t result in anything good, because the Jazz can’t shoot it from distance.

Schuhmann: 10 combined turnovers in first six minutes of the second quarter. I’m starting to understand why these teams are a combined 1-11.


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson posterizes Jazz forward Marvin Williams

Halftime (DEN leads 46-45)


VIDEO: First half highlights from Nuggets-Jazz

Schuhmann: The Nuggets got things going in the second quarter when they – one – took care of the ball and – two – attacked the basket. 19 of their 26 points came in the paint or at the line.

Barry: And there lies the problem. Kanter and Favors will need to learn how to patrol and control the lower defensive box. Tonight, they are not having to deal with stretch bigs. It’s a technique/muscle game that they are struggling with.

Barry: Some worrisome numbers from PG for the Jazz. Lawson’s numbers at the half (eight points and six assists) might end up being more than the Lucas/Tinsley combo for the game. No playmaking to promote flow for the Jazz. All plays on one’s own to score.

3rd quarter

With the Jazz continuing to struggle offensively, the Nugget built a seven-point lead. But Favors scored seven straight points late in the period to keep it close.

Schuhmann: Lots of Favors in the post again. No double-teams = no ball movement. Denver willing to live with single coverage everywhere.

Schuhmann: Jazz had some pick-and-roll success in the third with a couple of nifty big-to-big passes between Favors and Gobert. Gets the defense moving more than straight post-ups.

Barry: When you can load up elbows and boxes the Jazz have very little room to find offense.

4th quarter (DEN leads 70-68)

The Jazz took a brief lead on an Alec Burks three-point play, but the Nuggets answered with a 10-1 run and scored 13 times in a 15-possession stretch to put the game away.

Barry: Penalty at 10:18 for the Jazz.


VIDEO: Nate Robinson lobs and Kenneth Faried finishes it off

Barry: Great dime by Nate. Pressure mounting on the Jazz, 0-7 and being down at home. Expect some roster change out of this timeout as Ty won’t want to put more pressure on guys to finish it out.

Barry: And there they are…

Barry: Offensive rebounds are crushing the Jazz.

Schuhmann: Yep. Pick-and-rolls are putting their bigs out of position.

Barry: But no reason to be extended that far. Strange injury to Manimal, if he doesn’t come back Utah will have a chance.

Barry: More Dre. Good call by B-Shaw.

Barry: Andre is fantastic… Great drive and shot before Gobert could get feet set to block. And Manimal is back. Not good for the Jazz.

Barry: Utah bigs just seem unaware of how far they are extending. They’re opening up drives and offensive rebounds for Denver. For the last three minutes, Ty can dictate tempo, whereas Utah has no point.

Final: Nuggets 100, Jazz 81


VIDEO: Nuggets pick up road win in Utah

Lawson led Denver with 17 points and 10 assists. Faried added 15 points and 13 rebounds and Miller added another 15 points off the bench for the Nuggets, who had a 48-36 advantage in the paint, a 52-35 advantage on the glass, and a 23-16 edge at the free throw line. Favors finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but the Jazz shot a brutal 3-for-17 from 3-point range and are shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc through eight games.

Schuhmann: It’s tough to score with no penetration and no shooting. We saw some decent post-ups from Favors, but the bigs don’t demand a double-team down there.

Denver looked good when they went to last year’s formula of dribble penetration from the point guards and crashing the glass, though with Brewer and Iguodala gone, they’ve lost a lot of their potency on the break. I’m not a fan of trying to work through Faried or Hickson in the post, but they went away from that in the second half. Of course, we can’t really evaluate their D from a game against the Jazz.

Barry: No, but the Horns set seemed to open up basic opportunities for Denver. They will look much different when they have a full complement of players.

But the Jazz have reasons for concern, as Trey Burke is not going to come in and take the Western Conference PG position by storm.

McGee’s Injury Adds To Denver’s Woe

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – JaVale McGee‘s hope-filled season started poorly and has taken a sharp turn for the worse. McGee is out indefinitely with a fracture to his left shin, the team announced Sunday.

This season was supposed to be something of a new start for the 7-foot center renowned more for his goofiness than his contributions in his five previous seasons, three-and-a-half spent with the Washington Wizards before getting traded to Denver.

Under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, McGee expected to take over as the starter, and he did, and figured to be a focal point of an offense that was turning more traditional coming out of George Karl’s up-tempo attack. But McGee’s minutes didn’t rise; they dipped to lower levels than under former coach George Karl, just 15.8 mpg. He was averaging 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg.

His struggles have mirrored the team’s lackluster performances leading to a 1-4 record coming off last season’s franchise-record 57 victories. Before training camp commenced, McGee, who dealt with left shin pain last season, was as juiced for this season as any previous year. He was determined to be taken seriously as a difference-making center.

“I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league,” McGee told NBA.com in September. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.

“It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

Apparently Shaw wasn’t seeing what he wanted from the big man. Because McGee wasn’t playing much, perhaps his loss won’t be as costly as it might have been if he had gotten off to the start he had hoped. Shaw told reporters he’ll either start Timofey Mozgov or undersized J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 power forward who played out of position in the middle all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Denver plays at winless Utah on Monday and returns home Wednesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

That McGee got off to such a slow start is discouraging for his future with a franchise that gave him a $44 million extension in the summer of 2012. Only 25, McGee has long been considered a talent just waiting to break out, yet is constantly sabotaged by errors or buffoonery of his own creation. He has enticing offensive skills on the block and is an excellent shot blocker, but he has never been able to put together a full repertoire and execute it.

Last season, Karl was asked why McGee couldn’t crack 18 mpg. Karl simply simply said he didn’t deserve more. Shaw apparently didn’t need to see much to be in agreement. Now McGee will sit idle as he waits for his shin to heal.

The transitioning Nuggets, meanwhile, will try to figure out how to string together consistent efforts with a roster still missing its top two forwards, Danilo Galinari, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery and Wilson Chandler, who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury.

McGee’s injury only adds to his personal frustration and the team’s growing challenge.

BWB Africa: Fulfilling The Dreams

Basketball Without Borders Africa

NBA players, coaches and others attended the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg.

HANG TIME, Texas – It was just a few days after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Kyrie Irving saw other dreams.

They were in one of the impoverished townships outside of Johannesburg. They were in classrooms where hungry minds craved answers for a better life. They were on the basketball courts where raw talent gathered to show their skills and sought a way out. They were on so many of the faces that crossed his path during the 11th edition of Basketball Without Borders, Africa.

“In my short NBA career, I’ve had lots of great experiences,” said the Cavs’ 21-year-old point guard during a phone conversation from South Africa. “Just being in the league, winning Rookie of the Year, playing against guys that I looked up to. But being here is an amazing experience in a completely different way.

“Kids are kids no matter where you go in the world and they’re always going to get a smile out of you and make you happy. But these kids that we’ve worked with here in the camps and the younger kids that we’ve met in the schools, they seem to draw even more out of you, because of the environment they come from.

“I’ve traveled around a bit and taken part in some UNICEF programs in the past. You think you’ve seen some situations that are bad. But the poverty in Africa is overwhelming. There are levels of poverty that I’m not sure we can understand as Americans without actually having been here.

“Some of the kids knew my name, who I was, where I played in the NBA. Others didn’t. All they wanted was somebody to be with them and be there for them. That’s the way we have to approach it — help one kid at a time.”

Basketball without Borders is the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and social responsibility program that aims to create positive social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness. To date, there have been 36 BWB camps in 21 cities across 18 countries on five continents.

The program has featured more than 150 current and former NBA/WNBA players and nearly 140 NBA team personnel from all 30 NBA teams as camp coaches and mentors.

The inaugural BWB camp was in July 2001 led by former NBA players Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc, for 50 children from five nations of the former Yugoslavia. In 2013, BWB were held in three countries on three continents: Argentina, Portugal and South Africa.

FIBA and local federations help identify 50 to 65 of the top basketball players 18 and under from countries across the related continent to attend.

BWB has featured over 1,700 campers from over 120 countries and 28 BWB campers have been drafted into the NBA. There are currently 11 BWB alumni on NBA rosters: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors/Lithuania; Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets/Lithuania; Enes Kanter, Jazz/Turkey; Greivis Vasquez, Kings/Venezuela; Omri Casspi, Rockets/Israel; Luc Mbah A Moute, Kings/Cameroon; Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets/Italy; Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers/France; Marco Belinelli, Spurs/Italy; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies/Spain; Andrea Bargnani, Knicks/Italy.

Four former BWB campers were drafted in 2013: Sergey Karasev, Cavaliers/Russia; Kelly Olynyk, Celtics/Canada; Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves/Senegal; Arsalan Kazemi, 76ers/Iran.

Other NBA players in South Africa were: Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet of the Thunder, Jerryd Bayless of the Grizzlies; Bismack Biyombo of the Bobcats, Luol Deng of the Bulls, Al Horford of the Hawks and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo.

NBA coaches took part, too, including Tyrone Corbin (Jazz); Luca Desta (Mavericks); Mark Hughes (Knicks); BJ Johnson (Rockets); Jamahl Mosley (Cavaliers); Patrick Mutombo (Nuggets); Monty Williams (Pelicans) and ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.

The BWB program has been a favorite of Dikembe Mutombo, who attended the first in Johannesburg more than a decade ago.

“The biggest difference that I see from when we held the first camp here is the level of play,” Mutombo said. “Back then, a lot of guys were just lucky to be able to get into the gym and show a little bit. Now they’re getting coaching, getting direction and they are giving themselves a real chance for a better life.

“We all know that it is a long shot for anyone to make it into the NBA, even more when you’re coming from the background of Africa. That’s why the real goal for a lot of these kids is to come here and attract attention and maybe get an opportunity to come to the United States for a high school education, to play basketball and then maybe to attend an American university.

“To me, that’s how we make the world, and Africa in particular, a better place. We lift these kids up, educate them and hopefully many of them will return to their countries and try to make things better.”

Irving recalled that he had learned about apartheid in schools while he was growing up, but that had not prepared him for an up-close experience with people who had lived through it.

“To me, Steve Biko and Hector Pieterson were names I read in books,” Irving said. “But here I’m walking where they walked and talking with their people. It’s had more of an impact. It makes me know that I want to come back to Africa and do what I can in the future.”

The 47-year-old Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rarely misses an opportunity. He had spent millions of his own dollars building a hospital in his mother’s name in his homeland and has spent more to erect dormitories and classrooms during his many BWB trips to South Africa.

“On the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, I took time to stop and think,” Mutombo said. “I have achieved so many blessings in my life after a childhood of poverty. I achieved a dream of working and getting noticed and getting myself an education.

“I realized a dream of playing basketball for a living and having the NBA doors open for me. I realized a dream of making a fortune and being able to use it to go back home and help my people. I realized a dream to build a hospital in my country.

“We all have to dream because big things are possible, especially in a world that has gotten smaller with things like cell phones and Facebook and Twitter.

“I tell these young players that come here that we’re all connected. What Dr. King was talking about fifty years ago was not African-American dreams or American dreams. These are human dreams all over the world and every time I come here see a young player like Kyrie with his eyes wide open on his first trip, I feel like we can fulfill more.”

Blogtable: Teams On The Downfall




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


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which team is set up for the biggest fall next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: However many victories people expect the Denver Nuggets to cough back from their total of 57 last season, I think it will be more. Matching last year’s ensemble-driven performance was going to be tough enough with their core of Andre Iguodala on the court, George Karl on the bench and Masai Ujiri in the front office. That Musketeers stuff is hard in a star-driven league. Now, with a rookie head coach (Brian Shaw), a personnel dip defensively (losing Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos), Danilo Gallinari‘s recovery and mercenary/journeyman summer additions (Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye), I think the Nuggets’ slide well into the lottery.

Rookie head coach Brian Shaw has a lot of work to do in Denver.

Brian Shaw will have a lot of work to do in Denver.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Oh, let’s take a 57-win team and blow it up.  Mission accomplished by Nuggets ownership. The expected slippage with the departure of Karl, Ujiri and Iguodala could turn into an avalanche of defeat and disappointment.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Grizzlies keep coming back to me as a team that could easily slip, a team that let go of the coach that built the program, a team that still hasn’t addressed its glaring need for shooting, although signing an injury-prone Mike Miller and being in talks with Mo Williams is progress. However, the team I can’t help believe will ride the biggest, most disappointing slide is the New York Knicks. The brains on the floor, Jason Kidd, is coaching in Brooklyn. Aging, injury-prone players abound. The No. 2 seed last season couldn’t get past Indiana in the second round and the Pacers, along with the Bulls and Nets (heck, maybe even Atlanta with a new coach and key personnel changes) will all be improved. At best the Knicks are a No. 5 seed in the top-heavy East and any championship talk that wafted through Madison Square Garden last season will likely heat up again just a short subway ride away.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Utah. As much as it pains me as a long-time Jazz proponent, this season could be a harder fall than a fall from playoff contention. They are much thinner than before and now need Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks to play big.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Don’t be shocked if Denver goes from the 3 seed to the lottery. It’s difficult to predict exactly what they’ll do, because Shaw will be a very different coach than Karl, but their defense (which ranked 11th last season) will certainly take a big step backward with the departure of Iguodala. Kosta Koufos was more important to that team than most people realize, and they’ll miss Gallinari’s shooting as he recovers from ACL surgery.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers don’t even have a coach yet. They should be the runaway winners here, especially when you consider the fact that there isn’t a tougher crowd to deal with anywhere than Philadelphia sports fans. Most of the pessimists believe they are headed for an awfully tough season with this latest rebuilding adventure. It could be even worse that any of us imagined if they don’t find the right coach to lead this mismatched bunch. New general manager Sam Hinkie has stripped the roster down and is going full-blown rebuild without the one player (All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded to New Orleans) who gave this crew a little spark last season. As my main man Bubba Sparxxx said years ago, this could get UGLY!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI think Denver could be in for a fall. They’ve lost the Coach of the Year in Karl, Iguodala made a play for the Bay, and they also traded away their starting center, Kosta Koufos. I know Shaw will be a good NBA coach for a long time, and Denver still has some pieces (Andre Miller, Ty Lawson), but they’re in that dangerous middle ground between being a contender and a pretender. And it doesn’t take much to slide back down that hill.