Posts Tagged ‘Denver Nuggets’

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Turning toxic in Los Angeles? | Beal is back | Thunder, Rockets combine for ugly battle | Revisiting the ‘Melo trade

No. 1: Turning toxic in Los Angeles? — The Los Angeles Lakers entered this season with high hopes. Sure, the roster wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past, but they had a healthy Kobe Bryant, and if there’s anything we’ve learned through the years, it’s to not bet against Kobe. But the power of positive thinking apparently doesn’t extend to defensive rotations or offensive consistency, as the Lakers have gotten off to a franchise-worst 1-9 start. And last night’s 136-115 loss to the Warriors may portend even worse things ahead, as some players seem to be unhappy with Kobe’s volume shooting while coach Byron Scott wasn’t thrilled with the team’s defense, writes ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes:

Scott lambasted his team’s effort, saying that he showed video to his players at halftime of them jogging when they should’ve been running. They didn’t change.

“I can fix that, basically, and [I] will starting Tuesday,” Scott said.

That’s when the Lakers will play the Hawks in Atlanta.

“It’s just going to be a very short leash,” Scott said. “If I see, in my eyes, that you’re not giving that effort, then I’ll just pull guys out.”

He added, “I think we have some guys right now, because of some of the injuries that we have, that feel that they’re almost entitled because they’ve got to play. Well, we’re losing anyway, so I ain’t got to play you.”

Then there was Bryant, who scored 44 points on 15-of-34 shooting from the field in 31 minutes. It was his most points since he tore his Achilles in 2013, and it came on a night when he wasn’t sure if he’d play with a viral infection anyway.

Kobe's shot chart vs. Warriors

Kobe Bryant’s shot chart vs. Golden State

But Bryant shot the ball like it was a hot potato, launching it almost the second he caught it, no matter where he was, no matter how contested the shot was.

He shot 13 field goals in the first quarter; the rest of the Lakers shot 15.

He had 24 shots at halftime; the rest of the Lakers shot 32.

At intermission, he was on pace to set a new career-high for field-goal attempts in a game, besting the 47 he shot in November 2002 against Boston.

But for as much as he shot, and for as much as he scored, the Lakers kept falling further and further behind, eventually by as much as 38.

“We look up there, and we see that we’re winning by 30, 40 points, that 44 is really irrelevant,” Warriors backup center Marreese Speights said.

All the while, the Lakers looked far less like a team and more like one player.

In their locker room after, frustration boiled over more than at any point this season — and it was quite clear which direction most of it was aimed.

Said Carlos Boozer: “A lot of times we run a set, but Kobe is extremely aggressive. And then we try to hit the glass, get it off the glass. We’ve got to find a balance. It can’t be lopsided. We’ve got to find a balance.”

Said Jeremy Lin: “The game of basketball is … we’ve got to do it together. It can’t be … if I go into a game concerned about myself, then in some ways that’s detrimental to the team.”

Lin later added, “There’s so many things wrong right now. At the top of the list, I would say communication, trust and effort.”

Bryant defended his volume shooting, using metaphors about crime.

“Obviously I’d rather get guys involved early, but if a purse gets stolen in front of you, how many blocks are you going to let the guy run?” he asked.

“You going to chase him down and keep him in sight yourself or just wait for the authorities to get there, or decide to let him run and wait for the authorities to get there? It’s a tough thing.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ loss to the Warriors (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt airs out the Cavs! | Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play | Picking at that Chris Paul scab | Rubio gets (over)paid

No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for ESPN.com, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!

“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told ESPN.com when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”

***

No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:

As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.

***

No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:

Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,’” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.’”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.

Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”

***

No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:

About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is.  …

 

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks | Cavs fall flat vs. Knicks | Smith calls out Faried | Brown rips Sixers’ rebuilding plan | Report: Cavs, Varejao closing in on deal

No. 1: Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks — All those questions about the depth of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The chatter is about to get even louder. The Thunder’s star point guard, Russell Westbrook, suffered a hand injury and had to leave the game last night against the L.A. Clippers. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper provided some context to what the injury might mean for OKC, and then comes this news: according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Westbrook could miss four to six weeks as he heals up. The loss of Westbrook, combined with Kevin Durant already being out with a foot injury, spells trouble in Oklahoma:

The early indication is that Russell Westbrook could miss four to six weeks after fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

It could keep the Thunder’s electric point guard sidelined through mid-December and add him to an already ridiculously long list of injured Oklahoma City players who are expected to miss the season’s first month.

The projected recovery time would cost Westbrook 15 games on the low end and as many as 21 contests. He would rejoin the lineup between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

Westbrook is scheduled to undergo further tests Friday in Oklahoma City.

“It’s just really pretty unbelievable. You’re kind of just shocked almost,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison of his team’s injury-riddled roster. “It’s not funny at all, but you almost have to laugh about it just because it’s so many guys.”

In all likelihood, the Thunder will go into its home opener Saturday against Denver with just eight healthy players. Only one is a point guard. Joining veteran Sebastian Telfair are Collison, Perry Jones, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Lance Thomas.

Under the league’s hardship rule, however, teams can be granted additional roster spots and exceed the maximum of 15 players if they have been depleted by injuries. At least four players must be injured for at least two weeks and must miss at least three regular season games for a team to qualify.

Oklahoma City, which the league recently denied the hardship exception because it had not yet met the games missed criteria, certainly will be eligible now with Durant, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all set to miss Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

With Westbrook now out for an extended period, the Thunder could soon add two players to its roster, bringing the team’s total number of players to 17.

Still, the Thunder needs help. Now.

The eight remaining players consist of one borderline All-Star (Ibaka), two defensive-oriented big men (Perkins and Collison), three largely unproven players who possess promise (Adams, Roberson and Jones), one journeyman (Telfair) and one training camp survivor (Thomas).

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Westbrook ironically was the Thunder’s healthiest player before Thursday. Of course, Westbrook missed 36 games last season after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in 2013.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook suffers a hand fracture against the Clippers

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant shrugs off ESPN article | Reports: Magic, Vucevic nearing extension | Pacers have trouble finding offensive rhythm | Kaman suffers odd injury

No. 1: Kobe shrugs off article about him being a difficult teammate — If you somehow missed it the last few days or so, ESPN The Magazine recently published a big article on Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he enters the twilight of his career. The story contends that a big reason why the Lakers have had trouble in recent years landing marquee (or even middling) free agents is because other players are reluctant to play alongside Bryant. The story generated a lot of buzz yesterday and after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns, Bryant addressed the story’s main points. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Jovan Buha has more:

In his first time speaking to media after an ESPN The Magazine article suggested that he played a significant role in the Lakers’ recent slide over the last few years, Bryant, known for speaking candidly, responded with a seemingly diplomatic answer.

“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 114-108 preseason overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.

“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.”

Bryant continued, explaining his rationale behind remaining upbeat despite the current state of the Lakers franchise.

“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time,” Bryant said. “I just kind of roll with it.”

Bryant’s teammate, guard Jeremy Lin, was also asked about the appeal of playing with Bryant, and had nothing but positive things to say.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning: What I’ve seen, my personal experience with him, which is the only thing I can speak on, it’s been great,” Lin said. “From Day 1, from the minute I was traded until now, it’s just been constantly him trying to be a leader, being a good leader, a communicator, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me and doing it in a mentorship-type way.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scored 27 points in L.A.’s preseason loss to Phoenix

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 6


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nuggets, Faried reach deal | Monroe, Smith say there’s no rift between them | Rockets amp up their physical play | Lakers lose Young for 6-8 weeks

No. 1: Report: Nuggets, Faried agree to $60M contract extension — Folks in Denver had to know this was coming, especially after Kenneth Faried‘s eye-opening performance during the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The energetic power forward and the Nuggets have agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal that keeps him in the Mile High City for years to come. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story and has more on the deal and what it means for Denver:

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has reached agreement on a five-year, $60 million contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried is part of the 2011 NBA draft class eligible for extensions until Oct. 31.

The deal includes a partial guarantee in the fifth year that assures Faried he will make no less than $52 million over the life of the contract, sources said.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly and Faried’s agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, started to seriously exchange proposals in the past week and ultimately came to terms on a deal Sunday night, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried has developed into one of the NBA’s most relentless talents, a fierce rebounder and defender who has excelled offensively for the Nuggets when the game is speeded up. Faried played an integral part of the United States national team’s gold-medal performance in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.

Faried, 24, is a tremendous success story in the NBA. As a 6-foot-8 post player out of mid-major Morehead State, Faried transformed himself from the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft into an integral part of the Nuggets’ long-term nucleus.

Faried averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets are in the midst of training camp

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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 NBA.com 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.”

Hey Denver, they’re free, free, free!

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images).

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty).

Mile high. And a little short.

Or long. Or left or right.

That’s how Brian Shaw characterized the Denver Nuggets’ gap between where they wound up last season and where they should have been. If you work backwards from Denver’s 36-46 finish last spring and first missed postseason in a decade in search of a butterfly effect – a hiccup in one area that leads to a major disruption somewhere else – you need to look hard at the Nuggets’ foul shooting.

Denver ranked fifth in the NBA in free-throw attempts last season but a miserable 27th in FT percentage (.726). The league average was .815, but never mind that: the Nuggets had 28 games in which they made fewer than 70 percent of their free throws and they went 10-18 on those nights.

“That’s more mental than anything else,” Shaw, Denver’s head coach, said last week during a break in the NBA coaches meetings. “Usually games are won or lost within the margin of how many free throws are missed.”

Let’s see: Denver missed an average of 7.2 free throws last season. Fifteen of their 46 defeats were by a margin of seven points or less. Roger that.

Your average NBA team got 17.83 points per game from the foul line in 2013-14. The Nuggets had 36 games in which they failed to hit more than 17, going 13-23. They had three games in which they made 12, missed 10, repeatedly hitting their low mark of 54.5 percent in a game.

This wasn’t some new speed bump for the Nuggets. Shaw has been talking about free-throw proficiency since he took over prior to last season, in part because he was a career .762 foul shooter in 14 NBA seasons with seven teams.

Denver ranked 28th (.701) in foul shooting in 2012-13, George Karl‘s final season as coach. It ranked 25th (.735) the season before that. Not since 2009-10 have the Nuggets finished in the top half of the NBA in success rate (.772).

Last October, Shaw generated some headlines by standing under the rim one day at practice and allowing the ball on made free throws to hit him on top of the head. It was a challenge to his guys, and while some took aim and hit their target, Shaw never was at risk of submitting to concussion protocols.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Shaw said, asked for the cause. “You have to have a comfort level at the free-throw line. It takes a lot of practice. Different guys react differently – some guys make ‘em all in practice but then they get out there in the game, when the stands are filled, and they [struggle]. We have a sports psychologist at their disposal to talk to and work on ways of calming themselves down.” (more…)

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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com’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.

Hall of Fame debate: Chauncey Billups

VIDEO: A Chauncey Billups slideshow

Chauncey Billups’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame, now that he has retired and the clock officially starts on the enshrinement conversation, begins with a problem: the greatest selling point for a ticket to Springfield, Mass., is a tough sell.

He was a leader in 17 seasons with seven teams, filled with positive intangibles that never reach the box score. He was a difference maker in attitude alone as Detroit won the title in 2004 and Denver reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, a locker-room presence chosen by the league as the first winner of the Twyman-Stokes Award in 2013 as the “player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team.”

He was even the kind of person chosen by the media as winner of the 2008 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for charity work.

Billups’ strongest attribute cannot be measured. Now, get two sets of voters — one that determines the finalists, another in a second round of voting that chooses the inductees — to put that into tangible terms on the ballot when Billups becomes eligible to be nominated for the first time as part of the Class of 2019.

Which makes two problems.

Besides the first issue, 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 41.5 percent from the field, with one top-five finish in assists average and a lot of years less than 42-percent shooting, does not get anyone inducted.

Five All-Star appearances, three as a Piston and two with the hometown Nuggets, is a big credibility boost. Being named second-team All-Defense twice, second-team All-NBA once and third-team All-NBA twice will matter. Having a lead role on a championship team — while being named Finals MVP — and also winning a gold medal with the United States in the 2010 world championships will count for a lot.

But being a positive force of energy is what set Billups apart and made him a player to emulate more than the gaudy numbers usually required for a serious Hall bid. It’s why there is a very good chance he will be in the conversation when the time comes, but not get across the line, a good talent with unique qualities but not historic.

“The Hall of Fame would be a big dream,” Billups told Yahoo! Sports in making his retirement announcement. “It marks you down as one of the greatest players ever. It’s not what I shot for, but that would absolutely be a dream. I know in my heart I had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. If you look at most Hall of Famers, I don’t know how many of them started off the way I started off and made it to the top.”

There is also that, how Billups is a reminder not to give up on top picks too soon, the way he was traded around and played for four teams the first three seasons after going No. 3 in the 1997 draft and didn’t find a real permanence until signing with the Pistons in 2002. He didn’t give up on the dream of a real career in the NBA. Same thing now. He will keep pointing to Springfield.