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Nuggets 2024 offseason preview: What’s next for Denver roster after playoff disappointment?

Nuggets 2024 offseason preview: What’s next for Denver roster after playoff disappointment?

25/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31783153

The 2024 offseason will either be a showcase of the Nuggets’ patience, or their reaction time.

It’s up to general manager Calvin Booth to determine which philosophy is the way forward after Denver’s NBA title defense ended abruptly and disappointingly in the second round of the playoffs. Were the Nuggets good enough to repeat if they just hadn’t blown that 20-point lead in Game 7? Or was the series loss to Minnesota a broader revelation about the championship viability of their roster as currently constructed?

The 2024 offseason features another late first-round draft pick, a critical player option for a championship-level starter and a lot of salary cap limitations as Denver prepares to operate on the fringes.

Who’s under contract next season?

Before getting into player options and team options, the Nuggets have just shy of $168 million in contracts on the books for 10 players. The 2024-25 salary cap was projected around $141 million as of April, with the luxury tax line at $172 million, the first tax apron at $179 million and the second apron at $190 million.

In 2023-24, Denver’s roster was the sixth-most expensive in the league, with a $182 million payroll that exceeded the first apron and prevented mid-season roster moves such as signing a waived player whose previous salary exceeded the mid-level exception. Now with roster spots to fill, the Nuggets could trigger the second apron next season, incurring more penalties. They wouldn’t have any access to the midlevel exception at all, for instance, and they would be barred from aggregating multiple of their players’ salaries to trade for a player with a higher salary.

In the age of this new collective bargaining agreement, that’s simply the cost of being a championship contender. It’s understood organizationally that Denver has to keep spending in order to maximize the remaining prime years of three-time MVP Nikola Jokic, debatably a top-15 player in the history of the sport already. “You have a responsibility to him,” team president Josh Kroenke said this week. It’s just a matter of how the money is divided and how to circumnavigate the increasingly dynasty-averse CBA restrictions from a long-term perspective.

“The core of this team was assembled under a different CBA,” Kroenke said. “We drafted, we developed and we built this team under a different set of rules. Those rules have kind of changed on the fly.”

Here are the contracts on the books for the 2024-25 season as of Memorial Day weekend, not including player options and team options.

Player Salary* Contract expires
C Nikola Jokic $51,415,938 2028 offseason^
G Jamal Murray $36,016,200 2025 offseason
F Michael Porter Jr. $35,859,950 2027 offseason
F Aaron Gordon $23,841,455 2026 offseason^
C Zeke Nnaji $8,888,889 2028 offseason^
G Christian Braun $3,089,640 2026 offseason+
G Julian Strawther $2,552,520 2027 offseason+
F Peyton Watson $2,413,560 2026 offseason+
G Jalen Pickett $1,891,857 2027 offseason
F Hunter Tyson $1,891,857 2027 offseason
* Salary figures via and | ^ The contract year is a player option | + Does not include qualifying offer year

Who has contract options this offseason?

The biggest story of the offseason is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s $15.4 million player option, which he’s expected to decline. If he does, the Nuggets will attempt to re-sign him in free agency. They have his Bird rights, unlike last offseason with Bruce Brown when they couldn’t match a lucrative offer from Indiana. But if Caldwell-Pope is offered a long-term deal by a team with substantial cap space such as Philadelphia or Orlando — two teams that will show interest, according to a league source — will it make sense for Denver to meet the offer?

Caldwell-Pope is a superb fifth starter: durable, efficient beyond the arc, borderline All-Defensive Team. But going into the second apron for multiple years isn’t just a question of ownership’s willingness to spend. It’s a question of mortgaging the team’s future. If the Nuggets are over the second apron at the end of 2024-25, their first-round draft pick seven years into the future (2032) — an asset that cap-cramped contenders often use in trades — will become frozen and un-tradable. If they remain over the second apron for three of five seasons, that pick will automatically move to the end of the first round, remaining frozen.

“Some organizations, they’ll be happy paying whatever (luxury tax) they could to have the potential to win a championship,” Kroenke said. “When you start talking about draft picks, that’s when you get people’s attention pretty quick.”

If the Nuggets need cap relief to improve their depth in the short term, which Michael Malone didn’t trust in the Minnesota series, paying handsomely for KCP isn’t going to supply that. Difficult decisions wait.

Backup point guard Reggie Jackson also has a player option at $5.25 million, which he is likely to exercise. Vlatko Cancar, who missed the 2023-24 season with a left ACL injury, has a team option in his contract at $2.3 million.

If all three options were exercised, Denver’s 2024-25 payroll would near $191 million for 13 players with two more roster spots to fill (excluding two-way contracts).

Who is entering free agency?

Two players who were signed to the veteran minimum — Justin Holiday and DeAndre Jordan — are set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer. Holiday was a newcomer to the roster in 2023-24, and he played an unexpectedly significant role in Denver’s playoff rotation. In the second round, the Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves by 36 points when he was on the floor, leaving a strong final impression.

If the Nuggets make an effort to run it back with their championship-winning starting five, they’ll need to continue relying on rookie scale contracts and veteran minimums to fill out the end of the bench. Players such as Jordan and Holiday matter because Malone has a reputation for trusting experience far more than youth, even during the regular season.

“You can go get minimum guys and try to get what you can out of them, and if you have tax issues, those guys, if they have good seasons, they’re not gonna be on your team the next year,” Booth said this week.

How many draft picks do Nuggets have in 2024?

The Nuggets possess the No. 28 pick in the first round of the draft and the No. 56 pick in the second round. Last season, they selected Strawther with the 29th pick, Pickett with the 32nd and Tyson with the 37th. Booth’s stated strategy regarding the CBA is to lean on drafting and developing a second wave of talent that makes the roster recyclable over time when the salary cap gets suffocating.

The obstacle, of course, is that it’s more difficult to hit on draft picks late in the first round. Booth has seemingly succeeded with Braun and Watson, but the trio of 2023 picks struggled to earn playing time other than Strawther in the first half of the season. Denver’s 2024 first-round pick is available to be moved the night of the draft, but future draft capital is limited.

“We’ll get with our staff and continue to have conversations about what to do with our pick: trade up, trade down, look to trade out,” Booth said. “We’re gonna be flexible about what we think about doing.”

Key dates

June 25: Reggie Jackson’s opt-in deadline

June 26: NBA draft, first round

June 27: NBA draft, second round

June 29: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s opt-in deadline

July 1: NBA free agency (unofficial)

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As Caitlin Clark makes her L.A. debut, Sparks plan to win over the WNBA's newest fans

As Caitlin Clark makes her L.A. debut, Sparks plan to win over the WNBA's newest fans

24/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31782816

Caitlin Clark is at the forefront of a new generation of WNBA players who are drawing bigger crowds, and the Sparks want to capitalize on the surge.
Nuggets GM Calvin Booth on 2024 offseason: “We can use a little bit more talent”

Nuggets GM Calvin Booth on 2024 offseason: “We can use a little bit more talent”

24/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31782390

As a longer-than-expected offseason tips off for the Denver Nuggets, team officials want to be sure they separate from what coach Michael Malone calls “the emotional reaction to losing” before any major decisions are made.

“I think you always want to take time to let everything sink in and go back and take a quality look at everything that happened during the season,” general manager Calvin Booth said, “and then make decisions from that point.”

As those reflections begin, Booth, Malone and team president Josh Kroenke addressed several topics during a 34-minute news conference Thursday. Chief among them: Do the Nuggets need to find a way to upgrade their roster?

It was telling that Booth focused heavily on advancing the development of Denver’s youngest players.

“I think (the 2023 draft picks) need more seasoning,” he said. “They need to get in the gym. They need to play Summer League. They need to get stronger. Obviously, maybe in our top seven, we can use a little bit more talent. Maybe there’s a way to upgrade one or two positions. … Get a guy that’s a more accomplished NBA player for whatever (roster) slot they’re taking. But I don’t see anything that’s, like, crazy out of sorts for our roster.”

All indications from the extensive availability were that Denver isn’t rushing to make drastic changes to its roster. Booth doubled down on his previously stated team-building philosophy, which involves continuity achieved through drafting and developing to fill out the fringes of an expensive championship roster. He acknowledged the need to address the bench this offseason, potentially even with outside acquisitions, but it’s clear the Nuggets would prefer to rely on home-grown depth.

That Kroenke later expressed faith in the starting lineup — despite its poor showing against Minnesota — was among multiple signs that Denver isn’t rushing to shop Michael Porter Jr. as a trade piece this summer. Malone also rebutted Porter’s own comments taking blame for the early exit.

“We think we still have the best starting five in basketball, even though we fell just short this year,” Kroenke said. “Could have gone either way up until the last few minutes. So we don’t think we’re far off.”

Here’s a look at some of the other topics addressed Thursday:

Will Nuggets cross second apron to keep Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

Booth said: “We spend a lot of time looking at the second apron and all this other stuff. I think for me personally, it’s win a championship, one. Two, we have to look at the overall financial picture. And three, second apron. And I know the second apron is daunting, and there’s all kinds of restrictions, but I don’t think that’s first on our priority list. KCP’s been a great addition the last couple years. We obviously would love to have him back. We’re gonna take a hard look at what that looks like.”

Analysis: Denver’s roster payroll already exceeds the luxury tax line and the first tax apron, resulting in a list of penalties imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope exercises his $15.4 million player or if the Nuggets re-sign him in free agency, they’ll trigger the second apron next season — meaning even more penalties. But Booth’s comment Thursday indicated that won’t be what stops Denver from retaining Caldwell-Pope.

Kroenke also said that while he’s cognizant of the long-term consequences of existence in the second apron, he’s comfortable going there to make the most of a Nikola Jokic-led roster.

Alignment between Michael Malone and Calvin Booth

Booth said: “We’ve talked about this a lot upstairs. The general manager, front office job oftentimes is to make sure the long-term view is something that we’re satisfied with. And Coach Malone’s down there in the trenches trying to win every night. And a lot of times, those things are aligned, but sometimes they ebb and flow away from each other.”

Malone said: “I’m thinking how do we win the next game? That’s my job. And Calvin as a GM is thinking about how do we win the next couple of years? That’s his job. And Josh is overseeing all that and understanding how to piece all that together.”

Analysis: When Booth and Malone made these comments, they were answering separate questions about different topics. So this has clearly been a theme within the organization in the days following the Nuggets’ second-round exit.

The franchise needs its general manager and head coach to be on the same page in order to maximize all 15 roster spots during the regular season. Most of what that boils down to is Booth’s aforementioned dependence on drafting and developing against Malone’s reluctance to trust young players with extended minutes. (That’s not a tendency that’s exclusive to one NBA head coach.)

Nikola Jokic’s backup big men

Booth said: “We’ll get a great chance to evaluate Vlatko (Cancar) this summer. … If (Slovenia is) able to get out of those qualifiers in Athens, he’ll be available to play in the Olympics, and I believe he’ll be playing in those qualifiers. … Zeke (Nnaji) is a young player. He brings energy to the game. He gives effort every night. He’s trying to grow into both sides of the ball. I think originally we drafted him to be a four. He’s ended up playing a lot of five. I don’t think it matters as much off the bench, but there are certain matchups where it becomes a little bit more problematic. But he has to get better. He has to be ready for his opportunities when they come. I think he’s gonna have a good NBA career.”

Analysis: Cancar missed the entire 2023-24 season after tearing his left ACL during a national team game last summer. His contract has a $2.3 million team option this offseason. The Nuggets need affordable salaries like his, but it would be difficult to justify holding onto him if his health continued to be an issue. If he’s able to make his return in international competition (and maybe even play against Jokic or Jamal Murray in France), it’ll be a huge boost.

As for Nnaji, his four-year, $32 million contract signed last October has aged controversially due to his lack of playing time. Booth seems to prefer Nnaji as a backup four instead of a backup center to Jokic, but if that’s the case, it still leaves a roster hole at the five. (Especially if DeAndre Jordan doesn’t return.) Nnaji’s contract is tradable until it isn’t. If the Nuggets become a second-apron team, they won’t be able to aggregate salaries such as his to get back a larger AAV.

Is Christian Braun an NBA starter?

Booth said: “He obviously has the intangibles and the physical strength and athleticism and defense (to be a starter). And he’s gonna have to make some improvements, as he has, shooting the ball. But I don’t know how you could see a player in his second year that’s done what he’s done and not think he has a chance of starting. He’s ahead of schedule in that regard.”

Malone: “I think Christian Braun, it’s all gonna come down to one thing. To be a shooting guard in the NBA, you’ve gotta be able to make shots. That’s the bottom line. So if you want to simplify CB’s future as a starting two-guard in the NBA, it’ll be determined upon his ability to be a 38% or above 3-point shooter.”

Analysis: If Caldwell-Pope moves on in free agency, this is the leading applicant for Denver’s fifth-starter opening. The No. 21 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Braun was in Malone’s closing lineup for much of the Minnesota series due to his defensive prowess against Anthony Edwards. That’s an impressive notch in the 23-year-old’s arrow, on top of playing rotation minutes in the NBA Finals as a rookie.

In an ideal world, Braun would come off the bench again next season, improving Denver’s 2024-25 depth and giving him one more year to develop before making that jump to a starting role. But to Malone’s point, here’s the good news: Braun already shot 38.4% from 3-point range this season.
Nuggets Journal: About Michael Malone’s postgame response to my Game 7 questions

Nuggets Journal: About Michael Malone’s postgame response to my Game 7 questions

23/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31781722

Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve asked my fair share of stupid-(expletive) questions.

No athlete is immune to making a stupid-(expletive) play during a game. No coach is impervious to the occasional stupid-(expletive) strategic decision. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that part of my job is to ask them about those stupid-(expletive) moments, the moments that make us human and that make sports, well, sports. And so it would be downright oblivious of me to subsequently claim the reporter who’s responsible for prying into those mistakes is somehow incapable of making their own.

The questions I asked Michael Malone after the Nuggets lost Game 7 last Sunday night were not stupid-(expletive) questions. Were they particularly profound questions? No they were not. But they were pretty innocuous and necessary for the situation — even if they elicited the profane reaction that went viral. I know that, and Malone knows that. He reached out to me early the next morning to apologize for how he handled it.

I’m not writing this out of a desire to relitigate the exchange or to rip Malone or to defend myself, though I do want to briefly explain the reason I started the news conference with multiple game-specific questions. That’s what caused Malone’s frustration — “The season’s over, that’s what’s hard. (Bleep) being up by 20,” he said — so I’m happy to shed light on my process and perspective for those who are curious about it. After all, if coaches are expected to calmly be held accountable for their decisions, so should I, right?

I have experience with these “season-just-ended” news conferences, and I know the questions tend to move on quickly from the micro to the macro — beyond the final game and onward to the big-picture stuff about the season. Those questions are valid, but it was important to me to make sure Malone was questioned about the game itself before the topics got existential. It was the biggest Game 7 comeback in NBA history, and Denver was on the wrong end of it. We can’t overlook that.

I actually handed the microphone back to its facilitator so he could pass it along after my initial question, which was about what changed defensively for the Nuggets after halftime. (They allowed 38 points in the first half and 60 in the second.) Malone tersely answered with a remark about Denver’s offense. I have no qualms with that. Now, acting as if defense wasn’t an issue whatsoever is taking it too far, in my humble opinion. Minnesota averaged 136.4 points per 100 possessions after the break. It was a fair question, but if Malone was opposed to its premise from a basketball standpoint, he was fully within his rights to express that. I’d rather any interview subject be honest than lie.

That was the end of my contribution to the news conference … except, no it wasn’t, because a long silence ensued. In the absence of another question, I gestured to take the microphone back. Malone’s short answer had left room for a follow-up, so I asked about the offense’s decline that he had identified. That, too, resulted in a short answer, short enough that I didn’t even have time to pass the mic along this time. It was clear Malone was upset — understandably so. The natural question for me to continue with, therefore, was about the emotional difficulty of absorbing a season-ending loss in the particular way it happened — blowing a 20-point lead. That’s when Malone lost his cool.

The reason I’m writing this is to share my perspective on the dynamic that exists in these postgame interviews. Typically, when an athlete or coach lashes out at a reporter in a high-exposure setting like this, the knee-jerk reaction on social media is to attack the reporter. (Not this time.) I think there are two reasons for that trend. First, sports fandom is an emotional proposition, and it’s much easier to take sides with our heroes than some random writer. Second, I believe there’s always been a false notion that sports reporters maniacally revel in the emotional suffering of the people they cover, that it’s actually a goal to provoke fiery or confrontational moments with questions. Probing is seen as classless.

It’s obviously not true. I’m competitive to a fault. I gloat when I play card games. It’s a problem. But I understand that for other competitive people who lose an event they deeply care about, standing in front of cameras 10 minutes later and rehashing how they lost is a bizarre premise and an emotionally vulnerable experience. Being on the other end of that as a reporter requires awareness of what your interviewees are going through mentally, respect for their willingness to grant you the time (even if it’s a contractual obligation in pro sports), and above all a sense of empathy. Understanding what an interview subject is feeling doesn’t make you a homer. To me, those are basic responsibilities of my job.

But I still have to ask the questions. I still can’t let players or coaches off the hook when fans are counting on them to protect that 20-point lead. Those are basic responsibilities of my job as well. It doesn’t mean I experience joy from it. But it’s simply in my job description to show up and remain impartial and ask the questions, regardless of the situation. That includes asking what the emotions are after a heartbreaking, season-ending loss. I tried to accomplish that in a respectful and open-ended manner after Game 7. It’s a challenging needle to thread, and I understand that sometimes the response is going to be hot. That’s what I’ve signed up for.

It’s why I didn’t take Malone’s answer personally, and why I don’t think other people should conclude Malone deserves to be characterized by that answer. He has a reputation for being respectful and thoughtful with the media. I would know. I was in almost every pregame and postgame news conference this season, home and away, win or loss. He had a low moment after arguably the most painful defeat of his NBA career. He apologized for it. We all snap sometimes.

And next time I do ask a stupid-(expletive) question, I’ll make sure to let you guys know.

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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic makes All-NBA first team 2024; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon rec

On the heels of receiving his third career league MVP trophy, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was unsurprisingly named First Team All-NBA for the 2023-24 season on Wednesday.

Jokic has received All-NBA honors in six consecutive years, including four first-team appearances. He was on the second team last season despite finishing second in MVP voting — making him the last in a long tradition of awkward awards contradictions before the league’s new collective bargaining agreement established positionless All-NBA ballots.

This is the first year that zero or multiple centers can appear on the First Team, Second Team or Third Team. Under the old voting system, each of the three teams consisted of two guards, two forwards and one center.

Jokic, 29, averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and nine assists per game during the regular season, compiling 25 triple-doubles and shooting 58.3% from the field. The Nuggets outscored their opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions when Jokic was on the floor. They were outscored by 8.6 points per 100 possessions when he wasn’t on the floor, amounting to a 20.4-point difference in net rating.

But Denver’s Jokic-led starting lineup decomposed in the playoffs, culminating in a shocking Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday and a disappointing end to the season. The Nuggets were outscored by eight points with Jokic on the court in the second-round series.

Between Games 2 and 3 of the series, Jokic became the ninth three-time MVP in NBA history. During his six-year All-NBA run, only Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Lakers’ LeBron James have joined him in making the prestigious list each of those seasons. With Wednesday’s announcement, Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic have both made the first team in five consecutive years.

Two Nuggets players also received votes for the 2023-24 All-Defensive teams that were announced this week, but neither made the final cut. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope earned 11 votes for the second team, making him the seventh player on the outside looking in. Aaron Gordon gathered six votes for the second team.

With those omissions, Jokic completes the ninth season of his career still having never seen a teammate make an All-NBA team, All-Defensive team or All-Star team. Jamal Murray was not eligible for All-NBA honors this season under another new CBA guideline that mandates a 65-games-played minimum in order to appear on ballots. Murray, who navigated a string of minor injuries throughout the season, played in 59 regular-season games.

Complete All-NBA Team, 2023-24

First Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Second Team

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

Third Team

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings

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Like Caitlin Clark, LeBron James started pro career 0-4. Lakers star hopes 'she kills' in WNBA

Like Caitlin Clark, LeBron James started pro career 0-4. Lakers star hopes 'she kills' in WNBA

23/05/2024, USA, Basketball, NBA (Basketball), Article # 31780818

Lakers' LeBron James said he knows what Fever rookie Caitlin Clark is going through early in her WNBA career. He also compared her situation to that of his son, Bronny.
Keeler: If Nuggets coach Michael Malone, Calvin Booth aren’t on same page, they’ll burn another

Michael Malone didn’t just shorten his bench. He strangled it.

Christian Braun played a valiant 20 minutes in that scarring, jarring Game 7, much of it spent badgering the heck outta Anthony Edwards. After that, though, the alms dwindled. Justin Holiday got nine minutes for the Nuggets; Reggie Jackson, five.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, received 22 minutes and 11 points from Naz Reid, a stretch-4-type post who gave Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic more real estate to defend. Nickeil Alexander-Walker played 17 minutes.

Hindsight makes geniuses of us all, granted. But while Jokic huffed and Gordon puffed Sunday, Peyton Watson became more noticeable — by his absence. As Minnesota chipped away at a 20-point Nuggs lead, one of the best defenders on the roster was nowhere to be found.

Now in a do-or-die, win-or-else Game 7, you could understand Malone’s reluctance to trust his second-year wing in a pinch. P-Swat was 0-for-7 from the floor in this series going into Sunday night. The Nuggets lined up the chess pieces as if they could afford only one true defense-first option down the stretch — and again, Braun brought plenty of juice.

Malone said before Game 5 that this was about matchups, and that Minnesota’s defense demands shooters at every spot. That’s not in P-Swat’s arsenal right now, and Holiday brought flashes of brilliance, on the road, when Denver needed it most.

Mind you, Watson also posted a plus-15.9 net rating over 23 minutes against the Wolves in a seeding showdown at Ball Arena last month, blocking six shots and grabbing four boards.

Because as the eulogies are read and ballads sung and postmortems written about where a repeat run at an NBA title went sadly off the rails, P-Swat feels like something of a nexus point. Not just for what happened. But for where the Nuggets go from here. And how.

Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth raised eyebrows this past October when he told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that he “want(s) dudes that we try to develop, and it’s sustainable. If it costs us the chance to win a championship (in 2024), so be it. It’s worth the investment. It’s more about winning three out of six, three out of seven, four out of eight than it is about trying to go back-to-back.”

Booth walked back those comments (among others) later, but it sure did very neatly explain an off-season of attrition — no more Bruce Brown or Jeff Green, thanks CBA — that came on the heels of the first title in franchise history. If ’22-23 was the masterpiece, then ’23-24 would be the experiment. Namely, can we replace Brown and Green with kids and still reach the NBA Finals?

Well, no. Heck, no. Not this year, at any rate.

Booth’s stated masterplan was also curious given that Malone, a stickler for eternal verities such as defense and selflessness, suffers neither fools nor rookies gladly. If Malone doesn’t trust you, you don’t play. Period. The Minnesota series, which started with the Nuggets dropping Games 1 and 2 at home, threw development out a 35-story window.

I’m not suggesting Malone and Booth aren’t on the same page here, although it’s fair to wonder. However, I would humbly advise the powers that be to pick a lane and stick with it going forward. For the window’s sake. For Joker’s sake.

The MVP needs help. Now. Jokic, owner of the greatest hands in modern NBA annals, snatched 15 boards in the first half. He finished with 19. Following one misfire in the third quarter, what looked like four Minnesota bodies went up for the carom while No. 15 was stranded at the top of the arc. The Joker seemed positively crestfallen.

Since April 1 through Game 7, the Big Honey logged 732 minutes in 19 games, or 38.5 per game. From April 1 through the end of the Suns series last spring, he’d played 467 minutes in 13 appearances (35.9 per tilt).

The Nuggs danced with history last week. And landed on the wrong side of it, face-first. Malone’s had better days. He’ll have better ones in the future. But Game 7’s epic collapse felt an awful lot like coaching not to lose. Which, more often than not, gets you beat on this stage.

The Wolves, meanwhile, were built by Tim Connelly to dethrone the dynasty he’d started in Denver. See KAT? See Ant, waving and mugging for the cameras? They’re the bar now.

It’s on Booth and Malone to volley Connelly’s serve. Together. Because the Joker has a ton of MVP seasons left in him. But only so many springs of what-ifs. And only so many summers of doubt.
Nuggets Podcast: Denver collapses in Game 7 vs. Timberwolves, Michael Malone blows up and what’s n

In the latest edition of the Nuggets Ink podcast, beat writer Bennett Durando and sports editor Matt Schubert reconvene after the Minnesota Timberwolves eliminated Denver in a stunning Game 7 comeback. Among the topics discussed:

  • Where did things go wrong for the Nuggets in the second half of Game 7? What could coach Michael Malone have done differently to stem the tide as Minnesota rallied from 20 points down to advance?
  • How much of the blame for what happened Sunday should be heaped upon the shoulders of superstars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray? What about the supporting players around them, in particular a cold-shooting Michael Porter Jr.?
  • What part of this result can be pinned on management? Did general manager Calvin Booth not give his head coach enough parts to successfully defend the title? What must be done to avoid this next season?
  • Lastly, Bennett talks about the chain of events that led to Michael Malone blowing up at him in the postgame press conference.

Subscribe to the podcast
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Producer: AAron Ontiveroz
Music: “The Last Dragons” by Schama Noel

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Michael Porter Jr. blames himself for Nuggets’ playoff loss to Timberwolves: “This was a terribl

In the NBA arguably more than any other American sports league, the playoffs have a tendency to consume any relevant regular-season context about a team or an individual.

That reality has worked to Jamal Murray’s advantage over the last five years of Nuggets runs. It’s working to Michael Porter Jr.’s disadvantage this time.

Porter chose to wear the blame Sunday night for Denver’s early exit from the playoffs after Game 7 against the Timberwolves. He averaged 10.7 points on 37.1% shooting from the field in the second-round series, and he made only 10 of his 35 shot attempts across the last four games, totaling 25 points.

“This was a terrible series,” Porter said after shooting 3 for 12 in a 98-90 Game 7 loss. “I felt like I might’ve had one or two good games out of the seven we played. Part of it was the way they were guarding. Part of it was (that) my shot wasn’t falling. It’s just tough because I know if I would have played up to par with how I normally play, we would have won this series. And there’s a lot of things that could have been different as a team, but I know if I had played my part, we would have won the series. And I’ve gotta live with that.”

It makes evaluating Porter’s season unexpectedly complicated all of a sudden. The regular season was a testament to the durability he has rediscovered after recovering from three back surgeries.

Porter played in 81 of 82 games, shattering a previous career-high of 62. He averaged 16.7 points and seven rebounds, shooting 39.7% from 3-point range and breaking a franchise record for most made 3s in a single season. Only four players in the NBA attempted more 3-pointers than Porter and shot them at a higher percentage: Steph Curry, Donte DiVincenzo, Paul George and C.J. McCollum. The difference between each of them and Porter is multiple inches of height.

MPJ’s shooting splits exceeded 50/40/90 after the All-Star break. He grew more comfortable with his mobility, his downhill driving, his physicality. His scoring efficiency even carried over to the first round of the playoffs, when he was Denver’s second-best offensive player against the Lakers. He shot 55% from the floor, 49% from three and averaged 0.481 points per touch in the series.

That number dropped to 0.252 in the second round. Minnesota stuck Jaden McDaniels on him, and Porter struggled to get separation off-ball. The Timberwolves chose not to help off of him. His touches per game decreased by 4.8 between rounds. His shot attempts per game decreased by 5.2.

“I know sometimes it’s an over-simplification of the NBA being a make-or-miss league, but we just did not make enough shots in this series — Michael included, but he wasn’t the only one,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We as a team did not make enough shots, and I didn’t help generate enough looks maybe to help ourselves.”

Malone was content with the looks Porter got in Games 6 and 7, when Minnesota started double-teaming Nikola Jokic from the perimeter more frequently. But the 6-foot-10 forward was out of rhythm by then. He shot 1 for 6 beyond the arc in both games.

“He’s so dangerous with his size. You have to be super-mindful of how far off you are on him at any time,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said Saturday ahead of Game 7. “Because he’s got great size and he shoots the ball high, and he has a quick release and a quick side-step dribble. Fortunately we’re able to put some size on him, too, which could help bother him.”

Porter is two years into a five-year, $179 million max contract that he signed before the 2022-23 season. His approximate salary this season was $33.4 million, and it’s set to be around $35.9 million in 2024-25.

Multiple of his siblings were embroiled in a string of legal troubles as the playoffs began. Jontay Porter, a Toronto Raptors two-way forward, was banned for life from the NBA after being investigated in a sports betting scandal. The same week, their younger brother Coban was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a woman in a drunk driving crash in Denver last year. MPJ missed Denver’s final practice before the first-round series to attend the sentencing hearing. Then a third younger brother, Jevon, was arrested in Missouri on investigation of driving while intoxicated.

“I’m not gonna sit here and act like it wasn’t a burden, or I wasn’t thinking about it all day every day. But that’s still no excuse,” Porter said after Game 7. “I’m a better player than I played in this series. I’m a better shooter than I shot in this series. In the NBA, you’ve gotta be able to separate off-the-court matters with your on-the-court play. So I don’t have any excuses. … I told my teammates sorry. I feel like this is on me.”

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