- Frank Urbina of HoopsHype offers up four potential destinations for Will Barton in free agency. Barton has spent the last three and a half seasons with the Nuggets and has expressed interest in sticking with the team, but Urbina also views the Suns, Pacers, and Sixers as viable suitors for the veteran swingman.
After missing the playoffs by one game for the second consecutive season, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are tired of going home after the regular season ends. Yet, as reported by Gina Mizell of The Denver Post, there’s reason for optimism, with Connelly declaring that “this is the most confident I’ve felt in our core group since I’ve been here.”
The first order of business for the Nuggets is locking up budding superstar Nikola Jokic to a long-term contract. Jokic actually has a team option worth $1.6MM for next season, but because he was a second-round pick and has been in the league for three or fewer seasons, he becomes a restricted free agent if Denver declines his option, allowing the Nuggets to match any offer from another team.
Both of the Nuggets other young potential stars – Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – are already locked in for next season, meaning the next order of business is re-signing sixth man Will Barton. “We’re hopeful we can get something done,” Connelly said. “(Barton is) our guy. We love him. I think if he’s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”
Barton added, “We’re building something real special here. I love playing with Jok and Jamal and Gary. The guys we have in the locker room, I like being around. The coaching staff has really come a long way with trusting me and me trusting them. Just the whole (Nuggets) organization, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
- In more after-season content from the Nuggets, Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com relays some of Connelly’s positive thoughts on the Nuggets’ season. “Certainly, when you’re on the outside, looking-in you have to address some needs,” Connelly said. “I think there will be some pretty interesting financial decisions we’ll make this offseason. But standing in front of (the media) now, I finally can say with full confidence that we have a core that can be really good for a long time. They all want to be here, and they are all about the right things.”
The Timberwolves broke their 14-year playoff drought because coach/executive Tom Thibodeau was willing to trade away the future to get better now, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Thibodeau signaled a new direction for the franchise last June when he shipped Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh pick in the draft to Chicago in exchange for Jimmy Butler. He followed that up by signing veteran free agents Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks and more recently, Derrick Rose.
“Look, when you’re trying to erase 14 years of losing, you have to bring in some people who have won before,” Thibodeau explained. “That was a big factor in that. These guys have won in the playoffs, and I knew the hole we had to get out of. When you looked at the number, the numbers said we had to do a lot of improving and I think we’ve done that.”
There’s more from the Northwest Division:
- Rose’s overlooked defensive abilities could be important in the playoff matchup with Houston, Zgoda notes in a separate story. Defense was one of the areas Thibodeau considered when he decided to sign the former MVP in March. Rose, who had a frustrating start to the season in Cleveland before being acquired and then waived by Utah, is happy with where he has landed. “Going through free agency, it’s all about being strategic,” Rose said. “I wanted to go to a contender. I wanted to go somewhere where I was familiar with the coach, and being here was the perfect situation.”
- Carmelo Anthony is preparing for his first playoff appearance in five years, but he’s headed there in a much different role, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Anthony was an MVP candidate when the Knicks last reached the postseason in 2013. Now he’s a complementary player after an offseason trade to the Thunder. “My approach is not any different,” he said. “My situation is different. My team is different.”
Third-year forward Trey Lyles is focused on earning more playing time after his first full season in Denver. In a video posted on the Nuggets‘ website, Lyles laments his lack of minutes late in the season and vows to work on every part of his game this summer. “I’m not perfect at anything,” he said. “I really want to improve in ways that makes coach keep me on the floor.”
Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly confirmed today to reporters that head coach Michael Malone will return for the 2018/19 season, writes Gina Mizell of The Denver Post.
While Malone was always considered likely to continue coaching the Nuggets, the team’s inability to secure a playoff berth created a little speculation about his job security. In his end-of-season presser, Connelly dismissed the idea that the club would want to replace Malone.
“There’s improvement across all levels of our team,” Connelly said. “I guess (questioning Malone’s job status is) the unfortunate narrative of professional basketball, but ‘Mo’s done a fantastic job.”
While Malone will return next season, the same can’t necessarily be said of all the players on the Nuggets’ roster. Connelly acknowledged today that Denver will face some “pretty interesting financial decisions” this offseason, including a big one on Nikola Jokic.
There’s no doubt that Jokic will be a Nugget next season, but the team will have the option of exercising or declining his inexpensive team option — turning down that option would allow the Nuggets to re-sign Jokic as a restricted free agent, rather than risking losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
“He’s a guy that’s been tremendous in how quickly he’s developed and a guy that we love and he loves Denver. So, the sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better,” Connelly said, according to Arnie Stapleton of The Associated Press, hinting that the Nuggets may look to sign Jokic as an RFA this summer.
The Nuggets’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent in 2018 will be Will Barton, who said this week that he’d “love” to re-sign with Denver, but would like a starting role going forward. For his part, Connelly said he hopes the Nuggets can get a deal done with Barton and keep him on their roster.
“He’s our guy,” Connelly said of Barton. “We love him and I think if he’s back in a Denver jersey, it’s good for both him and the team.”
More importantly for fans of most non-playoff teams, the end of the regular season means that the 2018 NBA draft picture is clearer than ever. The 2018 draft order is close to being set and – with a small handful of exceptions – most of this year’s traded draft picks with protections on them have now officially changed hands or officially stayed put.
However, there are still some major question marks surrounding the draft order, since several clubs finished the regular season with identical records, and draft tiebreakers don’t work like playoff tiebreakers do. In order to break these ties, the NBA will conduct random drawings this Friday, as Jonathan Givony of ESPN notes (via Twitter).
[RELATED: 2017/18 NBA Reverse Standings]
For lottery teams, such as the 24-58 Mavericks and Hawks, who finished tied for third in the lottery standings, the implications of those drawings are huge. Whichever team wins that tiebreaker will have ever-so-slightly better odds at the first overall pick (13.8% to 13.7%), and will be in position to claim the higher first-round pick if neither team lands in the top three.
For instance, if the Suns and Grizzlies remain at No. 1 and No. 2 in the lottery and another team leapfrogs the Mavs and Hawks, the winner of the tiebreaker between Dallas and Atlanta would claim the No. 4 overall pick — the loser would get No. 5. For the second round, the loser of the tiebreaker would receive the higher selection.
Here are the draft tiebreakers that will be conducted on Friday:
- Mavericks vs. Hawks for Nos. 3, 4.
- Kings vs. Bulls for Nos. 6, 7.
- Bucks vs. Heat for Nos. 16, 17.
- Spurs vs. Timberwolves for Nos. 18, 19.
- Pacers vs. Pelicans vs. Thunder vs. Jazz for Nos. 20-23.
Several of those tiebreakers will also affect this year’s traded picks. Most notably, the Bucks/Heat drawing has massive implications for Milwaukee and Phoenix — the Bucks’ first-round pick will head to the Suns if it lands at No. 16, but Milwaukee would keep it if it ends up at No. 17. In other words, each team has a 50/50 shot at the pick. If the Bucks keep it, they’d owe their 2019 first-round selection to Phoenix, albeit with somewhat similar protections.
Here’s a breakdown of the traded first-round picks for 2018. A check mark indicates the pick will definitely be sent to the indicated team:
- Nets pick to Cavaliers (✔️): Eighth in lottery standings
- Lakers pick to Sixers (97.1%) or Celtics (2.9%): 10th in lottery standings
- Note: Celtics will receive pick if it lands at No. 2 or No. 3 via the lottery.
- Pistons pick to Clippers (97.5%): 12th in lottery standings
- Note: Pistons will keep pick if it lands in top three via the lottery.
- Heat pick to Suns (✔️): No. 16 or 17 (tie)
- Bucks pick to Suns (50%): No. 16 or 17 (tie)
- Note: Bucks will keep pick if it lands at No. 17 via a random drawing.
- Timberwolves pick to Hawks (✔️): No. 18 or 19 (tie)
- Thunder pick to Timberwolves (✔️): No. 20, 21, 22, or 23 (four-way tie)
- Pelicans pick to Bulls (✔️): No. 20, 21, 22, or 23 (four-way tie)
- Cavaliers pick to Lakers (✔️): No. 25
- Raptors pick to Nets (✔️): No. 29
- Rockets pick to Hawks (✔️): No. 30
Here’s a breakdown of the traded second-round picks that will change hands in 2018:
- Bulls pick to Knicks (✔️): No. 36 or 37 (tie)
- Nets pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 38
- Knicks pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 39
- Lakers pick to Nets (✔️): No. 40
- Hornets pick to Magic (✔️): No. 41
- Clippers pick to Nuggets (✔️): No. 43
- Bucks pick to Nets (✔️): No. 45 or 46 (tie)
- Heat pick to Rockets (✔️): No. 45 or 46 (tie)
- Nuggets pick to Lakers (✔️): No. 47
- Trail Blazers pick to Mavericks (✔️): No. 54
- Cavaliers pick to Hornets (✔️): No. 55
- Celtics pick to Thunder (✔️): No. 57
- Warriors pick to Nuggets (✔️): No. 58
- Raptors pick to Suns (✔️): No. 59
- Rockets pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 60
11:54pm: The Trail Blazers have defeated the Jazz in their regular season finale and clinched the No. 3 seed with the win. Here are the first-round matchups in the Western Conference:
- Rockets (No. 1) vs. Timberwolves (No. 8)
- Warriors (No. 2) vs. Spurs (No. 7)
- Trail Blazers (No. 3) vs. Pelicans (No. 6)
- Thunder (No. 4) vs. Jazz (No. 5)
9:47pm: The Timberwolves have beaten the Nuggets and clinched the final spot in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. We now know the following.
- The Nuggets will miss the playoffs
- The Timberwolves are the No. 8 seed.
- The Spurs are the No. 7 seed.
- If the Trail Blazers beat the Jazz:
- Pelicans are No. 6
- Jazz are No. 5
- Thunder are No. 4
- Blazers are No. 3
- If the Jazz beat the Trail Blazers:
- Thunder are No. 6
- Pelicans are No. 5
- Blazers are No. 4
- Jazz are No. 3
8:54pm: The Thunder lead the Grizzlies by 12 with less than nine minutes remaining, while the Pelicans lead the Spurs by 18 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Barring a surprise comeback by Memphis or San Antonio, here is how the playoff picture looks after wins by Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
Jazz: 3 or 5
Trail Blazers: 3 or 4
Thunder: 4 or 6
Pelicans: 5 or 6
Spurs: 7 or 8
Timberwolves: 8 or 9
Nuggets: 7 or 9
4:37pm: As we indicated earlier today, the Nuggets and Timberwolves will face-off tonight with the final spot of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on the line.
And while that game will be the only winner-gets-in, loser-gets-eliminated contest tonight, there are numerous other games with playoff seeding implications on the line. In the Western Conference, only the Rockets and the Warriors know their playoff seeding. Seeds three through eight are all still up for grabs, as follows:
Jazz: 3, 4, or 5
Trail Blazers: 3, 4, or 5
Pelicans: 5, 6, 7, or 8
Spurs: 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8
Thunder: 4, 6, or 8
Timberwolves: 6, 7, 8, or 9
Nuggets: 6, 7, or 9
We will be updating the Western Conference playoff seeding scenarios – in real time – as games finish this evening, so stay tuned to Hoops Rumors for all relevant up-to-the-minute developments. For now, here are some initial notes that are not conditional upon other game results:
- The Jazz and Trail Blazers winner gets the No. 3 seed.
- The Thunder will be the No. 8 seed with a loss to the Grizzlies.
- As noted above, the loser of the Nuggets and Wolves will finish ninth in the Western Conference standings.
The NBA’s playoff race has been a wild one this year, and there are still dozens of potential scenarios for the final version of this year’s NBA standings.
Still, while we may have to wait until the end of tonight’s slate to determine seeds and first-round matchups, 15 of 16 playoff spots have been clinched, leaving just one final slot available. And to make matters simpler, that last spot will be decided in a single game, with the Timberwolves hosting the Nuggets in a winner-take-all contest tonight.
The Nuggets and Timberwolves enter tonight’s action with matching 46-35 records, so the loser of the regular season finale will be a hard-luck lottery team, while the winner could end up as high as No. 6 in the Western standings. It’s the NBA’s first winner-gets-in, loser-gets-eliminated regular season finale since 1997, according to the league (Twitter link via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press).
Denver has recent history on its side heading into the end-of-season showdown. The Nuggets have won six consecutive games while battling for their postseason lives, beating the Thunder, Bucks, Pacers, Clippers, and Trail Blazers during that stretch — the other win during that streak came against the Timberwolves, last Thursday in Denver.
Conversely, the Timberwolves have struggled during the season’s second half after looking like a potential top-four seed earlier in the year. Since getting to 31-18 on January 22, Minnesota has posted a mediocre 15-17 record.
Of course, the Wolves were without star forward Jimmy Butler for most of that stretch, and Butler’s back now. So is Paul Millsap, who missed a huge chunk of the season for the Nuggets, and Gary Harris, who was recently sidelined for 11 games with a knee injury. In other words, with the possible exception of Taj Gibson, who is dealing with a sore neck, both teams figure to be at full strength tonight.
The Timberwolves are slight favorites in the eyes of oddsmakers, and NBA.com’s experts favor Minnesota too, but that’s more about home-court advantage than the Wolves being the better team. This game could easily go either way.
What do you think? Which team will win tonight’s game and earn a spot in the NBA postseason, the Nuggets or the Timberwolves? Vote below and then jump into the comment section to share your two cents!
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Injured Nuggets guard Gary Harris has been upgraded to questionable for Monday night’s game against Portland, according to Chris Dempsey of Nuggets.com (Twitter link). League sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) that Harris is likely to return for that crucial contest.
Harris has been a key part of the Nuggets’ lineup this season, averaging a team-high 34.8 minutes per contest in 65 games (all starts). He has been Denver’s second-best scorer (17.7 PPG) and the team’s most effective three-point shooter (.399 3PT%), but has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury.
According to Dempsey, the Nuggets’ medical staff will monitor Harris’ pregame workout and will make a decision before the game begins on his availability. If the veteran guard is able to return to the court tonight for Denver, it would be great timing for a team that could badly use a win.
While there are still a ton of scenarios in play when it comes to the Western Conference playoff picture, the Nuggets control their own destiny — if they can beat the Trail Blazers tonight and the Timberwolves on Wednesday, they’d earn a postseason berth.
- The Nuggets are preparing to finish the season without guard Gary Harris, who is recovering from a knee injury, relays Gina Mizell of The Denver Post (Twitter link). “Right now, I’m not expecting Gary Harris back [in the regular season],” coach Michael Malone said before today’s game. “We have to continue to find ways to win games and compete at a high level with the players that are available, and Gary’s not on that list right now.”
- Gary Harris, the Nuggets‘ second-leading scorer, has now missed the team’s last 10 games with a knee injury, and appears likely to miss at least one more. According to head coach Mike Malone, a Saturday return is possible, but Monday is probably a more realistic “best-case scenario” for Harris, per Gina Mizell of The Denver Post.