NBA PM: Nuggets, Wilson Chandler Ready to Run?
As the Denver Nuggets have won just three of their last 10 games, the team’s fans have grown restless for the return of Wilson Chandler, who signed in China before the lockout, but has been rumored to be on his way back for some time now.
Well, if ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is right, Chandler could be back with his former team by next week.
Stein wrote that sources have told him Chandler has received the Zhejiang Lions’ blessing to return to the NBA soon as he’s already helped them to clinch a playoff spot. The Chinese Basketball Association will have to issue FIBA a letter of clearance before he can return to the NBA, but that might just be a formality. Chandler has reportedly been ruled out of the CBA’s All-Star Game.
Chandler’s rights are still owned by the Nuggets, who aren’t permitted to do a sign-and-trade deal. That, of course, is fine with Nuggets fans, who obviously miss Chandler’s combination of athleticism, defense and offensive efficiency.
Chandler has the option of signing a “rest-of-the-season” contract with the Nuggets, Stein wrote, or asking for a long-term deal.
In either case, the Nuggets will make it to the postseason with one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. Denver has eight players averaging over 8.5 PPG and they have 12 players on the team that can already be described as “rotation” guys. Miraculously, the Nuggets have 11 players whose Player Efficiency Rating is over the league average of 15.
Denver already leads the league in possessions per game, so the addition of Chandler means they won’t have to slow down anytime soon. And in a condensed season where teams are struggling to maintain any depth at all, that is a distinct advantage. Good luck trying to keep pace with the fastest, deepest team in the NBA.
Is Isaiah Thomas the next Bobby Jackson?
It’s no coincidence that the Sacramento Kings’ best years coincided with the tenure of Bobby Jackson, the lightening-fast, hyperactive point guard with a propensity toward scoring the basketball. Jackson always seemed out of place as a starting point guard with the Denver Nuggets and failed to really catch on with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But by coming off the bench in Sacramento, Jackson found ways to diagnose the Kings’ deficiencies while injecting energy in any number of areas.
If the Kings needed a scorer at a particular moment, he’d take it to the hole. But he also learned how and when to facilitate the offense and that gave Sacramento one of the best benches in the league for seemingly five consecutive seasons.
Now Jackson is an assistant coach with the Kings, and while he’s carrying more weight than he did as a player, he isn’t afraid to go one on one with Isaiah Thomas—the Kings 5-9 sparkplug who in many ways, provides the same kind of energy that Jackson once did.
“Oh, it’s great,” said Thomas, who was the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft. “I work with Bobby every day. We play one on one every game day and he was a great player in this league. He’s a guy that came off the bench and gave energy and he’s talked to me about just being that role player that no matter if it’s scoring, no matter if it’s on the offensive end, defensive end, you’ve got to change the game when you get in the game and I’ve taken that to heart and tried to do the best I can.”
Doing his “best” occasionally means taking advantage of a 38-year-old retiree in a friendly game of one on one, but Thomas isn’t going to take his foot of the gas.
“Once he gets tired he’s horrible,” Thomas said of his one-on-one battles with Jackson. “But those first couple of games he’s good, he’s still got the talent but once he gets tired, he’s out of shape so I beat him.”
Obviously the Kings’ bench isn’t what it once was when Jackson was a top Sixth Man, but that’s not really Thomas’ fault. Often paired in the backcourt with high-profile lottery pick Jimmer Fredette, Thomas has found ways to push the tempo and get to the hoop without being a liability on defense.
When asked if opposing players have talked trash about his height, Thomas said “Nah.”
“Nobody has because they’ve tried to post me up but it really hasn’t worked, not to their favor,” he said.
Like Muggsy Bogues—the legendary 5-3 former Charlotte Hornets point guard—Thomas isn’t going to get many chances for jump shots, so that likely won’t be a big part of his game. However, Thomas has been able to get to the basket and when he gets fouled, he’s been able to hit 81.1% of his free throws, which is about 10% better than he did in college.
For Thomas, who was named after the former Pistons guard and Knicks president/coach Isiah Thomas (clearly they spell their names differently), the biggest challenge is going from the score-first guard he was with the Washington Huskies to being someone who can recognize when to score and when to pass.
“As a point guard, decision making, knowing when to make the right pass, knowing when to shoot and make the right play, so I’m just trying to watch a lot of film and know how defenses are playing me and the big thing is decision making,” he said when asked where he has room to grow.
“I think it just goes within the flow of the game,” he continued. “Once you get out there you kind of see what’s going on and you kind of pick your spots, pick and choose your spots and with me I just want to be aggressive at all times whether it’s aggressiveness to get to the hole and get a bucket or get my teammates off that’s what I try to do.”
Thomas is incrementally getting better at decision-making. Following coach Paul Westphal’s firing on Jan. 6, Thomas began getting significant minutes and has averaged around 19.4 MPG for the month of February. Furthermore, his Player Efficiency Rating sits just above the league average of 15 and his turnover rate (percentage of possessions that end in a turnover) is second best among rookie point guards behind only Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. He also has the sixth-highest assist rate (percentage of possessions that end with an assist) of any rookie, which has clearly endeared him with new coach Keith Smart.
“(Coach Westphal) had a lot of confidence in me,” Thomas said, “but it was just hard to find me minutes; but coach Smart he’s talking to me since day one because I went up to him and asked him ‘What can I do to get some minutes?’ And he said ‘keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing a great job and your chance and opportunity is going to come and when it does you’ve got to take full advantage of it.’
“I’m just taking every chance I get trying to make the most of it and just staying ready,” Thomas continued.
The Kings bench ranks in the bottom third of the league in scoring and the team is destined for another spring without playoff basketball. However, Sacramento has an undeniably talented young core and a piece like Thomas can go a long way toward revitalizing a franchise. Remember, things came together quickly for the 1999-2000 Kings. Mitch Richmond was traded for Chris Webber, Vlade Divac was added, and Jackson was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2000. The latter move wasn’t seen as anything major at the time, but turned into one of the best bargains of the decade. The Kings are now hoping for a similar impact once again, and if Thomas can make that same kind of contribution, it won’t be any more of a surprise than Jackson’s meteoric rise to fame.
(Here’s an amusing anecdote from the Wall Street Journal on how Thomas was treated by fans at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. He’s hoping for a better reception tonight in Detroit)
Check Out: Why the Knicks Won’t Lose Jeremy Lin
By now it’s dawned on most New York Knicks fans: Jeremy Lin is a free agent next year.
In football and baseball, where salary cap rules are vastly different, teams have no trouble keeping their breakout stars. However, an NBA team can be taken by surprise when a league-minimum player suddenly breaks out and, when that team lacks cap space like the Knicks, it can be a real headache.
Fortunately, HOOPSWORLD’s Larry Coon (this time writing for ESPN.com) broke down Lin’s free agency prospects and things are looking up for the Knicks.
To begin, non-first-round picks are restricted free agents for their first three NBA seasons, meaning the Knicks can match any offer. While the Knicks don’t have Lin’s Bird rights, they do have something similar which allows them to spend up to 120% of the minimum salary on Lin. As Coon points out, that likely won’t be enough to keep Lin around, but the Knicks still have their mid-level exception. That means they won’t have it to offer to another player, but it could allow them to keep him in town.
The best news is that teams can’t offer more than the mid-level exception because, as Coon writes, the Gilbert Arenas provision prevents teams from offering more than that to a first-year RFA.
The Knicks have more recourse to hang on to Lin down the line (which is why you should read Coon’s piece), but for the immediate future, this is all you need to know.
Multiple outlets are reporting the standoff between Madison Square Garden Network (MSG) and Time Warner Cable is finally over, which means all of New York City’s cable subscribers will finally get to see Jeremy Lin on television.
For those that don’t know, MSG (which is owned by Cablevision, another cable company) had a dispute over fees with TWC, which left much of NYC in the dark. The irony is, both sides finally got to see what it’s like to haggle with another cable company, which is something all of us have endured at one point or another.
There has not been an announcement from either side, but it appears our long, local nightmare is finally over: Enjoy the Knicks and Rangers, New Yorkers.
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