NBA@2: Wilson Chandler The Ace In The Hole?
When the Denver Nuggets have been healthy, they have been one of the best teams in the NBA’s Western Conference. They got through the first 15 games of January without major injury issues and went an impressive 12-3 over that stretch, including wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami HEAT and Philadelphia 76ers.
Since then the team has fallen on hard times, due largely to a long list of injuries. Ty Lawson had an ankle injury, Danilo Gallinari then injured his ankle more severely, and Nene injured his calf, and with all of those injuries the Nuggets are just 4-9 in February going into the All-Star break. Nene is expected back soon after the break and Gallo is due in early March, and right around the same time the Nuggets are also expected to bring the ultimate ace in the hole back into the fold.
Wilson Chandler was one of the key pieces the Nuggets received from the New York Knicks in last season’s Carmelo Anthony trade, but has been unavailable to Denver this season because he signed a contract to play in China during the NBA lockout. Chandler has been a scoring machine in China, but Nuggets head coach George Karl is at least as excited about Chandler’s defensive prowess returning to his team as he is about the scoring.
“My gut says that I thought if I had to judge what we haven’t done as well as we did last year it was our defense,” Karl tells HOOPSWORLD. “Is that Kenyon Martin? Is that Wilson? Who was the guy that made us a better defensively? Right now that’s where I want to improve. I really want to emphasize and focus in on getting stops, winning more games with our defensive end of the court rather than winning them with just our pace and our offensive skills.”
Chandler’s former teammates recognize the hole that was left when he headed to China, and look forward to getting him back into the fold.
“It would mean a lot to have him back,” says Ty Lawson. “He’s not just a scorer; he really helps our defense, too. He will also help our depth, and we’ve been injured a little bit so that will be big for us. It will be great to have him come back because we need him.”
“He brings a lot of versatility, especially on the offensive end,” adds Al Harrington. “He’s one of those glue guys who can do a little bit of everything. When you have a guy like him it makes it easier for everyone else, and it also makes it easier to get through injuries like we’ve had. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
“When Wilson’s back it will be great for our team,” agrees Arron Afflalo. “He’s a good player, but he’s also mild-mannered and a good teammate. Offensively and defensively he has just as many capabilities as all of us, so I think it will be important for us to get him back.”
As much as Chandler would help the Nuggets statistically, the fact that he hasn’t been embroiled in the harrowing lockout-shortened/compacted NBA schedule could mean he will bring an infusion of energy just as the team is preparing for a playoff run.
“I don’t know exactly what he’s been doing over there – I heard they have team practices twice a day – but I know he hasn’t been here in the NBA playing this crazy schedule day after day and game after day,” says Lawson. “Whatever he’s been doing over there he’s got to be fresher coming in than we are after the schedule we’ve played.”
“He’ll be fresh,” adds Harrington. “It might take him a little bit of time to get acclimated back into the NBA, but he’s going to be coming back at a point where he’s only going to have to play twenty-some games instead of the sixty-six the rest of us have gone through, so that’s got to be an advantage for him.”
Right now George Karl is just trying to keep his fingers in the dam, filling holes in the lineup as injuries threaten his rotation. At the very least, he sees Chandler as a good solution to that particular problem.
“I think our depth is something right now that we feel we don’t have and we’re playing a lot like all NBA rotations right now,” says Karl. “We’re trying to find that wild card off the bench. Trying to fill in holes with the role guys. They have to play more than just a role and have more responsibility. I think Wilson will fit in great. He knows how we play, he knows what we want to do and feel excited, we think he’s a young kid. I don’t know what his age is but I’m sure it’s under 25, that once we get him in the system he’ll only get better and better.”
At this point, it’s safe to assume that Chandler will, indeed, be back with the Nuggets as soon as he receives clearance from FIBA, which is expected early this week. That doesn’t mean that his agent isn’t trying to make sure Chandler gets as much money as possible once he’s cleared to sign. Last week’s visit to the Toronto Raptors was largely a bargaining ploy aimed at driving Chandler’s value up, though the Raptors are in no position to offer anything close to what the Nuggets have on the table.
For their part, the Nuggets are not interested in simply signing Chandler for the rest of this season; they want a multiyear deal starting at roughly $7.5 million. Chandler’s camp is pushing for a deal that pays him through the end of this season and allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in July. They’re even threatening to sit out the rest of this season in order to make that happen, though that is almost certainly an empty threat. Chandler signed in China because he hasn’t managed his money well and needed a quick payday. He’s not about to push his next payday back five months.
What’s more likely is that Chandler takes the money from Denver. When the rest of the Nuggets get healthy the could be scary good with Chandler back in the mix, and it’s also the option that gets Chandler the most money the soonest.
The deck is heavily stacked in Denver’s favor, and Chandler appears to be their ace in the hole.
The New D’Antoni Challenge
The emergence of Jeremy Lin has done at least one thing for New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. At the very least Lin has changed the subject among Knicks fans and media from when the team should fire their head coach to what amazing thing their upstart point guard might do next.
It’s been a great story, but D’Antoni has still had his work cut out for him with all of the players he’s had to juggle in and out of the lineup due to injury.
“It is a challenge and it is a challenge for the players,” D’Antoni said in an interview with ESPN Radio in New York. “If we just hold in there and don’t listen to the pressure from the outside, just keep making advances, and keep trying to get better, we will be okay. We just have to continue to play hard, keep our energy level up, and keep our confidence as well as we can. We do have a little bit of a break coming up with All-Star week. We do have two practices right after, then a game, then three more practices before we do it again, so we have five practices and one game so we should be able to get a lot done and hopefully start looking better after the All-Star break.”
Amar’e Stoudemire is back in the lineup, but many have noticed that he lacks the explosiveness we’re accustomed to seeing from the All-Star power forward. D’Antoni chalks that up to the season and the schedule, but adds that Lin might be the key to getting Stoudemire back on track.
“I don’t think a lot of players have (their usual bounce). A lot of players have struggled with the schedule, it’s brutal. They don’t have time to get into the weight room and do the things necessary to recuperate. His attitude is good and he’s in there and you’re right I think this All-Star break will be great for him where he can get a little bit of that pop back. I’m not going to panic with it and I think he knows he has to do a little extra work and, again, a little bit of a product of the team. I think with Jeremy and the more chemistry they develop the better he will be.”
The Nets were on a nice run before Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup, having won eight of their last nine games. Then they lost to the lowly New Jersey Nets upon Melo’s return, which set off an avalanche of criticism. D’Antoni points out the obvious, which is that Anthony was not the sole reason they lost to the Nets.
“We talk all the time and you talk to the whole team about different things and different situations, and he wasn’t the reason we lost. We didn’t play good enough defense that game, and that’s everybody. That’s got to pick up. Offensively, we will be fine, but one of the things that we did over that stretch was we went from about the 20th defensive team in the league to about fifth. That’s where we have to do it. It’s not the offense. The offense will be fine. Melo will get his points. He was a little rusty but he will be fine. Jeremy will still have his space and he will be fine. Amar’e will be fine. I’m not worried that much about that. Now we have to iron some things out, get a little smoother, and get a little bit better. Defensively, everyone has to have in their mind that every play is important and every assignment and game plan we have schemed out they have to follow and concentrate. Monday maybe because we were tired, maybe because we had new elements coming back, we all did not follow the game plan and we all did not communicate and we did not defend and that is why Deron Williams goes off for all those points. People say ‘well he took it against Jeremy,’ well no that’s not it. It’s never Jeremy against Deron Williams, it’s Deron Williams against the New York Knicks. He beat the Knicks and those are the things that we have to insist upon. If we do we are going to be good.”
To be clear, D’Antoni also has zero concern about whether or not Anthony and Lin can co-exist.
“Sure, he can and it’s funny because I really live in a cocoon and I love you guys but I would not listen to talk radio if someone had a gun pointed right to my head. I won’t even listen. I can’t do that. You can’t read newspapers and I don’t. I don’t read anything and when they ask me stuff in the press about something happening I go ‘what happened’ because you have to tell me. I do not want to know because I’m in a locker room with these guys and we’re going to figure it out. That’s all I need to know. I don’t need to know what everybody else thinks. We will figure this out and ‘Melo is going to be a big part of this as is Amar’e as is everybody else. We have a lot of talent here and it goes all the way down to the end of the bench and we just have to have everybody buying in. Our voice has to be heard and it takes strong willed guys in New York to come through it. That’s what ‘Melo is, that’s what Amar’e is, and that’s why they came here in the first place so we will get through this.”
Paul George Setting A New Pace
The Indiana Pacers are a team on the rise, and one of the catalysts of their improved play has been sophomore wingman Paul George. George is in Orlando this week taking part in All-Star festivities along with teammate Roy Hibbert, and couldn’t be happier to be a part of the NBA’s showcase event.
“It’s exciting for Roy and I to be able to participate and showcase our abilities, but most importantly showcase our team,” George tells HOOPSWORLD. “We’re both excited and this should be a fun weekend. I’m looking forward to just seeing the stars. I think it’s pretty unique when everybody from all the other teams can come together and perform on the same level and play as a team. I think that’s the greatest thing about this game, is the characters of the high profile guys.”
Expectations for George are sky-high, particularly in Indiana, where some have wondered if his breakout play might mean the Pacers could trade Danny Granger in their effort to aggressively improve the team. George loves to hear people speak highly of him, but isn’t about to get ahead of the process.
“Yeah, I mean that’s definitely humbling. At the same time, I have to take those steps to make it to the Sunday game. This is the start and I look forward to many more.”
Pacers president Larry Bird is on record as saying he’s going to look to add another significant piece, if possible before next month’s trade deadline. George doesn’t see a glaring need that the team needs to address other than the two-guard spot.
“I think we have a strong team. If anything it might be a two-guard but I think we have a strong team. Everyone from 1-13 is contributing.”
The Pacers got off to a great start this season despite playing 15 of their first 22 games on the road. George believes having a more home-heavy schedule is one of the keys to Indiana regaining the momentum they had earlier in the season.
“We really just need to come out and play with that same intensity that we started the season off of. We played a lot of away games to start the year off, so I think the schedule is kind of in our favor with more home games the second half, so I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
The Pacers will be home more, but the post-break schedule is no joke with Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando falling right in a row in early March. The Pacers need to come out of the gates firing on all pistons, and Paul George will be absolutely essential to any success they have over that tough stretch.
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