Nuggets: Out with the old
The Associated Press
DENVER — The Denver Nuggets are banking on a big boost from an explosive 19-year-old point guard with a jumper that’s still a work in progress.
No pressure there, Emmanuel Mudiay.
Ready or not, the spot is all his after the team traded talented but troubled playmaker Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets earlier this week.
This has been an active offseason for the Nuggets as they try to alter their look and style after missing the postseason for a second straight year. To run the show, they hired no-nonsense head coach Michael Malone, who’s known for defense but plans to take advantage of the elevation in the Mile High City by letting his team run and run.
“We have a long way to go,” general manager Tim Connelly recently told reporters at the Pepsi Center. “But I think we have some foundational pieces to build off of.”
Namely, Mudiay, who was drafted seventh overall and basically made Lawson expendable. Especially after Lawson’s tumultuous year in which he was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence in January and a month later skipped the first practice after the All-Star break when he missed his flight back from Las Vegas.
Connelly hopes the split will be beneficial for Denver and Lawson, who recently entered a 30-day residential treatment program for alcohol after his second DUI arrest.
“Ty is dealing with some demons right now I’m certain he’ll overcome,” Connelly said. “Even though he’s not here, we’re fully supportive of him.
“We tried as best as possible to make an environment that could be conducive to Ty and the team. We had a lot of well-documented issues and it’s a failure on all ends. I’m hopeful for both parties we’re on to bigger and better things.”
Connelly is confident that Mudiay can handle the workload, even more so with veteran Jameer Nelson expected to back him up and lend guidance.
“There will be nights when [Mudiay] looks like a 19-year-old and hopefully nights he looks like one of the elite point guards in the league,” Connelly said.
That was certainly the case during the Summer League in Las Vegas. Mudiay showed flashes of his playmaking ability by averaging 12 points and 5.8 assists a game. At times, he struggled with his jumper, shooting 38.5 percent from the floor.
“What’s very unique about him and especially exciting is he wants to be great,” Connelly said. “He embraces the responsibility that comes with it. We’re not going to put too much pressure on him. We’re going to let it develop kind of organically.”
In the trade with Houston for Lawson, the Nuggets picked up Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni and Joey Dorsey, along with a lottery protected first-round pick in 2016. To some, the deal felt almost like the Nuggets were giving Lawson away for little return.
“I think there’s real value in some of the players we got and certainly a first-round pick. It’s hard to say it’s no value,” Connelly said. “We want to see how we get better.”
Precisely which of those players make the roster in 2015-16, well, Connelly prefers to “let the dust settle a little bit.”
“When you make a move as dramatic as moving your starting point guard, you want to take a deep breath, not make any emotional and rash decisions,” Connelly said. “We’re going to talk internally and figure out what’s the best approach.”
Closer to home, the Nuggets signed Wilson Chandler to a multi-year extension and are on the verge of agreeing to a two-year extension with Danilo Gallinari. The Italian forward averaged 12.4 points last season as he returned from a knee injury that kept him out for around 18 months.
“I am very confident that we are going in the right direction and we will start to win again,” Gallinari wrote in an email Wednesday.
A sentiment shared by Chandler. Shortly after his extension, Chandler posted a message to Nuggets fans on his Instagram account: “I tasted what it was like to win in this great city, and I’ve never been more focused to recapture that feeling.”
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