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The Nuggets Get It



The eighth seed in the NBA is a dead end game, especially in the Western Conference. Shooting for it means you’re out of the draft lottery, losing any hope of moving up towards a talented class of rookies. You’re also destined for a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of Golden State or San Antonio. There’s no real hope here, per se.

Yet, here are the Denver Nuggets, going for it. The six team race for the seed has narrowed to two, as the 33-35 Nuggets sit two games up on feisty Portland in the loss column, with Dallas and Minnesota holding on by a thread. By strength of schedule, this will likely come down to two Pacific Northwest franchises — a Blazers team who finally found their big man in Jusuf Nurkic, and a Nuggets team who’ve finally found an identity.

It seems like forever since the Nuggets have been relevant, or even remotely interesting for that matter. Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York in 2011, and that enormous trade was really the last time a national audience discussed basketball in Denver.

They haven’t had a household name since, with guys like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried as their ticket sellers. They had a brief flirtation with success thanks to George Karl and some unknown GM named Masai Ujiri in the 57-win 2012-13 season — but they quickly fell from heights, as so many Karl teams do. Other than that shining moment, it’s been a wash in Mile High City.


Understanding the Opportunity

Ujiri’s successor Tim Connelly, though, is no longer sitting on his thumbs. He and Denver’s management understand what’s needed to win in the NBA, and they’ve got a roster and salary malleable enough to acquire a superstar. Denver’s $83.4 million in committed salary this year is the third-lowest in the NBA, and they have just $34 million committed for 2018-19. Their young core talent of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Emmanuel Mudiay aren’t off their rookie deals until 2019-2020. Only Philadelphia and Sacramento have less money committed long-term.

The Nuggets may be the best team situated money-wise to get a max deal and make a run next season, and they know it. They get their situation. Their unique mix of good young players, expiring assets, and salary cap space is something other NBA organizations would salivate for.

So they’ve shopped around. Last summer, they almost pulled off the heist of the decade: coaxing Dwyane Wade away from Miami by offering him a stunning $52 million for two years. It was higher than his ask, and apparently tempted him enough to sit down for a meeting. While Wade eventually chose his hometown, free agency meetings tend to follow in suit, and it’s not a small deal that a generational talent nearly chose a market like Denver.

Then, at the trade deadline, Connelly tried again. According to reports, he offered the house, furniture, and the shingles for DeMarcus Cousins — willing to part with everyone except Murray and Jokic. When the Kings stuck on Murray’s inclusion, the deal fell apart. Still, such a trade wouldn’t have been without short-term risk for the Nuggets. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari would have been included for salary reasons, both significant factors in the Nuggets’ playoff hunt. A Cousins swap may have resulted in the flux state we see in New Orleans today, as both sides figure each other out. The next two years, though? That Cousins-Jokic potential was enough for Connelly to swing for the fences.

It’s fairly obvious that the Nuggets are happy where they are, but are playing for home court seeding in 2018-19. The biggest reason behind this is their secret weapon — they knew about him before the world did — Nikola Jokic.


The Breakout of Jokic

Jokic has gone from unknown to superstar in three months flat. Unlike last summer, when Wade was being sold on a developing roster, the Nuggets are now in a position to sell free agents on Jokic and Jokic alone.

The second year centre is averaging 16.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. His stats don’t speak to his attractive nature of play, though, as he’s quickly become one of the best passing big men in the league — especially in transition.

His passing has helped the Nuggets become the league’s fifth best offense, playing the fourth-highest pace of teams in playoff seeding. They move the ball well, have multiple ball-handlers, and shooters all over the place — even Jokic himself.

While there’s still growth and reliability needed for the big man, he’s a unique selling factor in today’s NBA. Incoming talent recognizes his selfless nature, knowing that they can come in and work seamlessly. This isn’t a bullheaded centre. Jokic plays with a unique joy, one that’s made him beloved by those who watch the Nuggets play.

With Jokic in hand, and a general manager in Tim Connelly who understands his team’s window, the Nuggets are on the right path to taking the next step. A first-round playoff series would provide valuable internal development, and set them up nicely for a big acquisition this summer.


John is a sports writer hailing from the flat part of Canada. He's an editor and podcast host at SB Nation's Raptors HQ, with other sports work published in The Classical. As a freelance reporter, he's covered sports at every level in Winnipeg: from the NHL's Jets and CFL's Blue Bombers, to CIS basketball and hockey at both major universities. In his spare time, John writes too seriously about music and posts good-to-okay photography on Instagram.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary



What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Something Out of Nothing



It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers



Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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