Stein: Denver Nuggets exploring Marcus Smart trade

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have reported interest in Marcus Smart, but the Celtics want a first rounder for him

Marc Stein of the New York Times reported Monday that the Denver Nuggets have explored a trade for Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.

Emmanuel Mudiay was the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, and has seen his minutes decrease in each of his first three seasons. He is a career 32% three point shooter and has had his struggles on the defensive end, leading to Denver going with Jamal Murray as their main ball handler.

Smart is sidelined for the next two weeks with a right hand laceration, and has continued to struggle from the outside, hitting just under 36% from the field and 30% from three on the year.

There have been multiple reports around Smart in the last week, including that the Celtics would be willing to listen to an offer for Smart if they received a first round pick. The rumors were reported due to Smart’s upcoming restricted free agency, while a separate report suggests that Smart won’t make more than a mid-level exception.

Reminder that the trade deadline is this Thursday, February 8th at 3 p.m. EST.

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The Broncos Have To Tread Carefully With Kirk Cousins

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With Kansas City dealing Alex Smith to Washington, the first domino in the 2018 quarterback market has fallen.

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The Smith trade leaves little doubt that Kirk Cousins will be an open and viable option, whether by trade or free agency, when the new league year opens in March.

Per multiple sources, the Denver Broncos are aggressively pursuing Cousins, even now.

Similar to the Redskins deal for Smith, the Broncos could orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal with Washington, which would allow Denver to negotiate with the Redskins on a contract extension for Cousins, and would also allow them to avoid direct contact with the player.

But the Broncos will have to tread carefully. Why?

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Murray failed to score (0-4 FG) in a 106-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, but still provided 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

The zero obviously looks suspicious, but the fact that he provided such elite peripheral statistics truly shows that Murray has taken the jump. That’s why Greg Popovich trusts him, as he can produce without scoring. That’s a rare trend from such a young player, but its really shown since he’s taken over this starting point guard job. In fact, Murray is averaging 10.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks across his last six games

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The Denver Nuggets’ point guard situation is already decidedly less-than-ideal, but it’s about to get a whole heck of a lot worse.

Make of this what you will: The best point guard on the Denver Nuggets‘ roster is Will Barton.

You could fight me on it, to which I’d respond that Barton’s assist percentage is third-best on the team (and 5.7 percent better than Jamal Murray’s), trailing only Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay. Meanwhile, Barton’s turnover percentage is 6.7 percent lower than Mudiay’s. Barton is, of course, a far more efficient and prolific scorer than Mudiay as well.

You could marvel at how far Barton’s come, and you’d be right to do so. Barton was an afterthought for two and a half years in Portland, firmly entrenched on the fringes of the league. In Denver, he’s blossomed. Barton’s elevated his 3-point percentage from 19.8 percent with Portland to 34.9 percent with Denver, his true shooting percentage from 44.8 to 53.8 percent, and his assist percentage from 11.7 to 16.5 percent.

You could be slightly horrified by the state of the point guard position in Denver. Again, this would be a reasonable response. The Nuggets have invested heavily in point guards, spending top-seven picks on both Mudiay and Murray within the last three years. Mudiay has struggled immensely, and the logical assumption would be that he and Denver’s long-term plans at the position have very little to do with each other. Murray is, at least, a useful player, but his position is nebulous.

Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Barton is in the final year of his contract, earning just $3.5 million. He’s due for a healthy raise. At first glance, it looks as if the Nuggets should be able to dole out that raise. They possess Barton’s Bird Rights, and they only have $111.8 million committed next year, comfortably under the $123 million luxury tax threshold.

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Due to a quirk in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Nuggets actually have nowhere near $11.2 million of breathing room under the tax, because Nikola Jokic, as a former second round selection, is subject to different rules than most players on their rookie contracts.

Former first round picks enter restricted free agency following the expiration of their four-year rookie scale contracts. Second round picks, meanwhile, become restricted free agents if they enter free agency with three or fewer years of NBA service. If they have four or more years of experience, they enter unrestricted free agency, in which the incumbent team does not have first right of refusal.

This is Jokic’s third year of service. The Nuggets have a $1.6 million team option for Jokic’s fourth season. To maintain first right of refusal and not risk losing him, the Nuggets will decline Jokic’s mind-bogglingly cheap option and elect to pay him handsomely.

I’m going to work under two assumptions: 1) The Nuggets will offer Jokic a maximum contract 2) The Nuggets intend to stay under the luxury tax. As a 0-6 year veteran, Jokic’s max will start at around $25.3 million a year. To do both, the Nuggets will have to remove salary through trades. Making additional commitments will not be an option, which is why Barton will be playing elsewhere in 2018-19.

The Nuggets have two realistic options, and they’re equally unattractive. They can accept that Barton’s leaving after this year and push for the playoffs with their best point guard on the roster, or they can be proactive, move on from Barton, and likely move on from playoff contention. Aren’t you glad you’re not Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly?

As the trade deadline approaches, don’t look for the Nuggets to do anything radical. Rather, look for them to prepare for the future. Look for them to dump money (most likely one of Darrell Arthur or Kenneth Faried) in preparation for Jokic’s impending free agency. Look for them to begin the hunt for Will Barton’s replacement, because even if Barton remains in Denver through the deadline, the Nuggets will need a new cost-controlled, backup floor general next year.

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Say goodbye to the center median on the 16th Street Mall. Say hello to more trees and more space for pedestrians on the sidewalks along the iconic downtown transitway.

That’s the recommendation from the city of Denver and the Regional Transportation District, released Wednesday morning, as urban planners ramp up a multiyear effort to overhaul one of the city’s most heavily used and highly visited thoroughfares.

The redesign plan for the original stretch of the 35-year-old mall, which runs from Broadway northwest to Market Street, could break ground next year and wrap up in 2022. The cost: anywhere from $90 million to $130 million.

“To so many people, 16th Street is Denver’s main street,” said Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for Denver’s community planning and development department. “So it’s really important we get this right.”

Image courtesy of the City and County of Denver and the Regional Transportation District

The city has been considering three options for a mall redesign and held public meetings this past fall to gather feedback on those ideas. Burns said getting rid of the median between Tremont Place and Arapahoe Street and keeping the free mall shuttles side by side in the center of 16th Street in that stretch would be an important step toward improving pedestrian safety.

“What we’ve heard is that the pedestrian spaces are constrained,” Burns said. “And what we’ve seen is that the median is underused. It doesn’t feel safe in the median, it doesn’t feel welcoming because you are surrounded by buses on both sides.”

The recommended plan would place trees and lamp posts between the sidewalks and the mall shuttles, providing a “physical and visual buffer” between people and buses, Burns said. It would also open up more space for outdoor seating opportunities at restaurants along the mall.

Some older trees would have to be removed from the mall in order to complete the redesign but Burns said new ones would be brought in, increasing the total number of trees from around 150 today to more than 200 at completion. She also said the tree replacement strategy would include different kinds of trees instead of just one type of tree that dominates the mall’s landscape today.

While the changes to the mall would be significant, especially along the middle segment where the median would be removed, planners decided to retain the “rattlesnake” pattern of black, gray and red-hued granite pavers on the mall — a hallmark of I.M. Pei’s design from 1982 — in the plan released Wednesday.

“It’s very important to us and the historic (preservation) community to keep that pattern,” Burns said.

It’s too early to tell whether some of the pavers in place now would be refurbished and reinstalled or whether new stone would have to be brought in, she said.

Changes would also be made to the mall’s “compromised sub-layer,” giving the city a chance to upgrade underground utilities, like drainage, electric and fiberoptic lines for the first time in more than three decades.

Construction, which is bound to be disruptive in a corridor that sees more than 40,000 shuttle riders a day, will likely happen in phases to keep impacts to a minimum, Burns said. Funding still needs to be identified for the overhaul, though at least $13 million should be available from the $937 million bond that Denver voters passed in November. Burns said federal funding and money from tax increment financing will also go toward paying for the project.

Because federal dollars were used for the original building of the mall 35 years ago, any modifications must undergo a National Environmental Policy Act review and a cultural resources evaluation. That process is expected to wrap up this summer.

The city will hold two open houses on March 8 to solicit public feedback on the plan.

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Kansas City police are investigating a double shooting that left a man dead and a woman hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Sunday.

The shooting occurred shortly before 11:30 a.m. in the 2700 block of Denver Avenue.

Police officers were in the area when they heard gunshots, according to police. Officers drove to the scene, where they found a man and a woman inside a parked car. Both had been shot.

The gunfire left at least 16 bullet holes in the driver side door of the white Dodge sedan.

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The man and woman were both taken to a hospital, where the man died. The woman is being treated for life-threatening injuries.

Police said they had no suspect information.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Kansas City Police Department Homicide Unit or the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.

Ian Cummings: 816-234-4633, @Ian__Cummings

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Bellevue West’s Chucky Hepburn’s 40 points against Omaha Westside in December are the most ever by a freshman in Class A.

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Denver school district officials are proposing to cut as many as 50 central office jobs next year while increasing the funding schools get to educate the poorest students, as part of their effort to send more of the district’s billion-dollar budget directly to schools.

Most of the staff reductions would occur in the centrally funded special education department, which stands to lose about 30 positions that help schools serve students with disabilities, as well as several supervisors, according to a presentation of highlights of a preliminary budget.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he met with some of the affected employees last week to let them know before the school hiring season starts next month. That would allow them, he said, to apply for similar positions at individual schools.

The reductions are needed, officials said, because of rising costs, even as the district is expected to receive more state funding in 2018-19. State lawmakers are poised to consider several plans this year to shore up Colorado’s pension system, all of which would require Denver Public Schools to contribute millions more toward teacher retirement.

The district will also pay more in teacher salaries as a result of a new contract that includes raises for all teachers, and bonuses for those who teach in high-poverty schools.

In addition, the district is projected to lose students over the next several years as rising housing prices in the gentrifying city push out low-income families. Fewer students will mean less state funding, and fewer poor students will mean a reduction in federal money the district receives to help educate them. It is expected to get $600,000 less in so-called Title I funding next year.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit chalkbeat.org/co.

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Denver Post file This 2014 file photo shows the view from the tenth-floor of the upscale apartment building Verve at Delgany Street in downtown Denver.

Inflation in Denver-Boulder-Greeley accelerated 3.7 percent in the second half of last year, its fastest pace in a decade, according to a report Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The gain in the Consumer Price Index for Denver-Boulder-Greeley is the most in the second half of a year since a 4.1 percent increase in the second half of 2008. Last year it rose 2.6 percent in the second half.

For the year, consumer prices rose 3.4 percent, the most since a 3.7 percent gain in 2011 and before that a 3.9 percent gain in 2008. In 2016, inflation ran at 2.8 percent and in 2015 at 1.2 percent.

Consumer inflation was running at a 2.1 percent nationally in December.

Rising rents and housing costs have contributed to higher inflation since about 2013, but last year, especially in the second half, escalating energy costs were the big driver.

A 13.8 percent spike in gasoline costs helped push up spending on energy 8.9 percent over the two periods. Electricity and natural gas costs also moved higher.

The cost of shelter rose 4.9 percent in the second half, down from a 7 percent pace a year ago. Rent, a key component of shelter, was up 4.2 percent in the second half and 4.6 percent for the year.

That’s a moderation from the 6 percent plus rent increases seen every year starting in 2013.

The cost of eating away from home rose 5 percent, while the cost of eating at home rose 2.2 percent. Even clothing costs, which seemed unable to escape a deflationary spiral, rose 3.4 percent in the second half of the year.

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Tremont Waters talks game-winning shot

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We here at CBS Sports have once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award. Every Tuesday throughout the regular season, we’ll be posting a Freshman of the Week winner in addition to our Frosh Watch, which is a ranking of the top 10 most statistically impressive freshmen in men’s Division I college basketball. This weekly feature will work hand in hand with the Tisdale committee and the USBWA. The winner of the award will be announced in March, and a ceremony for all USBWA honors will take place in early April. The cycle for Freshman of the Week consideration starts on Tuesdays and ends Monday nights.

It’s been an interesting week to evaluate the best first-year players in college hoops. No one was massively dominant, but there were some close performances. Trae Young’s numbers were good, again, but if you watched his performance vs. West Virginia, you know that he didn’t play well. So our Freshman of the Week comes from the Pac-12 — and proves this year’s point-guard class is nearly as deep as last season’s stacked group.

A new face to the program. If you’re unfamiliar with Wright, the 6-foot point guard helped bring Colorado to a flash of national recognition thanks to the Buffaloes pulling off a home sweep against the Arizona schools last Thursday and Saturday. First was a win over No. 4 Arizona State, then came a pushback on 14th-ranked Arizona. The win over ASU was the first time since 2003 Colorado beat a team ranked in the top five.

Colorado had never defeated top-15 opponents in consecutive games. Without Wright, it wouldn’t have been possible. In the two games he averaged 17.5 points on 50 percent shooting, had 7.5 assists and was 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. Wright was pivotal in overtime against ASU. Had he not been on the floor, the Buffaloes could’ve come undone. What was particularly impressive about the Arizona State game was how good Wright looked against Sun Devil Tra Holder, who’s unquestionably been one of the 10 most impressive and consistent players in college basketball through the first half of the season.

Against Arizona Wright went for 16 points and 10 assists, landing his third double-double of the season. Pretty solid for the Minnesota native who was recruited out of Big Ten territory.

In light of that, Sean Miller’s playful barb at his brother, Indiana coach Archie Miller, is worth noting. Following Arizona’s loss to Colorado, Sean Miller said: "McKinley Wright is one of the most impressive guards we have faced. My brother recruited him and he must be one of the dumbest coaches in college basketball to not have him as part of his program."

With this performance, and given his increasingly strong play over the past month, Wright has cracked the Frosh Watch below.

Boulder’s still buzzing after that wild weekend.S/O to @kin_wright25 for taking home this week’s #Pac12Hoops Player of the Week honor for @CUBuffsMBB. 🏀 https://t.co/JrWzy8Fdhkpic.twitter.com/eu5v4iu2GV

— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) January 8, 2018

Here are the top 10 freshman performers in college basketball from the start of the season until now.

On Saturday, West Virginia set out to do exactly what it wanted to do: It got in Young’s head, forced him into a season-high eight turnovers, and made the frontrunner for national Player and Freshman of the Year look flustered and discombobulated. And after all that, Young still finished with 29 points. He still had five assists. He still was above average vs. most other freshmen. By the way, that 89-76 loss to WVU was preceded by a 109-89 home win over Oklahoma State. Young was one rebound away from a triple double (27/10/9). But he had six turnovers in that game, too. His usage, and Oklahoma’s number of possessions, will inflate his turnovers. To this point, it hasn’t cost Oklahoma dearly (despite his eight giveaways vs. WVU, Oklahoma still would have lost if Young only had, say, two turnovers), but it’s probably the biggest flaw in his game right now.

Next game: Tuesday vs. Texas Tech.

Another really good week for the Bahamian. Averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 rebounds — and it should have been more. Ayton had only two fouls, played 32 minutes in the Colorado loss yet was not bing utilized as much as he could have been. He probably should ahve finished with 36 instead of 26 points. You know, Marvin Bagley III’s been in that 3 spot of the Frosh Watch for a month now — and he’s been playing well and putting up good numbers. But it’s a testament to Ayton’s dominance and improved defensive cognitive ability that Bagley can’t leapfrog him. Ayton has shot under 50 percent in a game only once this season, Dec. 5 vs. Texas A&M.

Next game: Thursday vs. Oregon State.

Bagley had 31 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks against NC State — and it’s like it didn’t even matter. The Wolfpack beat Duke on Saturday 96-85, and though Bagley was typically efficient, the team’s defense wiped out much of what he did. His individual defense was good, not great. There were a few times where he had angles and leverage in space but still got beat. Mike Krzyzewski’s got two things to address and tweak immediately. The first and obvious issue is team communication on defense. The second is if he wants to keep using Bagley the way he has been. It’s worked a lot, but it might be time for Bagley to play off Grayson Allen more. If those two really find a common energy, then Duke makes a push to No. 1 again.

Next game: Wednesday at Pittsburgh.

Rinse and repeat for McCoy, who would be getting five times as much publicity if he was putting up the types of numbers we see now but instead doing it in the Pac-12. UNLV went 1-1 last week; McCoy had 23 in both games. We’re approaching the point where I don’t think anyone in the Mountain West can actually match up with him — meaning his averages are likely to go up. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him post 25 and 15 on Air Force later this week.

Next game: Wednesday at Air Force.

This is how Waters got LSU a road win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Easily one of the three most ridiculous shots of the season.

Waters is banging on the door for No. 4 on the Frosh Watch. He continues to make wowing plays in almost every game. He came close to winning Freshman of the Week this week, too. In the loss to Kentucky he had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Against Texas A&M, Waters had 21 points, five boards, four assists and five turnovers. He is absolutely on the short list — call it a top 10 — of the must-see players in college hoops.

Next game: Wednesday at Arkansas.

Averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals last week, but Alabama lost 76-75 at Vanderbilt, then took a miserable 65-46 loss at Georgia. Sexton continues to put up good numbers, but if we want to start asking why he’s unable to be a team-changing point guard, that’s fair. I don’t think we should put Alabama’s 9-6 record on him, because he does a lot of good, but it is interesting that Sexton and the talent around him haven’t been able to maintain top-30 status in the sport. The Crimson Tide are destined for the bubble.

Cole put up 31.0 points and 7.5 assists in his two games last week, but Howard dropped both. First was a road loss at Florida A&M, then cam a home overtime defeat to Bethune-Cookman over the weekend. Cole continues to be a high-volume scorer but also a willing distributor. It’s fair to assume 98 percent of the people reading this Frosh Watch have never seen Cole dribble a basketball, but I assure you he’s worthy of this list. His team is bad, but he’s a high-usage player out of necessity. I keep waiting for him to hit 40.

Next game: Saturday at South Carolina State.

Texas fell 69-60 at Baylor on Saturday, but Bamba wasn’t the reason. He had 15 points, nine boards, five blocks and sank a 3 in quasi-transition at a point when Texas needed that kind of bucket. The Longhorns are still figuring things out at this point, even with Bamba, but it is undeniable that he’s a better, more fluid player now than what we saw at PK80.

9. McKinley Wright IV, ColoradoKey stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apgLast week: N/R

How rare is it to see a Colorado freshman be this good? The last time a Buffaloes newbie won the league’s Player of the Week honor it came in 1995 (Chauncey Billups), when Colorado was in the Big Eight — now known as the Big 12.

Wright’s only 6 feet tall, if that, but he’s got to be considered a fringe NBA prospect already. Certainly at least a two-year player, maybe three, but he’s got a lot of "it" to him. Currently he’s at 5.3 assists per game, tied for second in the Pac-12. His 84 dimes through the first 16 games of his career already put him in the top 10 in program history for first-year assists. He needs 144 to break Billups’ freshman record.

Knox’s teammate, Hamidou Diallo, fell out of the Watch this week. Now Knox is clinging to the 10 spot after going 1-of-9 with six points and four fouls in Kentucky’s 76-65 loss at Tennessee on Saturday night. He has a lot of potential, is Kentucky’s best player, but cannot make the leap to A-level player. At least, he hasn’t yet. I do think it will happen. I’m wondering if moving him full-time to power forward wouldn’t be better for him, and UK, right now. With a lot of concern regarding Kentucky’s lack of pizzazz and power this season, it’s worth noting that the program has never had a freshman ranked this low in the Frosh Watch. There’s almost always a UK guy in the top five. Now Knox is wrapping up the list. If that doesn’t change, Kentucky isn’t winning the SEC.

Next game: Tuesday vs. Texas A&M.

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