Desmond Mason a Candidate to Fill Denver's Wing-Position Need
That would be the wing position.
In free agency, the Nuggets lost starting shooting guard Dahntay Jones to Indiana and top reserve small forward Linas Kleiza to Greece. Then the NBA suspended J.R. Smith, the heir apparent as a starter to Jones, for next season's first seven games after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving in connection with a 2007 accident that killed a a passenger in his car.
Renaldo Balkman could be a candidate to play some small forward. But Balkman is in jeopardy of facing a suspension himself after being arrested recently on suspicion of driving under the influence. Unless he is eventually found innocent, two games is the NBA norm for such an incident.
When it comes to the wing position, it sounds as if the Nuggets are fighting off symptoms of the avian flu.
But help could be on the way. Roger Montgomery, the agent for free-agent swingman Desmond Mason, told FanHouse his client visited Denver earlier this week and there is "mutual interest'' between the parties in Mason possibly signing with the Nuggets.
"I think he'd bring a lot to the Nuggets. He's played for George [Karl] before, which is a big bonus,'' Montgomery said of Mason playing for the Nuggets coach when both were with Milwaukee in 2002-03. "Absolutely [Mason is] interested.''
Montgomery said one reason Mason visited Denver was for his knee to be checked out. Montgomery said Mason, who missed about half of last season with Oklahoma City due to a hyperextended right knee, has a "clean bill" of health.
During his visit, Mason chatted with Karl and vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien about how he might fit in with Denver.
Perimeter players the Nuggets also are looking at include small forward 6-foot-7 Wally Szczerbiak and shooting guard Ronald "Flip" Murray.
"We're still in discussions, but that's not something I want to go into with the media,'' Szczerbiak said in an interview with FanHouse about his dealings with the Nuggets. "We're communicating."
The cause of Murray, who is generously listed at 6-4, is not helped by his inability to play small forward, with Carmelo Anthony currently the only true small forward on Denver's roster.
Mason is 6-5 and can play both shooting guard and small forward. While he turns 32 in October and is coming off knee trouble, he presumably still has his hops.
"He could fit in very well with Chauncey Billups," said Montgomery, envisioning alley-oop passes thrown from the point guard to Mason, the 2001 NBA slam-dunk contest winner.
What the Nuggets do in filling their wing spot is one of the more intriguing NBA offseason questions left as teams are less than a month from the start of training camp. During their run to the Western Conference finals last spring, Jones played solid defense and Kleiza, while his postseason play was uneven, did score in double figures in three of the team's final five playoff games.
Even before Jones was lost, Karl said late last season Smith was in line to be next season's starter at shooting guard. If that becomes the case, with Smith no longer being a reserve and with Kleiza having departing, that really could hamper Denver's bench scoring.
Of course, banking on Afflalo is asking a lot. He has a two-year NBA scoring average of 4.3.
Mason, who is a more of a slasher than an outside shooter, has a nine-year NBA average of 12.2. He averaged 7.5 points in 39 games last season for the Thunder.
"The Nuggets are a championship-caliber team. ... So they're probably taking their time in making a big decision," Montgomery said of the Nuggets seeking a wing player. "It will come down to who they believe is the right fit."
Money could be a factor. The cost-watching Nuggets would prefer to sign such a player a minimum deal, although they do have their biannual exception worth $1.99 million available.
Montgomery doesn't believe dollars would be an obstacle in Mason landing in Denver. The agent said the most important matter is Mason finding a good home.
Or a good nest for this high-flying wingman.