Linas Kleiza Open to Returning to NBA
The 6-foot-8 forward played with the Nuggets from 2005-09 before becoming a restricted free agent last summer. He bolted to Greece to sign a two-year, $12 million deal with Olympiakos, but he remains a Denver restricted free agent.
Kleiza could opt out of his contract by July 15 and return to the NBA for next season. He said in a telephone interview Wednesday with FanHouse that he hasn't ruled that out.
"I still like it in Greece, but I have until July 15 to come back to the NBA,'' Kleiza said. "If a good situation comes along (it would be considered).''
Would Kleiza, a native of Lithuania, be willing to re-sign with Denver?
"If it was the right situation for me, it would be very nice to come back,'' said Kleiza, speaking about the possibility of returning either next season or for 2011-12 to the Nuggets if he stays in Greece and becomes a free agent next summer.
Kleiza said his agent, Bill Duffy, will be looking into his situation until the July 15 deadline for Kleiza to pick up his option next season for $6 million. If a suitable NBA multi-year contract were to surface, it would be something for Kleiza to consider. If it was with a team other than the Nuggets, Kleiza could sign it and Denver would have seven days to match.
The Nuggets last week tendered Kleiza a $2.7 million qualifying offer to keep him a restricted free agent. Kleiza said he would not return to the Nuggets on a one-year deal for $2.7 million, which would be less than half of what he's making in Greece.
But what if the Nuggets again were to offer Kleiza a four-year, $25 million deal? They had that offer on the table before it was pulled off by Denver owner Stan Kroenke just before the Oct. 31, 2008 deadline for Kleiza to sign a contract extension because the Nuggets were about to trade for Chauncey Billups and take on salary in future years.
"If they will, we can talk,'' Kleiza said of that offer again being presented by the Nuggets. "But I don't have a deal in front of me.''
Kleiza averaged 8.3 points in his four Denver seasons. He has fond memories of going from a sparingly used rookie to a rotation player who had a 41-point game against Utah on Jan. 17, 2008.
"I loved playing for the Nuggets,'' Kleiza said. "It was a great four years. ... I love Denver. I watched those guys play (last season on television). But it's a business.''
It's a tough economy, but Kleiza has improved his game since heading to Greece. He led the Euroleague in scoring last season with a 17.9 average and steered Olympiakos to a Euroleague runner-up finish.
"I think that I've better developed my inside game,'' said Kleiza, who played in high school in Maryland and at the University of Missouri.
Kleiza's true position is small forward, which is manned in Denver by Carmelo Anthony. But he can slide to power forward at times, and the Nuggets need help there. Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen both had offseason knee surgery.
Kleiza declined to say if he is leaning in any direction about any NBA return next season, which is understandable since he doesn't know what offers might come his way. But if Kleiza returns to Greece next season, he again would consider a return to the NBA.
For now, also on Kleiza's mind is this summer's World Championships in Turkey. He said he "probably'' will play for Lithuania, which finished fourth in the 2008 Olympics.
If he goes to Turkey, Kleiza figures to run into several of his former Denver teammates. Billups and Carmelo Anthony could be playing for Team USA, Nene will suit up for Brazil and Renaldo Balkman likely will represent Puerto Rico.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson