Linas Kleiza to Nuggets: Don't Match Offer Sheet
Kleiza, who was with the Nuggets from 2005-09 before becoming a restricted free agent last summer and leaving to play last season in Greece, said the offer sheet he signed with Toronto is for $18.8 million over four years.
"I want to play with Toronto,'' the forward said in a phone interview with FanHouse. "I hope things work out and (the Nuggets) allow me to do that.''
Kleiza opted out of the $6 million he was due next season with Olympiakos a week before the July 15 deadline. Kleiza's agent, Bill Duffy, expects the Nuggets to have the offer sheet delivered Friday by courier. They then will have seven days to decide whether to match.
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien declined comment when asked about Kleiza's situation and the chances the offer could be matched. Kleiza said the first year of his contract is for about $5 million, meaning it's front loaded to hamper the chances of Denver matching.
Kleiza said "of course it's a big factor'' that the Nuggets have Carmelo Anthony starting at small forward, which is Kleiza's natural position. He also likes how he would fit in with the Raptors.
"I'm excited about the opportunity,'' Kleiza, a native of Lithuania, said of hopefully playing for Toronto. "It's a young team. I don't know who they might get to replace Chris Bosh (who left as a free agent for Miami). But there's a lot of good young players and young European players. There's a lot of potential.''
The Nuggets last month extended Kleiza a $2.7 million qualifying offer, but that was just to keep him a restricted free agent. He said he got no offers from Denver.
"I haven't talked to anybody with the Nuggets,'' he said.
In an interview with FanHouse last week, Kleiza said he was considering returning to the NBA and expressed no problems about a possible return to Denver. He was asked why he has changed his tune.
"I'm just excited about this situation,'' Kleiza said of the Raptors. "Denver is a place I've already been.''
Indications are it's more likely the Nuggets, not in the mood to go further over the luxury tax and their offseason priority being signing a big man, won't match the offer sheet. However, it's still not out of the question they might.
The Nuggets have liked Kleiza over the years. They were close to signing him to a four-year, $25 million contract extension until the deal was pulled off the table at the last instant in October 2008 when the Nuggets were on the verge of trading for Chauncey Billups and taking on additional salary.
Duffy said he doesn't know what the Nuggets will do. But he hopes they will "respect the wishes'' of his client and not match because Toronto is "where he wants to play.''
Duffy also represents Denver point guard Anthony Carter, a free agent. Duffy is optimistic Carter, who wants to return to the Nuggets, will end up signing another minimum contract with them.
"I'm hopeful,'' Duffy said. "There's been mutual interest (in Carter returning to the Nuggets).''
The Raptors considered signing Kleiza to an offer sheet last summer before he got the two-year, $12 million Greek contract. Kleiza said the deal this time was put together quickly earlier this week.
"There's been interest for a while and it finally came together,'' Kleiza said. "I flew (to Toronto on Wednesday) took my physical and signed.''
Kleiza, who said he will fly back to Lithuania on Friday, said his situation being settled by next week means he plans to play for his homeland in the World Championships later this summer in Turkey.
"It would be an honor,'' said Kleiza, who represented the fourth-place nation at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "I hope to.''
What Kleiza doesn't hope is that the Nuggets match the offer sheet.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson