February 24, 2009 12:22 AM
Nuggets eye Smith, but Petro proves himself worthy
By Chris Tomasson
Rocky Mountain News
The Nuggets are searching for a big man.
Perhaps they found one in their locker room.
There wasn't much encouraging coming out of Monday's 114-76 walloping at the hands of Boston. But there was the play of center Johan Petro, who scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting and had 10 rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes while starting for the injured Nene.
While Petro's one game isn't likely to stall the Nuggets as they search for one more big man, at least it could provide some relief if they come up empty handed.
The Nuggets have been talking regularly with Mark Bartelstein, the agent for Mikki Moore, trying to get Moore to come to Denver. Moore was waived last Thursday by Sacramento and clears waivers today, but indications are he will sign with Boston.
Next on the big-man list is Oklahoma City's Joe Smith. The Nuggets are hoping his contract will be bought by Sunday's deadline for Smith to be on another team's playoff roster, although Smith has said he won't push for a buyout.
Still, there's a chance it could happen. If so, expect the Nuggets to work hard in an effort to land Smith. It doesn't hurt that he played with the Nuggets for the first two months of the 2006-07 season, and recently said he enjoyed his Denver experience.
If Smith becomes available, he's better than Moore. And one factor also could help the Nuggets land him.
Cleveland also would have interest in Smith. But, if Moore signs with Boston, that could make the Cavaliers less likely to get in a bidding war to keep Smith away from the Celtics, their East rival. They might not want to throw money all over the place if Smith's preference is Denver.
Of course, one problem could be the Nuggets aren't likely to offer more than the pro-rated minimum salary for Smith. If another suitor dips into its mid-level exception, that could spell trouble for Denver.
A source said the Nuggets want to add a player in the next week or so. While guard Sam Cassell, waived last week by Sacramento, remains in the mix, there are concerns Cassell, 39, hasn't played in a game this season and whether his leadership even would be needed at point guard with the Nuggets having an unchallenged head man there in Chauncey Billups.
As for a big man, if the Nuggets can't land one, at least there is increased confidence in Petro. Nuggets coach George Karl elected to start him against the Celtics because he believes Chris Andersen is more comfortable in a reserve role and he was hopeful Andersen would match up well against Boston's second unit.
Andersen didn't do a tremendous amount, totaling five points, four rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes. But Petro, acquired last month from Oklahoma City, sure looked as if he earned another start.
"He played pretty good minutes,'' Karl said.
Petro might have to keep doing that for a while. Nene suffered a bone bruise on his right knee Sunday at Milwaukee, and a source close to the situation said the most likely scenario is he'll be out two weeks.
But that's a lot better than what the Nuggets feared when Nene went down in a heap against the Bucks. Petro's play also was a lot better than many had anticipated.