February 26, 2009 10:50 PM
Nuggets looking at Mateen Cleaves
By Chris Tomasson
Rocky Mountain News
Some say 13 is an unlikely number. But don't count on the Nuggets' roster staying at that number for too long.
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Mark Warkentien is expected to be in California on Friday night to scout point guard Mateen Cleaves' game with the NBA Development League's Bakersfield Jam. The Nuggets are considering signing Cleaves, although nothing figures to happen this week.
The Nuggets are likely to wait and see if any attractive players are bought out by Sunday's deadline to maintain playoff eligibility. They're holding out hope of Oklahoma City buying out forward Joe Smith, but that continues to appear an unlikely scenario.
If nobody of interest becomes available, Nuggets officials will regroup, with the signing of Cleaves a possibility.
With Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter the only point guards on Denver's roster, the Nuggets would like to add a third for the homestretch of the season. Although such a player might not play much, he could be invaluable in spelling Billups, 32, and Carter, 33, in practices. And, of course, such a point guard could play garbage minutes during blowouts.
The Nuggets long have liked Cleaves, a consummate professional. They considered signing him late in the 2006-07 season before instead going with Carter. And Cleaves was in Denver's training camp last fall.
Cleaves recently had a hamstring injury, but has come back strong in the past week. But Warkentien wants to scout him for an update on how he's doing.
Cleaves, 31, hasn't played in the NBA since he was with Seattle in 2005-06. He has NBA averages of 3.6 points and 1.9 points from 2000-06.
Warkentien has had great success over the years signing players late in the season for the remainder of that campaign and with a nonguaranteed option for the following season. Doing that, he was able to use Howard Eisley to acquire J.R. Smith in 2006 and Bobby Jones to acquire Renaldo Balkman last summer. It's possible Cleaves could end up signing such a deal with the Nuggets.
NO BYNUM, NO PROBLEM?: Some have wondered how the Lakers might do after losing center Andrew Bynum to a knee injury last month that could sideline him for the rest of season.
Nuggets coach George Karl sees no reason to worry. Karl, whose team plays host Friday night to the Lakers, believes the Lakers are better without Bynum.
"Don't you have to make the statement that maybe they're better without Bynum?'' Karl said on Thursday. "Why do we always say Bynum? How many games has he played for this team? I like Bynum. I think he's a great player. But sometimes you can have too much talent out there and it can kind of be confusing.''
Karl knows a bit more about the Lakers than your typical NBA coach. His son, Coby Karl, played for them last season when they made it to the NBA Finals despite Bynum having been lost for the season midway through the campaign with a knee injury.
ETC.: Nuggets center Steven Hunter, who hasn't played this season due to knee surgery, said he's progressing well. He hopes to return to practice in a few weeks... The Nuggets had Thursday what Karl called a "maintenance day.'' Players came in, but there was no practice. They did weightlifting and got treatment... The Nuggets announced Thursday they won't raise ticket prices for season-ticket holders who renew by April 6. Nuggets tickets will range from $10 to $135 if locked in by that date.