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BeitragVerfasst: 14.08.2018, 11:16 
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Nikola Jokic and Will Barton grew up worlds apart.

Their paths Minkah Fitzpatrick Jersey , though, followed a similar route to a big payday with the Denver Nuggets. Jokic signed a max contract worth around $147 million for five seasons, and Barton returned on a four-year deal that could earn him more than $50 million.

As bench players a few years ago, Barton made a comment that stuck with his center.

”He called us Kobe and Shaq,” Jokic recounted Monday at a news conference for the pair. ”We kind of grew together.”

Bonded by similar roads.

From Serbia, Jokic was a second-round pick by Denver in 2014 (41st overall) – a 6-foot-10 project who needed to lose about 30 pounds. He did and has blossomed into one of the top big men in the league.

From Baltimore, Barton was a second-round pick by Portland in 2012 (40th overall) – a sharp-shooter buried on the Blazers’ bench and just needing a chance. He got one when Denver traded for him and became a versatile reserve player/occasional starter.

”I don’t think we are a team that can follow other archetypes in how teams are built,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained. ”We have to find and develop guys. We have to find and develop guys who want to be here long term.”

Jokic is an unassuming star in the making. His 10 triple-doubles last season were the most in a single season for a Nuggets player since Fat Lever in 1987-88. In addition, Jokic is the fifth player in NBA history with 3,000 or more points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in their first three seasons, joining names such as Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Maurice Stokes and Sidney Wicks.

”To see how quickly he’s made the jump and how comfortable he is producing against the elite of the league, it’s something I’ve never seen,” Connelly said. ”He’s one of the best players in the NBA.”

The spotlight really isn’t his thing. He’d much rather be back home in Serbia this time of year, where his routine goes something like this: Work out, lunch, go to the stables to check on his two horses and then work out some more. He doesn’t like the attention.

”He’s got this huge contract and life-changing money and everything, but he’s going to still be with his horses, still wear sweat pants, even though we tell him to wear a button-up shirt Carlton Davis Buccaneers Jersey ,” cracked his brother, Nemanja. ”He feels comfortable. I don’t think anything is going to change about it.”

It won’t. Connelly and Barton were recently talking about that very subject.

”I’ve never seen a guy less enthused about a contract this big – and I say that in a positive sense,” Connelly said.

Jokic even said as much with Josh Kroenke, the vice chairman of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, flanked to his right.

”When I was younger, my dream was not to sign a big contract. My dream was to have fun and win big games, some championships,” Jokic said. ”Winning is the most important thing.”

The Nuggets are coming off a season in which they won 46 games, but the season came down to a winner-take-all scenario in Minnesota, where the Nuggets came up short in overtime to miss out on the playoffs. Jokic is trying to help the Nuggets reach the postseason for the first time since 2012-13 – an even more difficult task with LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

”We’re not too worried about what anybody else is doing,” Kroenke said. ”We’re worried about what we’re doing and our process of winning. We started to hit on a few of those things last couple of years. A very underrated aspect of sports is continuity. These guys having played for several years now, that’s only going to benefit us.”

Especially the bond between Jokic and Barton, who was acquired in a trade with Portland on Feb. 19, 2015. Barton averaged 15.7 points, five rebounds and 4.1 assists as he alternated between coming off the bench and being a starter.

A big reason he elected to stay in Denver was coach Michael Malone not trying to rein him in.

”Coach Malone lets me be me as a player,” Barton said. ”The style of play I have, a lot of coaches are scared of that, and they won’t let me be me. Coach Malone never boxed me in.

”I knew this is where I wanted to be.”




JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-7)

OPEN CAMP: July 26, Jacksonville

LAST YEAR: Earned first postseason berth since 2007 and made surprising run to AFC championship game, when Jaguars led New England by 10 points in fourth quarter before losing 24-20. Rode one of league’s top defenses – featuring Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey – to most successful season in nearly two decades. RB Leonard Fournette and LT Cam Robinson, both rookies Sam Darnold Jersey , helped Jacksonville lead league in rushing.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: All-Pro LG Andrew Norwell, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, CB D.J. Hayden, WRs Donte Moncrief and DJ Chark.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, LB Paul Posluszny, CB Aaron Colvin, TE Marcedes Lewis, RB Chris Ivory, LG Patrick Omameh.

CAMP NEEDS: Stay healthy. Develop chemistry between QB Blake Bortles and revamped receiving corps that features newcomers Moncrief, Chark and Seferian-Jenkins. Bolster running game – Norwell should help – that faltered late last season, especially in playoffs. Stout defense returns 10 of 11 starters, which should allow coordinator Todd Wash to make seamless tweaks to stunts, blitzes and coverages to become more diverse.

EXPECTATIONS: With nearly every key starter and entire coaching staff back, Jaguars expect to be AFC contenders in Doug Marrone’s second season. They surely will be trendy pick to win AFC South and make consecutive postseason appearances for first time since 1998-99.



TENNESSEE TITANS (10-8)

OPEN CAMP: July 25, Nashville, Tennessee

LAST YEAR: Titans swept Jacksonville but missed AFC South title after losing three straight in December. Winning first postseason game in 14 years with amazing comeback in Kansas City didn’t save coach Mike Mularkey, not when he stuck with OC Terry Robiskie following ugly rout in New England.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: First-time head coach Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Rashaan Evans, LB Harold Landry.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: DC Dick LeBeau Jimmy Garoppolo Jersey 49ers , RB DeMarco Murray, WR Eric Decker, LB Erik Walden, S Da’Norris Searcy, QB Matt Cassel.

CAMP NEEDS: Sign Pro Bowl LT Taylor Lewan to contract extension. Lewan stayed away from mandatory minicamp to make clear he wants new deal instead of fifth-year option at $9.3 million. QB Marcus Mariota mastering another offense with third head coach. Develop WR Corey Davis and rest of young receiving group.

EXPECTATIONS: For so long, Vrabel was seen as future coaching star, and former Patriots linebacker gets no honeymoon period with franchise coming off consecutive 9-7 seasons. Mariota is going into fourth season and GM Jon Robinson has assembled this franchise’s most talented roster in decade, leaving division title and long playoff run as Titans’ next step.



INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12)

OPEN CAMP: July 25, Westfield, Indiana

LAST YEAR: Andrew Luck missed entire season and Colts never recovered. They blew seven halftime leads, one short of NFL record. They scored 46 fourth-quarter points. Those numbers almost certainly wouldn’t have been same with Luck. But there were other major problems. Indy allowed league-high 56 sacks and produced second-fewest sacks in league (25). Not surprisingly, Colts missed playoffs for third straight season, wound up with first losing record since Peyton Manning missed entire 2011 season, and made coaching change.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Luck’s anticipated return from shoulder injury as well as returns of 2016 and 2017 first-round picks C Ryan Kelly and S Malik Hooker from injuries. Coach Frank Reich, rookie G Quenton Nelson, TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, OL Matt Slauson, DL Denico Autry, DE Kemoko Turay, LB Darius Leonard, OG Braden Smith, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Nyheim Hines.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Frank Gore Aaron Rodgers Packers Jersey , CB Rashaan Melvin, S Darius Butler, DT Johnathan Hankins, WR Donte Moncrief.

CAMP NEEDS: LB, WR, pass rushers.

EXPECTATIONS: Luck has been throwing for more than one month and if he’s healthy enough to start Sept. 9 opener against Bengals, team’s outlook changes completely. Sure Colts have many other holes to fill and it will take more than one offseason to fill them. But if Luck gets back to old form, don’t expect Indy to suffer same fate as 2017.



HOUSTON TEXANS (4-12)

OPEN CAMP: July 26, Greenbrier, West Virginia

LAST YEAR: Texans had first losing record since 2013 as they dealt with numerous injuries, including to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson and superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. Watson was bright spot in disappointing season for his play in seven games before he tore anterior cruciate ligament in right knee in practice. He threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns, giving Texans hope they’ve finally found franchise quarterback after years of misfires and disappointment. Another positive was continued improvement of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Defensive end finished second in NFL with career-high 21 tackles for losses and his 9 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles were also career bests. He had career-high 59 tackles and started all 16 games for first time in career after struggling with injuries in first two NFL seasons before playing 14 games in 2016

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Tyrann Mathieu, G Senio Kelemete, G Zach Fulton, OT Seantrel Henderson, CB Aaron Colvin, QB Brandon Weeden.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Brian Cushing, OT Jeff Allen, OL Xavier Su’a-Filo.

CAMP NEEDS: Texans will have eye on two of their biggest stars who are returning to field after sustaining seas.


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