Free agents add shooting, rebounding, toughness to Nuggets

Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson fill areas of need as Denver prepares for 2013-14 season
by Aaron Lopez

When the NBA’s free-agency period started July 1, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson were among the first players Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly pursued.

That helps explain the smile on Connelly’s face Thursday as Foye and Hickson arrived at Pepsi Center to be introduced as the newest additions to Denver’s roster.

Foye, acquired from the Utah Jazz in a three-team sign-and-trade deal, and Hickson, signed as a free-agent, will fill areas of need for the Nuggets as they begin their first year under coach Brian Shaw next season.

Foye, 29, is one of the NBA’s top 3-point shooters who can play both guard positions, while Hickson was one of only nine players in the league to average a double-double last season.

Both will have an opportunity to play big minutes after starting swingman Andre Iguodala left to join the Golden State Warriors and starting center Kosta Koufos was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. Starting forward Danilo Gallinari also is expected to miss some time as he recovers from a knee injury.

“It’s pretty awesome to come to a team like this that is already a playoff team and has a lot of talent,” Foye said. “I just see a ton of talent, and I think I can help in a lot of different ways.”

Added Hickson: “I see a young, athletic team that can basically beat anyone on any given night.”

Though he’s been in the league for five years, Hickson is among the “young” guys that make up the primary composition of Denver’s roster. Connelly joked that he needs to check Hickson’s ID.

“J.J.’s an elite rebounder,” Connelly said. “He brings an athletic dynamic that’s hard to find. He’s been in the league five years and he’s 24. It’s amazing.”

At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Hickson played out of position while filling the center spot for the Portland Trail Blazers last season. He likely will return to his natural power forward spot with the Nuggets, which means competing for minutes with incumbent starter Kenneth Faried.

“He’s a great player and he has a non-stop motor,” Hickson said of his new teammate. “I was told that it’s going to be a friendly competition about who’s going to start, who’s going get minutes. But at the end of the day it’s all about wins and losses. I think we could play together, but it’s all about wins and losses, and I’m here to help this basketball team win.”

Foye, meanwhile, will provide a consistent 3-point threat that has been lacking in Denver of late. He shot .410 from beyond the arc last season – just off his career-best .412 while playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007-08.

Though known for his shooting ability, Foye also doesn’t want to be typecast as a one-dimensional marksman.

“A lot of times I get put in the category as just a shooter but I can handle the ball, too,” he said. “I just look at myself as a basketball player. Many occasions, I’ve had to guard guys like (Gallinari) or (Kevin Durant). I just look at myself as a basketball player who will do whatever it takes to win.”

After missing the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, Hickson also is focused on winning. Denver and the San Antonio Spurs are the only teams to have reached the postseason in each of the past 10 years.

The Nuggets are hardly satisfied with merely making the playoffs, and they view Foye and Hickson as key additions that will help them take the next step of enjoying postseason success.

“I’ll bring a toughness to this team,” Hickson said. “I’ll definitely rebound and do what a power forward is supposed to do. I know the style of play is to get up and down, but we are definitely going to play defense also.”

In addition to Foye and Hickson, the Nuggets added forward Darrell Arthur in a draft-night trade that sent Koufos to Memphis. Denver also has young players such as Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller hoping to make an impact.

“While we’re always looking to be opportunistic and make moves to help us, it might be good to just take a step back and see what we have,” Connelly said. “I can’t wait to go to (Las) Vegas to see how our young guys look to give us a sense of how much we can rely upon them in the upcoming season. While we’re always looking to improve, it’s important to sometimes be a bit more deliberate.”

Looking to his left at two of his top free-agent targets, Connelly certainly had reason to sit back and smile.