Kleiza ditches Nuggs for Greek team | SummitDaily.com

Kleiza ditches Nuggs for Greek team

DENVER – The Denver Nuggets have lost another player who helped them reach the Western Conference finals.

Forward Linas Kleiza, who played four years in Denver, is taking his game to Europe.

Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien said Kleiza has chosen to play for Olympiakos, agreeing to a two-year deal worth more than $12 million. Warkentien said Kleiza’s agent, Bill Duffy, informed him of the signing Monday. Duffy was flying back from Europe and unavailable for comment.

He’s the second free agent to bolt Denver this summer, joining starter Dahntay Jones, the pesky defensive stopper who signed a four-year, $11 million with the Indiana Pacers.

Kleiza, who provided the Nuggets with an outside shooting prowess off the bench, was extended a qualifying offer by the Nuggets in June, making him a restricted free agent and guaranteeing him a $2.7 million salary this season.

That’s an 80 percent raise from the $1.5 million he earned last season but nowhere near what Olympiakos was willing to pay the Lithuanian forward who played at the University of Missouri.

Kleiza averaged 9.9 points and four rebounds last season. He got off to a sluggish start after the Nuggets pulled a four-year, $25 million contract extension off the table the night before the season started but came on strong down the stretch and was a key contributor off the bench in the playoffs along with J.R. Smith and Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

He averaged 6.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in the playoffs, after which he said he hoped to stay in Denver, although he was keeping all options open.

“I would like to come back. I had a lot of fun here. It was a good four years,” Kleiza said after cleaning out his locker on May 30.

The Nuggets and their fans have watched other teams, notably the champion Lakers, Spurs and Trail Blazers, all get better via free agency this summer while they’ve stood pat and actually lost players.

The Nuggets retain Kleiza’s NBA rights.

“His road back to the NBA goes through Denver,” Warkentien said. “The simple thing is we move on, we’ll replace him.”

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