Kleiza an unrestricted free agent after this year, but Nuggets can match deal

Updated: November 1, 2008, 10:04 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets are counting on keeping Linas Kleiza around for many more years, but they may have opened the door for him to play in Europe instead.

The Nuggets decided at the last minute not to sign Kleiza to a four-year, $25 million extension because of economic uncertainties, meaning he'll become a restricted free agent after the season. Denver will then have the right to match any offer he gets -- unless that offer comes from Europe and not the NBA.

"I definitely don't think about that yet. I'm going to consider my best option. Me being European, definitely it's one of my options," the 23-year-old Lithuanian said Saturday night before the Nuggets' home opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I'm going to be where it makes sense for me and my family. That's the way I look at it. Competition is great everywhere now. The NBA's a great league, the best league, but you've got to make the best decision for yourself."

The Rocky Mountain News reported Saturday that Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien and Kleiza's agent, Bill Duffy, were closing in on an extension when team owner Stan Kroenke opted not to go through with the deal just before Friday's deadline.

"I think we had a deal pretty much done. It didn't work out," Kleiza said.

He said he wasn't bothered by the organization's change of heart, however.

"I've learned one thing in this league: You can't take things personally," Kleiza said. "I love this organization. They're the ones that drafted me, they're the ones that believed in me. It didn't get done. I'm not going to worry about it, I'm not going to take it personal. I'm ready to move on and have a great year."

Kleiza averaged career highs in points (11.1) and rebounds (4.2) last season and was the only Nuggets player who performed well in the playoffs, averaging 14 points and 6.5 boards in Denver's first-round sweep at the hands of the Lakers.

The Nuggets were unable to get a deal done with J.R. Smith two offseasons ago but signed him to an extension in August, and coach George Karl trusts the same thing will happen in Kleiza's case.

"The right of first refusal, we're still somewhat in control of what we want," Karl said. "If he gets another offer we have the right to match it and I think in general we have no desire to lose L.K. We just want to be financially responsible. I don't have the details of what that means or how that went down or who said what. That's I think for the organization to keep within the closed doors. I heard last week that it looked like it was going to get done and I don't know why it didn't get done."

Of course, the wild card is Europe.

Forward Josh Childress left the Atlanta Hawks for Greek club Olympiakos and a three-year deal his agent said was worth about $20 million after taxes. Several other players also made the move to Europe, and clubs with the resources might try to land players such as Kleiza next summer.

"The one thing I know about Europe is they usually pay your taxes," Karl said. "But ... America's still the best place to play basketball, I think it's the best place in the world to live."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press