THE ALLAN BRISTOW ADMINI-STRATION
(February 1997 – February 1998)
As detailed in the first part of this series
, Bernie Bickerstaff left the Denver Nuggets organization in absolute shambles on his way out the door. Not only did he gut a once-promising young team of all its resources, trade away a high draft pick in a draft year that featured Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic and Jermaine O’Neal taken among the draft’s middle picks, but his incompetence didn’t even produce enough losses to get a fair shot at the #1 pick in the upcoming draft (which turned into Tim Duncan after Gregg Popovich threw away the Spurs 1996-97 season on purpose - in other words, the Spurs even lose better
than the Nuggets!).
In addition to failing the organization at every level, Bickerstaff quit on the team, first as head coach in November of 1996, and then as President and GM in February of 1997. Allan Bristow – a longtime Nuggets assistant coach during the Doug Moe era in the 1980s and former head coach of the Charlotte Hornets (who led them to their first playoff series win and first 50-win season) – was brought in to pick up the broken pieces.
Best Draft Pick: None.
Worst Draft Pick (and players passed on within a few picks): Tony Battie
(1997, 1st Round 5th Pick) – passed on Tracy McGrady. In fairness to Bristow, there was no one in this draft worth taking
after five other than McGrady, who was coming out of high school.
Best Move: Trading two second round picks to Seattle for the rights to Bobby Jackson. Of course, the latter of these picks turned into Rashard Lewis (who knew?!).
Worst Move: Letting Antonio McDyess go in a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix and Milwaukee. In return, the Nuggets received three late first round picks that didn’t amount to much.
Worst Season: 1997-98 (11-71) – Bristow, the new GM with a thankless job, gave his new head coach and former Nugget, Bill Hanzlik, a thankless task: coach one of the NBA’s most untalented teams. The results produced the Nuggets worst record ever, and the second worst record in NBA history. Woody Allen once said "in the NBA you win 15 games just by showing up" and the Nuggets couldn’t even do that. If it wasn’t for Rocky, I don’t know how Nuggets fans got through any home games that season. Having attended many of those games, I try hard to pretend this season just never happened.
If ever there was a Gerald Ford equivalent in the NBA, it was Allan Bristow, who had the unenviable job of cleaning up after the disaster that was the Bernie Bickerstaff Administration. The mess left in Bernie’s wake so gargantuan, that no man could possibly have salvaged the situation within the short time Bristow was given. Making matters worse for Bristow was the Nuggets ownership situation, as the Comsat Corporation sold Ascent Entertainment (a Comsat subsidiary and the Nuggets parent company) to Liberty Media Group, who immediately put Ascent’s sports assets up for sale.
Wiping the slate clean of the Bickerstaff regime, Bristow kept only LaPhonso Ellis, Bryant Stith and Anthony Goldwire
, and brought in a collection of some of the most obscure names in Nuggets player history like Johnny Newman, Eric Washington, Dean Garrett and Priest Lauderdale, in addition to rookies Tony Battie, Danny Fortson and Bobby Jackson – of whom only Jackson panned out as a good player years later in Sacramento.
This brief era in Nuggets history was so bad, that one of the Denver columnists (I think it was either Woody Paige or Bob Kravitz, but I don’t remember and couldn’t find the article) wrote an editorial to Bill Hanzlik begging him not to take the job, for it would cost him any future coaching jobs. And it did. In addition, Bristow himself couldn’t stomach the results and resigned in February, or was forced to, just one year after accepting the VP of Basketball Operations job. The Nuggets went about six weeks before introducing a new Vice President and GM, when former Nuggets player and coach Dan Issel took over in late March.
And in vintage Nuggets fashion, even with 71 losses they couldn’t score the first pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but instead ended up with the third pick. Luck would finally shine on the downtrodden Nuggets, however, as the Los Angeles Clippers drafted future all-time bust Michael Olowokandi with the first pick, and the Vancouver Grizzlies selected Mike Bibby with the second. This left the draft’s four most talented players – future perennial All-Stars Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce – on the board for the Nuggets to take with their third pick.
There was surely no way Issel and the Nuggets could screw this up. Could they?