With the Nuggets matching their NBA second best win total of 52 games yesterday - with four games remaining - largely due to the acquisition and solid play of Chauncey Billups, it will be tempting for Nuggets fans to call this the greatest trade in franchise history. But is it really? The jury is still out until we see this team perform in the post-season and how Chauncey wraps up his career in Denver, but I think it's safe to say it cracks the top-five list. So what trades could possibly have been better?
In order to make this list, I took into account the following:
-The state of the team prior to the trade being made and post-trade (i.e. how much better did the Nuggets get in the short and long term?).
-The post-trade career had by the acquired player as well as the departed player.
-The cost of the trade (i.e. what did we have to give up and was it worth it?).
Please note that I've included the Nuggets NBA era only, as most ABA trades were regional or monetary-driven and thus aren't apples to apples comparisons to modern day acquisitions.
Honorable Mention (in reverse order)
October 23rd, 1992 - Nuggets acquire Robert Pack from the Portland Trailblazers for a second round pick
June 24th, 1998 - Nuggets acquire Nick Van Exel from the Los Angeles Lakers for Tony Battie and the rights to Tyronne Lue
November 2nd, 1987 - Nuggets acquire Michael Adams and Jay Vincent from the Washington Bullets for Mark Alarie and Darrell Walker
BEST TRADE #5: July 20th, 2006 - Nuggets acquire J.R. Smith from the Chicago Bulls for Howard Eisley and two second round picks
Already loaded with a roster featuring Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, Nene, Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and Earl Watson, the Nuggets GM trio of Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman and Bret Bearup fleeced the Bulls with the acquisition of Smith. Sure, Smith had well documented maturity problems with the Hornets and the Bulls were concerned about how he'd mesh with coach Scott Skiles, but Eisley played for the Nuggets for all of 19 games in 2005-06 and never touched an NBA basketball court again. And those two second round picks? One turned into Aaron Gray and the other into JamesOn (not a misspelling) Curry. But what can we expect from Bulls' GM John Paxson who also refused to part ways with Luol Deng to acquire Kevin Garnett. The Smith trade has already paid dividends for the Nuggets and will continue to do so for years to come.
BEST TRADE #4: November 3rd, 2008 - Nuggets acquire Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh "Magnet" Samb from the Detroit Pistons for Allen Iverson
As noted above, the jury is still out for where this trade will ultimately rank in the pantheon of great Nuggets trades, but as of today it's the fourth best of all time. Not only has Billups radically changed the culture of the Nuggets (they are an astounding 51-23 since he re-joined the organization), but the Pistons got precipitously worse with the acquisition of Iverson, who showed up at Nuggets training camp sluggish and out of shape. Believe it or not, the Pistons were 4-0 before Iverson showed up and have gone on to be 33-40 since. Ouch. The big question will be how does this trade look down the road when Billups is making $13 million two seasons from now? But for now, this looks like one of the great trades not just in Nuggets history, but NBA history.
BEST TRADE #3: June 26, 2002 - Nuggets acquire Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson and the draft rights to Maybyner "Nene" Hilario from the New York Knicks for Antonio McDyess, the rights to Frank Williams and a second round pick
I call this trade Kiki Vandeweghe's Greatest Masterpiece, because that's exactly what it was. Four years removed from another ballsy Vandeweghe trade when he jettisoned the awful contracts of Nick Van Excel, Raef LaFrentz, Avery Johnson and Tariq Abdul-Wahad to Dallas for Juwan Howard, Donnell Harvey, Tim Hardaway and a first round pick that set the Nuggets on the path to regular season success they've remained on since, Vandeweghe swindled his Knicks counterpart, Scott Layden (not saying much if you knew Layden's track record) into acquiring the oft-injured McDyess. Not only would Camby give the Nuggets his most productive and healthiest NBA seasons and Nene, when healthy, would go on to become a solid power forward, but McDyess would re-injure his knee in an exhibition game for the Knicks and play only 18 games for that organization.
BEST TRADE #2: June 7th, 1984 - Nuggets acquire Lafayette "Fat" Lever, Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper and a first and second round draft pick from the Portland Trailblazers for Kiki Vandeweghe
Had Calvin Natt stayed healthy, this might have been the best trade in Nuggets history. But unlike the other trades on this list, the Blazers didn't exactly get screwed here. In his first three seasons as a Blazer, Vandeweghe averaged about 25 points per game, shot well over 50% and the Blazers made the playoffs, losing in the first round each year. But then Vandeweghe got hurt in the 1987-88 season and was never the same player again. Meanwhile, for the first two seasons after the trade, Nuggets GM Vince Boryla looked like a genius. In the first season with the three newly acquired players, the Nuggets won an NBA franchise best 52 games and made their lone conference finals appearance. With Lever the Nuggets had their franchise best point guard, with Natt an All-Star calibre power forward (who most unfortunately kicked off the Nuggets power forward curse in his third season as a Nugget), and Coop anchored the center position admirably, averaging 2.7 blocks per game to go along with 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first two seasons in Denver. Oh, and Lever and Cooper founded the Fat Lever/Wayne Cooper Basketball Camp which I attended. Perhaps most importantly, the Nuggets used that first round pick to draft Blair Rasmussen in 1985, prompting then head coach Doug Moe to use the word "Stiff" more often than ever.
BEST TRADE #1: February 1st, 1980 - Nuggets acquire Alex English and a first round pick from the Indiana Pacers for George McGinnis
While the Billups-for-Iverson trade is notable for how good Billups still is and how poorly Iverson has looked this season, rarely does a trade come along where you get a future Hall of Famer nowhere near the peak of his career for a former All-Star on the downside of his career. That's exactly what the Nuggets did when they were able to unload McGinnis - whose best years were spent with the ABA's Pacers - for English, who would go on to become the best Nugget of all-time, appear in eight All-Star games, finish 15th in all-time NBA scoring and lead the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff appearances, including a franchise record 54-win season in 1987-88.
English remains one of the most underrated players in NBA history and still doesn't get his due (I guess "Amazing Grace and Chuck" was that bad). Being left off the NBA's 50 Greatest list in particular was an atrocity. If you have a spare moment, I strongly encourage you to look at English's career stats. Not only was he a prolific scorer, but he was a respectable rebounder, dished out a number of assists and was remarkably durable. During English's 10 full seasons in Denver, he missed a total of seven games. Seven!!
So as we get nostalgic in the coming weeks thanks to this current Nuggets squad's terrific run at the all-time franchise wins record of 55, lets not forget the days when English and Lever were winning playoff series with regularity.
(Kudos to Denver Stiffs reader Zach F. for suggesting this article!)