Santa Claus, the fat man who likes to come bearing gifts (even in his Birdman form). With NBA trades teams often wind up gifting players to other franchises and that got me thinking. How many names have passed through Denver? With the trade deadline looming on Feb. 19th, let's take a look back at some historically good, bad and bizarre Nuggets deals.
Back when I was in school it was nearly impossible to get me to pick up a book, you can ask my mom. It all changed when I picked up Mitch Albom's book The Fab Five published in 1993 and plowed through the pages dedicated to Michigan's trash talking and baggy shorts wearing team. After that, on a family trip to Mexico in 1999 I picked out H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights at the bookstore to read on the plane and couldn't put it down.
I was a pretty dedicated sports videogame junkie, but my newfound love of books was really starting to steal me away. Then I began reading Bill Simmons and he pointed out that the best way to become a good writer is to be an avid reader. My bookshelf is now flooded with sports and history books (even a few other genres) and my passion for reading has never been greater, although I'm not sure it's helping me with my writing.
The reason I bring this up, when I played videogames they were typically always sports games and my favorite part about gripping the joystick was being the general manager. I was the master of making trades and my hunger for making front office moves outweighed my desire to play the game itself. With just the click of a button I could assemble power house teams.
As I've grown up, if you can call it that, I'm still fascinated with front office moves and love reading about how players winded up here or there and the decisions behind those moves. While reading Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball I came across a section on the great former Nugget Bobby Jones and how Denver made the mistake of shipping him out of town for the overrated George McGinnis. After looking through the Nuggets transactions, you realize that Denver then flipped McGinnis to Indiana for a guy named Alex English.
The Jones, McGinnis and English deal got me thinking. Who else has passed through Denver and how has one trade affected another? A great debate to have with your buddies is always the "coulda-woulda-shoulda or CWS" aspect of trades and non-trades.
Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post recently gave us a great CWS when he revealed that the Nuggets had a trade in the works with Atlanta in 2005 and were planning on drafting Deron Williams. Think of all the CWS questions that come into play there:
- Who was Denver going to give up in that deal?
- Would the Nuggets be better off with Williams or Chauncey Billups?
- If Denver made that deal ... how do you choose between Williams and Chris Paul?
And with that ... let's dive into some intriguing deals the Nuggets have made throughout their NBA history. I'm going to try to stay on a time line here, but some mixing may come up as deals made in like 1990 directly are affect a deal in like 1993 or something. Each trade will also be labeled either good, bad or bizarre with some explanation as to why.
1976-77: Nuggets acquired Paul Silas from Boston in a three-team trade that sent Ralph Simpson from Denver to Detroit and Curtis Rowe from Detroit to Boston.
Bizarre: Correct me if I'm wrong, but Silas who was traded to Denver on October 20, 1976 never suited up for the Nuggets. Silas was shipped off to Seattle the next season (May 24, 1977) and was just a blurb in Nuggets history. If you remember, Silas was a member of the Celtics (1974 and '76) and Sonics (1979) championship teams and recently coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and now works in broadcasting. Had the Nuggets held onto Silas he would have missed out on Seattle's lone championship.
1977-78: Nuggets acquired Ralph Simpson from Detoit in exchange for Jim Price and a first-round pick in the 1979 draft (pick ended up being Paul Hubbard).
1978-79: Nuggets traded Bobby Jones and Ralph Simpson to Philadelphia for George McGinnis.
1979-80: Nuggets acquired Alex English and a first-round pick in 1980 (Carl Nicks) from Indiana in exchange for George McGinnis.
This trade sequence gets the good, bad and bizarre treatment.
Good: The Nuggets, in a round about way, found their all-time leading scorer and the NBA leading scorer during the 1980's in a deal with the Pacers. Nine players swapped teams in the three deals leading up to English's arrival in Denver.
Bad: Denver gave up an all-time great in Bobby Jones for an overrated George McGinnis.
Bizarre: The Nuggets loved trading Ralph Simpson! Remember, Simpson was shipped off to Detroit in 1976 as part of the Silas deal, he was brought back roughly a year later in February of 1978 when Denver made another deal with the Pistons and he was quickly shipped off once again in August of 1978 in the McGinnis deal. And you thought Antonio McDyess didn't like the Nuggets' front office antics.
1980-81: Nuggets acquired T.R. Dunn and a first-round pick in 1983 (Howard Carter) from Portland in exchange for a first-round pick in 1983 (Clyde Drexler) and a second-round pick in 1984 (Steve Colter).
Bad: Dunn was a good defensive player and later became an assistant coach with the Nuggets, but Denver lost this trade as they wound up with the 15th pick in the 1983 draft and not the 14th pick. The Blazers took the high flying Drexler out of Houston University with the 14th pick and he went on to have a hall of fame career, while Howard "Hi-C" Carter played just one season in Denver and averaged 6.2 points before eventually playing out his career in France.
1982-83: June 17, 1982- Acquired the draft rights to Wally Walker and a first-round pick in 1982 (Rob Williams) from Seattle in exchange for David Thompson.
July 16, 1982: the NBA Player's Association won a ruling before an arbitrator which disallowed Seattle's ability to trade the rights to Wally Walker - a free agent.
July 20, 1982: Seattle sends Bill Hanzlik to Denver to complete the David Thompson trade.
Bad: David Thompson should have been one of the all-time greats and been able to finish his career in Denver. Thompson however, suffered a knee injury and battled drug and alcohol problems throughout his career and wound up being a disappointment. The man from Shelby, North Carolina inspired Michael Jordan while at North Carolina State and should have went down as one of the best players in NBA history. Thompson had some great seasons early in his career, but will always be a tragic figure in Nuggets history.
Bizarre: The player Denver originally sought, Wally Walker, was not a rookie when the Nuggets acquired his draft rights and the Player's Association won a ruling to allow Walker to stay in Seattle. So the Nuggets received Doug Moe favorite Bill Hanzlik instead. Hanz has had a pretty storied career for the Nuggets with his famous mustache, work in the community with the Gold Crown leagues, the story that when he was coaching he took the Nuggets to watch Karl Malone workout to show his team how hard they should work, his commentating and my favorite ... his use of the phrase "big fella." I don't know what would have happened with Walker, but I know I would have missed Hanz.
The Monster Kiki Vandeweghe and Fat Lever trades:
1980-81: Acquired Kiki Vandeweghe and a first-round pick in 1986 (Maurice Martin) from Dallas in exchange for first-round picks in 1981 (Rolando Blackman) and 1985 (pick traded to Boston who selected Sam Vincent).
1984-85: Traded Kiki Vandeweghe to Portland in exchange for Wayne Cooper, Lafayette "Fat" Lever, Calvin Natt, a second-round pick in the 1984 draft (Willie White) and a first-round pick in the 1985 draft (Blair Rasmussen).
Good: Two deals involving 10 players, yes please! Denver acquired the high scoring Vandeweghe for basically nothing and then flipped him a few seasons later for Calvin Natt who was a bruising power forward (before suffering a plethora of injuries), Fat Lever who is arguably Denver's best point guard ever and Blair Rasmussen who helped Doug Moe coin the phrase "Stiff" by being a big, white, stiff of a player. Perhaps Kiki remembered these deals when he was Denver's GM because he'd eventually pull the trigger on a monster player deal as well (more on that later in Part 2).
1983-84: Nuggets acquired Ken Dennard from Kansas City in exchange for a third-round pick in the 1985 draft (Michael Adams).
1987-88: Acquired Michael Adams and Jay Vincent from Washington in exchange for Mark Alaire and Darrell Walker.
Good: Denver wound up getting their 1985 draft pick back when they traded for Michael Adams. The short shooting guard leads the Nuggets in all-time three pointers made (630), but he will soon be passed by J.R. Smith who currently ranks second in Nuggets history with 572 makes (and counting). Adams was a fan favorite and possessed a very pronounced jump shot ... check this video. After Adams, Doug Moe encouraged the Nuggets years later to sign another little guard, Earl Boykins away from the Golden State Warriors.
1988-89: Traded the draft rights to Vernon Maxwell to San Antonio in exchange for a second-round pick in 1989 (Reggie Turner).
Good/Bizarre: The Nuggets missed out on having a real character and perhaps a major scumbag on their team when they sent Mad Max's rights to the Spurs. Maxwell had some great seasons for the Houston Rockets and was a major contributor to their 1993-94 championship team. Mad Max definitely earned his nickname ... he once went into the stands (before Ron Artest did it) and punched a fan and that earned him just a 10-game suspension! He'd be booted from the league for at least a year nowadays. He also was the University of Florida's all-time leading scorer until the school found out he accepted money from an agent, thus washing away those records. Maxwell was also rumored to snort cocaine before college games and had a laundry list of legal issues throughout his career and after he hung up his sneakers ... just read Hubert Mizell's scathing 2004 column on Maxwell.
1990-91: Acquired Orlando Woolridge from the L.A. Lakers in exchange for second-round picks in 1993 and 1995.
Bizarre: Woolridge was a scorer who needed his shots and liked his shots. The Bulls eventually let Woolridge go to give Micheal Jordan more control of the team and to bring Jordan some toughness, as documented in David Halberstam's book Playing for Keeps. The Nuggets traded Woolridge to bring in the high-scoring and above the rim playing Scott Hastings from Detroit. Hastings changed the face of the Nuggets forever with his nightly scoring binges that ranged from Did Not Play - Coach's Decision to 1-2 points a night with a typical nice hard foul thrown in. Seriously though, while Hastings rarely got off the bench in Denver he did back-up Dikembe Mutombo and wound up sticking with the Nuggets franchise as the voice of the team on Altitude TV. Who would be calling Nuggets games if Hastings had never played here? I'm a huge Hastings fan (love his radio shows and tweets as well) and I'm glad he's part of the Nuggets family. Maybe I can buy him dinner on the plane sometime ...
1990-91: Traded the No. 9 (Willie Burton) and No. 15 (Dave Jamerson) picks in the 1990 draft to Miami in exchange for the No. 3 pick (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf).
Good: Never heard much from Burton or Jamerson and Abdul-Rauf provided some great scoring pop for the Nuggets in his time with the team. Rauf helped lead the Nuggets past the Seattle Supersonics in the fabled 1994 playoffs. Rauf also battled tourettes syndrome and became a rising star in the NBA. His fight for his own beliefs brought the Nuggets some national attention as he elected not to stand for the national anthem before games. I'll always remember him for his scoring prowess and the night he led the Nuggets to victory over the 72-10 Chicago Bulls. I watched that game from my seats up in the rafters and that was the first time I saw Michael Jordan live and he lost. Rauf is now over 40-years-old and still playing ball in Japan.
1992-93: Acquired Robert Pack from Portland in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 1993 (Kevin Thompson).
Good: Before Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao burst onto the scene, the Nuggets traded for the guy who would become known as the Pack-man. Pack was a game changer in his time with the Nuggets and I can remember some vicious dunks thrown down by the muscular guard. (Check this awesome YouTube action out ... dunks galore and one over Shawn Kemp.) Pack basically did for the Nuggets what Ty Lawson does now by coming in and putting his own brand on the game. Giving up a second-round pick for a contributing player is sort of the Nuggets calling card now and it looks like they've been doing it for years (yes different GMs and such, but whatever). When Denver traded Pack to Washington on October 30, 1995, a small part of my fandom died.
1997-98: Traded Antonio McDyess to Phoenix in exchange for Phoenix's first round pick in 1998 (Tyronn Lue), Milwaukee's first round pick in either '98 or '99 (James Posey) and either Cleveland's first round pick in 2000 or the first round pick of Cleveland or Phoenix in 2001 (traded to Boston, Joe Forte) and two second round picks (2000, Dan McClintock and 2002, traded to Washtington Rod Grizzard).
1998-99: Acquired Nick Van Exel from the L.A. Lakers in exchange for Tony Battie and the draft rights to Tyronn Lue.
McDyess Good/Bad: McDyess was one of the first college players that I remember being amazed watching. He just carried Alabama and had athleticism that was out of this world crazy. So, when the Nuggets pulled the trigger to acquire him I was extremely excited, but really sad we gave up Rodney Rodgers to do so. If you were a Rodgers fan then you have to remember his 9 points in 9 seconds against the Jazz at McNichols. The departure of Rodgers signified just a little more that the 1993-94 playoff team was disappearing and that mediocrity and dark days were ahead of the franchise. McDyess however had a chance to be a truly special NBA player, but injuries would derail a once promising superstar career and force Dyess to reinvent himself as a role player. When Denver parted with Dyess on October 1, 1997 they got 5 draft-picks for him, but only one would turn into much of a player (James Posey) and further signified that Denver was basically up shit creek without paddles.
McDyess bizarre: It's worth mentioning that McDyess didn't want to become a Denver Nugget for the third time (when he was packaged with Billups) because of his second stint with the team. I remember reading that Suns player's Jason Kidd, George McCloud and current Nuggets executive Rex Chapman came to Denver to talk McDyess into re-signing with Phoenix, but Dan Issel kept them from entering the arena. McDyess wanted to back out of the Denver deal and go back to the Suns, but he didn't want to go back on his word and signed with Denver despite changing his mind. So that's why Denver gets to pay $3 million to him this season to hit jumpers for the Spurs. I don't know why more stories like this are not published ... I love this stuff!
Van Exel good for Nuggets, but bad for Van Exel: As part of the McDyess to Phoenix deal the Nuggets did use a first round pick to complete a trade for the talented Lakers guard. I was extremely happy when Denver landed Van Exel and then rumors started flying that he did not want to play for the Nuggets. Things got ironed out and Van Exel scored a lot of points on some very bad Denver teams. I'll always remember my mom drawing Cincinnati in an office pool to win the NCAA Tournament. Van Exel led that team to an 18-2 record and a Final Four appearance with us rooting him on for our own personal gain (I did become a fan though). I felt like the Nuggets landed their first star player in a while and was happy to have Nick aboard ... especially for Lue and El Busto aka Tony Battie. Denver never surrounded Van Exel with much talent and his time with the team wasn't special as his prime dwindled away.
The King of Park Hill comes home:
1998-99: Jan. 21 - Acquired Chauncey Billups and the draft rights to Tyson Wheeler from Toronto in a three team deal. Nuggets sent Bobby Jackson and Dean Garrett to Minnesota and a 1999 first round pick (Jonathan Bender) to Toronto. Minnesota traded Michael Williams, a future first round pick (Morris Peterson) and the rights to Zeljko Rebraca to Toronto.
1999-00: Feb 1 - Acquired Chris Gatling, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a first round pick (Omar Cook) from Orlando in exchange for Ron Mercer, Chauncey Billups and Johnny Taylor.
Bad: Billups only played in 58 games with the Nuggets in his short stint with the team, due to injuries. And the Nuggets sent Billups to Orlando after he appeared in just 13 games in the 1999-00 season. Chauncey wouldn't ever suit up for the Magic as he was injured in his contract season and the Nuggets botched bringing in the hometown hero.
Good: Had Billups not been traded by the Nuggets he never would have wound up in Minnesota and learned from the veterans there the lessons he needed. He also never would have developed such a strong friendship with Kevin Garnett and probably wouldn't have wound up in Detroit, winning a championship and Finals MVP honors. Also, the Nuggets never would have been able to acquire him last season from Joe Dumars and we never would have seen the epic run to the Western Conference Finals. Sometimes in order to get to heaven you have to go through hell.
And hell is exactly where the Nuggets were heading. With ownership and the front office basically in disarray there was a constant coaching and player carousel. Players were signed, traded and waived at a moments notice and free agents were leery of dealing with a franchise that didn't have any stability. Luckily, the Nuggets were not too far away from finding stability and turning things around.
We'll continue tracking the Nuggets good, bad and bizarre trade history in Part II ...coming soon.
Sources: 2008-09 Denver Nuggets Media Guide
Billups timeline picture courtesy of NBA.com
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: David Zalubowski