With the Nuggets in the midst - or is it the tail end? - of their franchise's second "Golden Era", it's hard to believe that this franchise used to be the NBA's laughingstock. For our third annual Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame, we'll induct a new class of players while also commemorating some of the front office characters who brought this franchise to its knees. And if you vote you'll get to win a Denver Stiffs T-shirt!
Nuggets fans today debate whether or not the team will win 50 wins. Or whether or not the team will win one or two playoff series come next spring. Some fans even have delusions of a championship banner being won with the currently assembled Nuggets squad. But believe it or not, there was a time when we'd debate whether or not the Nuggets could win more games than the Broncos. Or if the Nuggets would have a lone all-star on the roster.
So while Carmelo Anthony may or may not leave Denver this fall and as a result the Nuggets may or may not have a memorable season, it's important to remember that things have been pretty good in Nuggets Nation lately. But in good times and bad, the Nuggets have always had a stable of Stiffs on the roster. And it's these players - many remembered, some forgotten - who deserve our attention...at least once a year.
In 2008, our inaugural clas included Nikoloz Tskitishvili (inarguably the worst fifth overall pick in NBA history), Joe Wolf, Tony Battie, Scott Hastings, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Mark Macon. And in 2009, we proudly inducted Bill Hanzlik (as a player), Ryan Bowen, Danny Schayes, Julius Hodge and Junior Harrington. As you can see, we've done a damn good job inducting Stiffs thus far! (Here's a recap of the 2008 and 2009 nominees in case you missed out.)
For our 2010 induction class, I'm going to add a little twist with a new category: our inaugural Denver Stiffs Lifetime Achievement Award. Akin to its sister award in Springfield, MA, the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award, the Denver Stiffs Lifetime Achievement Award goes to those who have "had a tremendous influence on the game." And as you'll shortly see, those nominated undoubtedly had a tremendous influence on Nuggets basketball.
Before diving into the nominees, let's review the 2010 Ground Rules for Induction...
1) Any inductee must be a former Nugget. He can be a current NBA player, but cannot be on the current Nuggets roster.
2) Any inductee must have played – check that, appeared – in at least 20 games (lowered from last year's mandate of 40 so I can at long last nominate Priest Lauderdale!) in a Nuggets uniform or was on the roster for two consecutive seasons.
3) Once nominated, a player cannot be re-nominated for three years. So the 2008 and 2009 nominees not inducted at the time will have to wait until 2011 for re-nomination (my apologies to Tim Kempton, Blair Rasmussen, Rodney White, James Earl Ray, Mark Randall and the other great nominees from the last two years, the competition has been tough!).
4) Special consideration should be given to players who had ridiculously large contracts (like Tariq Abdul-Wahad), were white (like Michael Doleac) or better yet, were both white and had a large contract (like Blair Rasmussen).
5) Special consideration should also be given to players drafted by the Nuggets who were not only total busts, but went ahead of future All-Stars (like Raef LaFrentz and Nikoloz Tskitishvili did), or were on the wrong side of a lopsided trade that totally screwed the Nuggets (like Abdul-Wahad).
6) Extra special consideration should be given to players who exhibited no athletic ability whatsoever, but gave an earnest effort on the floor nightly and as a result, were fan favorites (like Hanzlik and Bowen).
For newcomers, here's how this works: from the players listed below, please select two forwards, one center, two guards and a Lifetime Achievement Award candidate and write them in your comments below and/or in an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there's someone you'd like to see inducted that I didn't include, don't hesitate to write their name in. After we collect the lists over the next three weeks, we'll randomly select a few winners who will receive a Denver Stiffs T-Shirt!
Now that we've addressed the formalities, I proudly present the eligible players to be inducted into the third annual Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame (in alphabetical order by position)...
FORWARDS (PICK TWO)
Greg "Cadillac" Anderson (1990-92)
If you were to just look at Cadillac's numbers as a Nugget, you might wonder why I've included him on the 2010 nominee list. But for those who were around during the short-lived Paul Westhead Era of 1990-92, you know Cadillac belongs on the list. A gangly 6'10" NBA journeyman, Cadillac (a nickname derived from his college days when he was seen on campus peddling a 10-speed bicycle) amazingly finished third in total rebounds during the 1991-92 season, thanks solely to Westhead's freakish game tempo artificially amping up the number of possessions per game. Anderson was able to parlay his performance on the Nuggets into a big Italian contract and then came back to the NBA to play for the Pistons, Hawks and Spurs.
Where Are They Now? Despite not having money problems known of among his friends, Cadillac got himself mixed up in a cocaine deal gone awry that landed him in prison for five months in 1998. I wasn't able to find out what he's been up to since then but he does have his own Facebook Fan Page, most likely started by my good friend and fellow Nuggets fan Justin K., Cadillac's biggest fan.
Reggie Evans (2006-07)
"The Joker" was somewhat of a joke when playing in a Denver Nuggets uniform. Evans cemented his future Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame candidacy when he pulled Los Angeles Clippers' center Chris Kaman's genitals during the 2006 playoffs. Before Renaldo Balkman was grabbing rebounds ferociously while being clueless offensively, Evans served that role for the Nuggets until the team traded him for Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones
Where Are They Now? Evans is scheduled to make $5 million for the Toronto Raptors this season. In other words, had Cadillac Anderson been born about 15 years later, he wouldn't have had to partake in drug deals to make some extra cash.
Ronald "Popeye" Jones (1999-2000)
Privileged to play somewhat in the NBA's "modern era," Popeye walked away from his NBA career with over $14 million. I'm sure that makes Alex English - who made about $10 million - feel wonderful. Popeye's stamp on the Nuggets was brief and inconsequential. A throw-in as part of the Ron Mercer/Dwayne Schintzius for Danny Fortson/Eric Washington/Eric Williams trade, Popeye grabbed a few boards and scored a few points in Denver but is most memorable for his Sloth-esque looks.
Where Are They Now? Popeye recently served as one of the 100 or so assistant coaches for the Dallas Mavericks and was in the news last fall for getting the crap beaten out of him by Dallas-area police on a DWI arrest.
Raef LaFrentz (1998-2002)
Ah, poor Raef LaFrentz. It's not LaFrentz's fault that he was drafted third overall in 1998 when Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki were still on the board. And it's not LaFrentz's fault that the man who drafted him - the Nuggets then head coach and team president Dan Issel - proceeded to berate the kid more than anyone else on the team as part of a bizarre "I-know-I-screwed-up-by-drafting-you-and-now-I'm-taking-it-out-on-you" psychological scheme. And it's not LaFrentz's fault that such behavior by Issel led to a player revolt in 2000 that forever killed that incarnation of the Nuggets. But I don't feel that bad for LaFrentz, who walked away from the league having made a ghastly $84 million while never averaging more than 16 points or 10 rebounds per game. For $84 million, Dan Issel could scream at me constantly and call me any name he wants.
Where Are They Now? LaFrentz last played for the Trail Blazers for a mere 39 games during the 2007-08 season and was paid an absurd $12.7 million in 2008-09 despite never stepping on the floor. Must be nice.
Jerome Lane (1988-92)
Lane was a fan favorite among young Nuggets fans (like me) for a very interesting reason: he was the only Nugget who could/would dunk. Lane's second NBA season coincided with David Robinson's first (1989-90), a season during which Robinson single-handedly had more dunks than the entire Nuggets team combined. Hence why Lane - who famously smashed a backboard on a one-handed dunk while playing for the University of Pittsburgh - was beloved by any Nuggets fan under 18 years old. Unfortunately, Lane just wasn't that good and he was lazy and often out-of-shape to boot. Not known for playing rookies to begin with, legendary Nuggets coach Doug Moe routinely had Lane residing in his doghouse and by the time Paul Westhead arrived in 1990, Lane's confidence was pretty shot and his waistline was pretty big.
Where Are They Now? According to his Wikipedia page, Lane currently serves as an assistant coach for Firestone High School in Akron, Ohio, Lane's home town. Interestingly, Lane played high school ball at Saint Vincent-Saint Mary, same as some jerk who just left the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat.
Mark Pope (2003-05)
Tall, white with a crew cut, relatively skill-less and listed on the "Famous Mormons" website alongside Mark Madsen, Greg Kite and Scott Pollard. If those aren't the makings of a true Stiff, I don't know what is. Pope hung around the Nuggets during the beginning of their new Golden Era and fleeced the team for almost $2 million in salary considering he averaged less than half a point per game and played in a total of 13 games over two seasons.
Where Are They Now? Pope will be joining former Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik's coaching staff at Wake Forest University this season.
CENTERS (PICK ONE)
Joe Barry Carroll (1990)
Once capable of averaging over 20 points per game, Denver East High School graduate Joe Barry Carroll mailed in all 30 of his games played as a hometown Nugget in 1990 but didn't mind collecting his hefty paycheck while doing so. Traded from the New Jersey Nets to the Nuggets for the forgettable Michael Cutwright, the 7'0" Carroll gave us 11.9 ppg on a mere 43.2% shooting, 6.4 rpg and a playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
Where Are They Now? Carroll now lives in Atlanta where he works as an investment adviser. His name was in the news recently for filing a discrimination suit against a Buckhead, Atlanta restaurant that escorted Carroll and his friend out of the restaurant with security after they refused to give up their seats to two white women. From what I've read it looks like Carroll has become an active member of the Atlanta community.
Mengke Bateer (2001-02)
A member of China's famed "Great Wall" alongside Wang "I hear this place is restricted, so don't tell 'em you're Jewish" Zhizhi and Yao Ming, Bateer was the worst player of the three. During the 2001-02 season, Bateer appeared in 27 games and, remarkably, started in 10. A bruising 6'11" and 290 pounds, Bateer only made 40% of his shot attempts and wasn't a particularly good rebounder. But he had an awesome crew cut.
Where Are They Now? Bateer made the nominee list this year solely thanks to what he's doing now. In addition to playing professionally in China, Bateer has become a Chinese action movie star in films with names like "The Blue Xanadu" and more recently as a fighting monk in "Bodyguards and Assassins." Big props are owed to ShamSports for their detailed March profile on Bateer.
Priest Lauderdale (1997-98)
Other than Yao, Lauderdale is the biggest man I've ever seen in person. Which is why his brief NBA career remains so disappointing to this day. Blessed with a 7'4", 325-pound body, Lauderdale was out of the league after three brief seasons, including one in Denver where he averaged just 3.7 ppg (on 41.7% shooting...egads!) and 2.6 rpg.
Where Are They Now? According to TheTallestMan.com, Lauderdale recently played professionally in Bulgaria (where he became a citizen), China and Iran. Further proof that if you're over seven-feet tall, there's always someone willing to pay you to play basketball.
GUARDS (PICK TWO)
Yakhouba Diawara (2006-08)
Diawara is on my list of "Nuggets 'shooting' guards whom I've never seen make a shot" alongside Dahntay Jones, DerMarr Johnson, (Denver Stiffs HOFer) Julius Hodge, Rodney White, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Dale Ellis. Playing on a roster littered with injuries, Diawara had ample opportunities to contribute to the Nuggets cause during his two seasons in Denver, starting 33 times. But Diawara never shot straight and unlike past Nuggets shooting guards like Jones and T.R. Dunn who had aimless jump shots but were shutdown defenders, Diawara wasn't a particularly good defender, either.
Where Are They Now? Diawara played six games for the Heat last season but didn't survive the entire year. I have a sneaky suspicion he won't be able to make the Heat's 2010-11 roster.
Jim Farmer (1990-91, 1993-94)
As further proof that anyone who played for Paul Westhead was able to pad their stats...and then some...Farmer put up a career-high 10.0 ppg playing for Westhead for 25 games during the 1990-91 campaign. Knowing any production under Westhead was phony, no GMs took a flyer on Farmer and he wouldn't play in the NBA again until 1993 when the University of Alabama grad was able to rejoin the Nuggets for a cup of coffee.
DerMarr Johnson (2004-07)
Like Diawara, Johnson was given plenty of opportunities to gain long-term employment with the Nuggets but made the least of them. In his debut season in Denver, Johnson shot a solid 49.9% from the field and averaged a respectable 7.1 ppg. But it was all downhill from there for Johnson. In his second season his field goal percentage dipped to 43.1% and in his third an unacceptable 32.5%. I don't know if it was a lack of confidence, too much partying with Allen Iverson, or both, but Johnson was last seen on the Spurs in 2007-08 and hasn't been in the NBA since. Oh, and Johnson once famously said: "I don't think [Michael Jordan] could stop me from getting to the hole. Not with my crossover. I'm going to try to dunk on anybody, and he's too smart to try to block a dunk. At least I hope he's smarter than that."
Where Are They Now? Johnson is playing in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Jiangsu Dragons.
Darnel Mee (1993-95)
When Mee was drafted in the second round by the Warriors and immediately thereafter traded to the Nuggets in 1993, the Nuggets PR apparatus at the time tried selling the fans that they scored the steal of the draft. Instead, the Nuggets had a backup shooting guard who "shot" 31.2% from the field and wasn't strong enough to defend NBA-caliber players. Two years in, two years out and Mee never touched an NBA floor again.
Where Are They Now? After bouncing around the CBA and a few stints in Europe, Mee has found a home in the Australian basketball league and has been a teammate of former Nugget (and former Denver Stiffs HOF nominee) Kevin Brooks.
Brooks Thompson (1996-97)
Whether it was John Crotty, Chris Herren, Todd Lichti, Farmer or Thompson, the Nuggets organization seemed insistent on having at least one white American guard on the roster for many years of the franchise's history. If you're an undersized white guy on an NBA roster you have one job to do: make open shots. And like many of his predecessors, the Littleton high school alum Thompson just didn't make enough of them during his brief one-season tenure in Denver...which is one of many reasons why the Nuggets won just 21 games while Thompson was here.
Where Are They Now? Thompson seems to be on the path to having a successful coaching career and is currently the head coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Willie White (1984-86)
White is one of those random names from the past that old-school Nuggets fans will remember for making minor - make that very minor - contributions to 1984-85 Nuggets that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Whether White could hack it or not in the NBA we'll never know as head coach Doug Moe all but refused to give rookies decent playing time.
Where Are They Now? After playing for the Nuggets and in Europe for a while, White is back in his native Tennessee where he supposedly hooks up for pick-up games with other NBA retreads like Penny Hardaway and Todd Day.
DENVER STIFFS LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (PICK ONE)
Bernie Bickerstaff (1990-97)
Whether it was his hiring of Paul Westhead, allowing all-star center Dikembe Mutombo to walk for nothing, essentially passing on Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal by trading down in the 1996 draft (along with rising star Jalen Rose and the stable Reggie Williams for - oy - an aging Mark Jackson, a way-past-his-prime Ricky Pierce and the 23rd pick which turned into Efthimious Rentzias) or overpaying for useless veterans like Dale Ellis, the Bickerstaff Era was such an abysmal failure that it took over seven years to unwind Bernie's mess and return to respectability. For a detailed account of the disaster that was the Bernie Bickerstaff Administration, I encourage readers to re-visit my March 2008 column on all-things-Bernie. But if your record is based on wins and losses then Bernie's speaks for itself: the Nuggets were 219-355 while Bernie was employed as team president, GM and/or coach in Denver.
Where Are They Now? No matter how many disasters are left in Bernie's wake, there has always been a new job for him right around the corner. Bernie is currently employed as an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers which just might turn out to be a great thing for Nuggets fans if he's helping Blazers coach Nate McMillan on game-planning.
Dan Issel (1998-2001)
A legendary Nugget as a player, Issel would later be involved with the organization as a broadcaster, head coach and then team president and coach to close out the 1990s. It was in the latter role that Issel would carve out his legacy as a future Denver Stiffs Lifetime Achievement Award nominee. During Issel's reign of terror over the Nuggets organization, he traded away a first round pick four times (an astounding number considering the Nuggets never made the playoffs under Issel as team president), he incited a players-led revolt for his harsh treatment of Raef LaFrentz (a player he stupidly drafted over four future perennial all-stars), he traded Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer for Tariq Abdul-Wahad (and then grossly overpaid to renew Abdul-Wahad's contract) and, most famously, called an Hispanic Nuggets fan a "Mexican piece of @#$%" after being ejected from a game, a moment that thankfully sealed Issel's fate. For more on the not-so-hilarious escapades of the Issel Administration, read my 2008 breakdown.
Where Are They Now? As reported by the Denver Post's Penny Parker last summer, Issel is dead broke to the tune of $4.5 million in debt thanks to a slew of bad investments. According to Parker, Issel was making $2.5 million per season during his last contract with the Nuggets.
Paul Westhead (1990-92)
Hired by Bickerstaff after coaching little Loyola Marymount University to a remarkable run in the 1990 NCAA tournament, Westhead imported his offensive system that got Loyola Marymount into the 1990 Elite Eight and quickly made a mockery of the NBA game. Westhead's Nuggets won 44 games...in two seasons...and in his debut season the Nuggets averaged 119.9 ppg while giving up an astounding 130.8 ppg to their opponents (and were dead last in the NBA in attendance). We knew the Westhead Era was going to be a laughingstock when in his sixth game as head coach the Nuggets were down 107 to 67 against the Phoenix Suns...at halftime.
Where Are They Now? Westhead is the "Benjamin Button" of the NBA because he has done his entire coaching career in reverse. He began his NBA coaching career as head coach of the Lakers, leading the 1979-80 Lakers to the NBA championship. He was subsequently fired from the Lakers, then hired by the Bulls, then he resurfaced as head coach of Loyola Marymount, then he was the Nuggets head coach, then George Mason University's head coach, then the Orlando Magic's assistant coach, then the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury's head coach, then the Oklahoma City Thunder's assistant coach and today he's the head coach of University of Oregon's women's basketball team. So in 30 years of coaching, Westhead has essentially gone from coaching the champion Lakers to coaching Oregon women. For a detailed account of Westhead's whereabouts, I encourage readers to check out AOL Fanhouse's Chris Tomasson's profile of the former Nuggets coach.
Don't forget to send in your votes and thanks as always for helping us induct our latest class into the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame!