It seems like everywhere you look throughout the NBA these days, a former Denver Nugget is lurking somewhere. Here's a rundown of former Nuggets that we'll be welcoming at Pepsi Center at some point this season (alphabetical by visiting city) ...
DeMarre Carroll - Atlanta Hawks (Thurs., November 7th)
Carroll played all of four games for the Nuggets during the 2011-12 season before being waived in early February. With the Hawks being Carroll's fifth team in as many seasons, Carroll seems destined to be a journeyman and don't be surprised if he's not on the Hawks' roster when they visit Denver in early November.
Carroll's Nuggets Highlight: In a blowout win over the Sacramento Kings on January 4th, 2012, Carroll scored 6 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in nearly 8 minutes of playing time.
Reggie Evans - Brooklyn Nets (Thurs., February 27th)
"The Joker" and former Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee returns to play at Denver in late February with his sixth NBA franchise, the Brooklyn Nets. Evans has to have one of the least refined games in the NBA, but the joke is on the rest of the NBA: he has made almost $30 million since entering the NBA from the University of Iowa in 2002.
Evans' Nuggets Highlight: A voracious rebounder, Evans' pulled down 20 rebounds to go along with 19 points in his final game as a Nugget. A meaningless 100-77 affair on April 18th, 2007. Unfortunately, Evans is remembered better as a Nugget for this incident during the 2006 NBA Playoffs:
Chauncey Billups - Detroit Pistons (Wed., March 19th)
It's hard to believe, but this future Basketball Hall of Famer has played for seven franchises, including both the Nuggets and Pistons twice. In his second go-around as a Piston (the franchise he led to back-to-back NBA Finals and won a championship with in 2004 for which he was named NBA Finals MVP), Billups will be looked upon to mentor point guard / shooting guard hybrids Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey. And being a former point guard / shooting guard hybrid himself, there's no better man for the job than Billups.
Billups' Nuggets Highlight: Billups had so many great games during his second tenure with the Nuggets that's it hard to pick just one. Billups' 39-point effort to lead a Carmelo Anthony-less Nuggets squad over the then-NBA Champion Lakers in Los Angeles on February 5th, 2010 (which took place during our first ever Stiffs Night Out!) was probably his best singular regular season performance as a Nugget. But Billups will be better remembered for transforming the Nuggets' culture upon arrival in 2008 and leading the franchise to its third Western Conference Finals ... which would be Billups' seventh consecutive conference finals appearance:
Andre Iguodala - Golden State Warriors (Mon., December 23rd and Wed., April 16th)
When the Nuggets traded for "Iggy" in 2012 none of us ever thought he'd be a former Nugget just one summer later. But alas, that's precisely what happened when Iguodala left the Nuggets via free agency (well, technically via a sign-and-trade) to, of all teams, the Nuggets' 2013 playoff foe Golden State Warriors. What a turncoat.
Iguodala's Nuggets Highlight: With every game of the Nuggets' final seven of the 2012-13 regular season playing out as "must wins", Iguodala posted a near triple double in four of them, had a triple double in one of them (against the Spurs on April 10th) and canned a game-winning left-handed layup to beat the Mavericks on April 4th:
Marcus Camby - Houston Rockets (Wed., April 9th)
Amazingly, the 39 year old Camby is still going at it. Well, sort of. Having appeared in just 24 games (sparingly) in his second go-around with the Knicks last season, Camby will be joining the Rockets this season for his second go-around in Houston as a double, triple emergency resource should both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik be unavailable due to injury or suspension.
Camby's Nuggets Highlight: Camby had so many 20-rebound games and multi-block games that it's hard to choose just one. One memorable game was Camby's performance at Seattle on January 18th, 2005 when the Nuggets center had 25 points, 24 rebounds and played every minute in a Nuggets' 116-110 road victory
Steve Blake - Los Angeles Lakers (Wed., November 13th and Fri., March 7th)
Now one of two "white Steves" who play point guard for the Lakers, Blake is remembered fondly in Denver for playing a productive 49 games during the 2006-07 season after being traded for Earl Boykins and Julius Hodge. Playing 33 minutes per game off the bench as a Nugget, Blake averaged a very respectable 8.3 ppg and 6.6 apg.
Blake's Nuggets Highlight: In two wins against the Portland Trail Blazers, Blake put up 25 points, 4 assists and 3 steals and 19 points, 14 assists and 2 steals, respectively. Not surprisingly, the Blazers signed Blake as a free agent after the 2006-07 season was over and paid him more than $4 million a season.
Kosta Koufos - Memphis Grizzlies (Fri., January 3rd and Mon., March 31st)
Like Iguodala, I was surprised to see KK become a "former" Nugget this summer. But when new general manager Tim Connelly decided to trade away one of the Nuggets three centers, Koufos was dealt on draft night to the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur. A throw-in from the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade, Koufos was instantly productive under former head coach George Karl and started 81 games for the Nuggets last season. Koufos rewarded Karl for his trust in him by putting up 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block per game.
Koufos' Nuggets Highlight: In a crucial grind-it-out home game against the Grizzlies on March 15th, Koufos had the best night of his NBA career when he scored 18 points, grabbed 16 rebounds (7 offensive) and blocked 3 shots to lead the Nuggets to an ugly 87-80 victory. That single game may have been the difference between the Nuggets landing a three-seed and the Grizzlies finishing fifth in the Western Conference playoff standings.
Chris Andersen - Miami Heat (Mon., December 30th)
One of the Nuggets franchise's all-time fan favorites, "The Birdman" makes his Pepsi Center debut in an NBA Champion Miami Heat jersey right before the New Year. After being amnestied by the Nuggets last summer, Andersen found a home in Miami and was a major contributor to the Heat's back-to-back championship run by providing a desperately needed spark off the bench. I know every Denver Stiff out there has this game circled on their calendar as Andersen will be welcomed with a monstrous applause from the Nuggets faithful that night.
Andersen's Nuggets Highlight: The entire 2008-09 Nuggets season was an Andersen highlight. Signed to a one-year, $1 million contract after being previously banned by the NBA for violating the league's substance abuse program, the Nuggets took a flyer on Andersen (who had played for the franchise for three seasons earlier in his career) and in just 20 minutes of playing time per game, The Birdman averaged 6.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 2.5 bpg - good for second-best in the entire NBA that season. And just like Andersen's recent NBA Finals run with Miami, he was a huge catalyst for the Nuggets' Western Conference Finals run in 2009:
Corey Brewer - Minnesota Timberwolves (Fri., November 15th and Mon., March 3rd)
At times an enormous help off the bench and at other times a huge detriment, C-Brew didn't get a contract extension from the Nuggets this summer and was signed by the team that originally drafted him seventh overall six years ago: the Minnesota Timberwolves. An absolute pest on defense, Brewer's presence off the bench will probably be missed this upcoming season. But I for one won't miss those errant three-point attempts.
Brewer's Nuggets Highlight: You don't win 15 straight games without a little bit of luck and win number 14 came with a lot of luck, thanks in large part to Brewer's efforts. Playing the Philadelphia 76ers at Denver on March 21st, the Nuggets found themselves down 5 points with 9.2 seconds to go. Amazingly, Brewer hit a three-pointer (his fifth in six tries that night) and then fouled Evan Turner, a 75% free throw shooter who went on to miss both free throws. Then, with 2 seconds left Brewer was fouled by Damien Wilkins on a three-point attempt and sank all 3 free throws to deliver the most improbable of victories for the Nuggets:
Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton - New York Knicks (Fri., November 29th)
When this cast of characters last visited Pepsi Center, Carmelo Anthony
faked played through an injury during the first half, left soon into the second half and watched the Nuggets decimate the Knuggets 117-94 from the locker room. It was unfortunate that Melo was hurt as the first two times these teams have met post-Melodrama (both in New York) have produced exciting, hard fought, close games. And as long as Melo, J.R., K-Mart and Felton are in New York while Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov (and now Nate Robinson) are in Denver, these two franchises will be linked.
Melo's Nuggets Highlight: Say what you want about how Melo left Denver, but while here he produced countless memorable moments. To me, what's most memorable about Melo are the 14 game-winning shots he made as a Nugget - especially the one he made in overtime on national TV in 2010 at Cleveland (while being guarded by LeBron James) to break the Cavaliers' 13-game winning streak. Melo had 40 points in that game:
Martin's Nuggets Highlight: Despite playing 7 years in Denver, I can't think of a singular K-Mart game that would be considered his "best." On the same night that Melo posted 40 in Cleveland, K-Mart contributed 18 points, 17 rebounds and 2 steals. And for a good stretch of that season (the 2009-10 campaign), K-Mart was routinely grabbing 12-plus rebounds and acting as the Nuggets defensive quarterback to help lead the team to 53 regular season wins.
Felton's Nuggets Highlight: Felton appeared in just 21 games as a Nugget in the wake of the Melo trade in 2011 and never quite fit in with George Karl's "two point guard lineup" system. Felton's best game as a Nugget came in New Orleans when he connected on 6 of 9 three-point attempts en route to 22 points to go along with 12 assists in a Nuggets victory.
Smith's Nuggets Highlight: J.R. had so many epic games as a Nugget that it's hard to pick just one. As far as a singular "highlight" goes, it has to be J.R.'s in-game dunk at Minnesota in 2010 (see video below), which I pronounced to be the best in-game dunk in Nuggets history at the time. As far as a single game goes, it has to be when J.R. canned 11 three-pointers against the Sacramento Kings in 2009 ... the second most threes made in a single game in NBA history.
Arron Afflalo - Orlando Magic (Sat., January 11th)
Count me in among Nuggets fans who wish we never traded away AAA for Iguodala in the first place. Under contract for multiple years, Afflalo was part of a major gamble the Nuggets made when trading the emerging two-guard (along with Al Harrington) for Iguodala during the summer of 2012. With Iguodala leaving for Golden State, and despite Randy Foye coming back in trade, it's clear that the gamble will never pay off.
Afflalo's Nuggets Highlight: Four games before Melo (and Billups) were traded to New York, Afflalo hit the biggest shot of his life when his buzzer-beating jumper sunk the Dallas Mavericks on February 10th, 2011. With Melo having fouled out and Billups unable to get a shot off, Afflalo was willing and able to connect in what became one of the more memorable home games in recent Nuggets history:
Earl Watson - Portland Trail Blazers (Fri., November 1st and Tues., February 25th)
Earl Watson is still in the NBA? That's what I was thinking when researching for this column but apparently it's true. Watson's Denver tenure was brief, appearing in just 46 games during the 2005-06 season before being included in a complicated trade that brought Reggie Evans and Ruben Patterson to Denver (ah, those Thuggets days!).
Watson's Nuggets Highlight: Watson's best game as a Nugget happened on January 8th, 2006 at Houston in a game that featured a Melo buzzer-beater to win the game 92-90. But if not for Watson connecting on 6 of 7 three-point attempts and scoring 20 points off the bench, Melo would never have been in position to seal the deal for Denver.
Nene Hilario, Al Harrington - Washington Wizards (Sun., March 23rd)
Nene and Big Al will reunite in the District this season after playing in Denver together for much of the 2010 through 2012 seasons. The Wizards, a dreadful team as of late, somehow beat the 57-win Denver Nuggets in both meetings last season. Let's hope that doesn't happen again this season, although the Wizards will be much improved and are thinking playoffs.
Harrington's Nuggets Highlight: Harrington's best game as a Nugget came in a heartbreaking loss when the Nuggets dropped Game 7 of their hard fought first round series to the Lakers at Los Angeles in May of 2012. In that game, Harrington played valiantly and scored 24 points, but it wasn't enough for the Nuggets to get out of the first round for only the second time during their recent playoff appearance streak.
Nene's Nuggets Highlight: A solid contributor at the power forward and center position (while healthy) for 10 years in Denver, Nene doesn't have a singular "great" game as a Nugget. But his most memorable game may be one in which he didn't score at all and played just one minute and 17 seconds. During the 2007-08 season, Nene was diagnosed with testicular cancer, forcing the big Brazilian to miss over two months of games while a malignant tumor was removed. Nene came back in a game against the Mavericks on March 28th, 2008 to a rousing standing ovation from the Pepsi Center crowd. It was a much needed feel good moment in an otherwise tumultuous Nuggets season.