Remember those Denver Nuggets who appeared in 10 consecutive post-seasons from 2004 through 2013? In fact, when the Nuggets entered the 2013 NBA Playoffs only the mighty San Antonio Spurs were riding a longer consecutive playoffs appearance streak (theirs was 15 years at the time, now up to 17).
You don't get to 10 consecutive playoff appearances without having solid players guiding you there. So it shouldn't be surprising that eight Nuggets castoffs are having substantive impacts on the 2015 NBA Playoffs' second round. And "castoff" might be too strong a word, as players are traded, released or left unsigned for an assortment of reasons and those reasons stand on their own in their own moment in time.
Nevertheless, it's fun to see so many former Nuggets affecting the current NBA post-season ...
Timofey Mozgov - aka "Mozzy" - was a fan favorite in Denver. Arriving in February 2011 as part of the mega Carmelo Anthony-to-the-New York-Knicks deal, the 7'0" Russian center - as a starter - contributed somewhat to the Nuggets' thrilling seven-game series versus the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 but ceded most of the center minutes to JaVale McGee ... whose stellar play in that series led to one of the worst contracts in franchise history. Entering the 2012-13 season, Mozgov was the odd man out at center as both McGee and Kosta Koufos received more playing time. It was so bad that Mozgov was DNP-CD'd in all six games against the Golden State Warriors in the 2013 playoffs.
Under a new coach and a new system in Denvrer beginning in 2013-14, Mozgov received more minutes and more national exposure, leading to a January 2015 trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two future first round draft picks. At the time, most pundits thought that the Nuggets were the big "winners" of the trade, but it has worked out great for Cleveland. Reunited with his Russian national team coach David Blatt - and playing alongside the NBA's best player in LeBron James - Mozgov has thrived, starting in all but one game for the Cavaliers and averaging a respectable 8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 2.4 bpg in this year's playoffs (through seven games) as the Cavaliers try marching towards the NBA Finals.
The incredibly talented yet enigmatic J.R. Smith overlapped with Mozgov for just a half season after the Anthony trade in 2011, when Smith left Denver for New York to play alongside Anthony for several seasons. As a Nugget, Smith had several memorable playoff moments, including in 2008 when he and Linas Kleiza were the only Nuggets to show up against the Lakers in a first round sweep (Smith averaged an impressive 18.3 ppg off the bench in that otherwise forgettable series). Following up his 2008 playoff performance, Smith was a key actor in the Nuggets' magical 2009 Western Conference Finals run, scoring 18 or more points seven times in the Nuggets' 16 games. But in typical Smith fashion, he was also incredibly inconsistent - shooting under 30% five times during that post-season run.
Now playing alongside Mozgov in Cleveland, Smith started in all four of the Cavaliers first round playoff games versus the Boston Celtics but didn't shoot particularly well and got himself suspended for two games after laying a vicious smack on the Celtics' Jae Crowder in Game 4. After serving his two-game suspension, Smith has played well off the bench for Cleveland in both Games 3 and 4 of their second round series versus the Chicago Bulls, shooting 50% from three-point range in both incredibly close games.
Speaking of Nuggets castoffs, DeMarre Carroll played for our Nuggets for all of four games during the 2011-12 season and was waived in February of 2012 after which the Utah Jazz picked him up through the 2012-13 campaign. Carroll signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Hawks in 2013 and has thrived under head coach Mike Budenholzer as a starter. In this year's playoffs, Carroll is playing at his absolute peak and is leading the one-seeded Hawks in scoring with 18.3 ppg. Unfortunately for Carroll's Hawks, they've gotten themselves into a second round dogfight with a feisty Washington Wizards team that features another former Nugget in the starting lineup ...
Nene Hilario, the bruising Brazilian big man who anchored the Nuggets' power forward / center position for nine-plus seasons, has been critical to the post-season success of the Wizards for the past two seasons. As a Nugget in the playoffs, Nene thrived in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 post-seasons. 2007 was particularly impressive as a then-24 year old Nene went head-to-head against the Spurs in the first round and put up 15.2 ppg (on 58.5% shooting) and 7.8 rpg against the eventual NBA Champions. And against the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, Nene had back-to-back 24-plus point games as the Nuggets went up 2-0 over the Mavericks in that series.
Traded in 2012 for the aforementioned McGee, Nene left Denver with a broken heart to join a moribund Wizards franchise. But just a season removed from that trade, the Wizards made the playoffs, upset the Bulls in Round 1 and followed that up with a first round upset of the Toronto Raptors this year. Nene may not have been happy about leaving Denver in 2012, but he has to be happier playing for this season's Wizards than he would have been playing for this season's Nuggets!
Former Nuggets head coach George Karl loved Kosta Koufos. Karl loved Koufos so much, in fact, that Koufos started in all 81 games that he played in for Karl during the Nuggets' record-breaking 57-win 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, Koufos' solid play at center in 2012-13 didn't translate into post-season success in 2013 as the Nuggets were upset by the Warriors in Round 1 thanks in some part to Koufos' ineffective performance. Following that playoff defeat, the Nuggets decided to trade Koufos to the Memphis Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur and Joffrey Lauvergne during the 2013 off-season.
As a member of the Grizzlies last season, Koufos barely contributed during the Grizzlies' seven-game series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. But in this season's playoffs, Koufos has been more forceful off the bench and put up eight points (on 4-4 shooting) and grabbed six rebounds off the bench in the Grizzlies' impressive Game 3 victory over the Warriors on Saturday night.
In his one post-season as a Nugget, Andre Iguodala had one of the best performances of his career, averaging 18.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.3 apg and 2.0 spg in the Nuggets' first round upset loss to the Warriors. Iguodala's play was so good that the Warriors overpaid to steal Iguodala away from the Nuggets as a free agent in 2013, setting forth the course of action that led to the Nuggets current state of affairs as non-playoff participants.
As a Warrior in last year's playoffs, Iguodala played solidly as a starter in the Warriors' seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. In this year's playoffs, Iguodala has been coming off the bench and has not shot well at all, finishing below 10 points in every game thus far. And if the Warriors are to overcome the Grizzlies in the playoffs' second round, they will need Iguodala to step up big time.
In two seasons as a Nugget from 2011 through 2013, Corey Brewer appeared to have resurrected a career that had gone off the rails, despite being a member of the 2011 NBA Champion Mavericks. As a teammate of Koufos and Iguodala's in 2012-13, Brewer was a big part of the Nuggets' 57 wins by contributing 12.1 ppg and 1.4 spg off the bench. But like Iguodala in the summer of 2013, another Nuggets opponent - in this case, the Minnesota Timberwolves - offered Brewer big money that the Nuggets couldn't justify matching.
Traded to the Houston Rockets in December, Brewer now finds himself back in the playoffs and is playing well for the Rockets, averaging 12.5 ppg off the bench through eight games.
Aaron Brooks was a 29-game rental for the Nuggets last season, but found a home with the Bulls this season averaging a very respectable 11.6 ppg off the bench and starting in 21 games for Chicago. In a limited playoff role for the Bulls in this post-season, Brooks is getting just 12 minutes per game and is contributing 4.9 ppg as he struggles with his shooting.
Seeing the eight names listed above, it's hard not to wonder "what if" had many of these former Nuggets never left Denver in the first place. Those names listed above plus current Nuggets Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, and Chris Andersen (who just a season ago completed back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and played well for the Miami Heat again this season) made for a formidable lineup that would probably be back in the playoffs today. But a confluence of risky trades that didn't pan out, plain old bad luck and one bad coaching hire has left the Nuggets playoffs-less for two consecutive years without any clear path back to the post-season.
So for now, we're left to enjoy watching these former Nuggets players perform in other teams' uniforms for yet another post-season.