Over the past few weeks, George Karl, Jeff Morton, yours truly and several others have weighed in on the polarizing topic of retiring Carmelo Anthony’s jersey in Denver. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hash through that again, but it did get me thinking. With Denver’s newfound spot at the pinnacle of the NBA, and with an established precedent of retiring the jerseys of players who weren’t considered top 10 or so in the league guys (Dikembe Mutombo, Byron Beck and even Fat Lever) how many players from their past and current squad could potentially be in line for a jersey retirement? So naturally, as all good bloggers do, I created a list of candidates and ranked them.

I tried to establish a methodology for ranking the candidates. It’s loose and incredibly subjective but…so are the determining factors of actual jersey retirements. There’s no set formulas for who get’s their name in the rafters and who doesn’t, it’s entirely up to the team, ownership in particular. Still, I didn’t want this to be Zach’s list of favorite Nuggets so I landed on a weighted scoring system in three categories: achievement on the court, longevity with the franchise, and positive impact on the franchise image/brand. Even the categories are up for interpretation but essentially my thought process was how good of a player were they, how long did they dedicate themselves to the Nuggets and did they improve or detract from the franchises public image. The scoring was on a scale of 1 to 5 and weighted with achievement being 60% of the grade, longevity accounting for 25% and the remaining 15% dedicated to image/brand impact. The three scores combined create an overall percentage score of jersey retirement worthiness. It’s important to note that while there is no hard and fast line for who get’s their jersey in the rafters someday, when I looked at it, generally speaking, getting above the 75% threshold seemed like the  cutoff for candidates who have a chance. Here’s, in my opinion, the top 15 candidates to have their jersey retired at some point by the Nuggets.

Fan favorite guards who caused trouble off the court

15. Allen Iverson

Scores: Achievement – 2, Longevity – 1, Image – 3. Jersey retirement worthiness: 38%

AI is a hall of famer and one of the greatest guards to ever set foot on an NBA court. He’s the second or third best player overall in this entire list. His time in Denver though was somewhat forgettable. Ballyhooed as the player to get Denver over the hump in the playoffs he was unable to do so. Iverson’s one and a half or so years tenure in Denver resulted in winning a single playoff game and had a streak of eight straight losses in the postseason. His longevity and achievement scores really drag him down. He also gets only mid-marks for image. No doubt the trade brought buzz to the Nuggets but Iverson’s penchant for late night partying was well known and it can definitely be argued that his lifestyle (which never hindered his own performance) had a negative impact on the younger impressionable players who were not gods with a basketball in their hand and thus could not perform like he could after being out until 4AM the night before. Whether fair or not, that carried over into the public image spectrum and AI was a big part of the Nuggets getting the regrettable “Thuggets” label in the late aughts.

14. Ty Lawson

Scores: Achievement – 2;  Longevity – 3; Image – 1. Jersey retirement worthiness: 42%.

Jan 3, 2010; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) drives to the basket in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Pepsi Center. The 76ers defeated the Nuggets 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the best player on the team during his era and certainly one of the most healthy, Lawson’s time with the Nuggets is synonymous with the post-Melo/pre-Jokic era. He was the starting point guard for the team from the moment Melo (and Chauncey Billups) was traded in 2011 until the end of the 2014/2015 season. At his peak he was a 15+ points per game and 8+ assists per game player who was consistently the fastest person on the court. Sadly though, his highest mark comes from the fact that he was in Denver for 6 seasons. Lawson’s time is noticeably absent of any postseason success, with four first round exits all he has to show for in the playoffs. More troubling was how his time in Denver spiraled at the end with Ty looking very checked out and even missing team practices because he couldn’t get back to Denver from Vegas. His time in Denver came to a merciful end with an infamous hookah video during the NBA Draft in 2015. He had multiple DUI arrests over his career and even got banned from the Chinese Basketball association after flaming out of the NBA. Because he never really caught on anywhere else, Lawson will always be associated with the Nuggets so even his struggles after leaving Denver are associated with the Nuggets.

13. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Scores: Achievement – 3, Longevity – 3, Image – 2. Jersey retirement worthiness: 57%.

There are many who will tell you that Rauf was Steph Curry before Steph Curry, including the greatest head coach the NBA has ever seen. His shooting ability from the point guard position was incredible and resulted in more than one memorable moment. Rauf gets a bump in achievement over Lawson and Iverson because he actually won a playoff series and not just any series either, but one of the most memorable moments in Nuggets history when they upset the top seeded Seattle Supersonics. Unfortunately, he scores lower on the image side and the reason for that cut his longevity score short as well. Rauf was also Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick in that he started to protest during the national anthem. Agree or disagree with his protest and the reasons behind it, fact of the matter is it was an absolute PR nightmare for the Nuggets. The NBA suspended him and the Nuggets traded him shortly thereafter. Just like Kaepernick, he was blackballed from the league right in the middle of his prime.

Almost heroes and legends

12. Laphonso Ellis

Scores: Achievement – 3, Longevity – 3, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness: 66%.

Unknown date; Portland, OR, USA: FILE PHOTO; Denver Nuggets forward LaPhonso Ellis (20) dunks the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers at Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Phonz was another member of those beloved early 90s teams with Rauf. What fans who aren’t familiar with the era might not realize is that Phonz, up until he started battling injuries, was the best player on those teams. Everyone knows what Dikembe Mutombo could do on defense, but he was fairly one dimensional. Everyone remembers Rauf’s shooting but he was playing in an era not designed to maximize his skill set. Laphonso, as an ultra athletic scoring power forward, was perfect for the era and had the skills and athleticism to make the most of it. As good as he was on the court though it didn’t translate into much postseason success, like Rauf he had just the one playoff series victory. Injuries ultimately cut his time in Denver short as well. It absolutely needs to be said however that if Phonz could receive a score higher than 5 for image he would. He exemplified everything you want in a player for a publicity stand point. He was (and still is) a consummate professional who always took the time for the fans, including spending 15 minutes talking to the 9 year old who spotted him sitting outside the loading dock at the Nuggets 1994 training camp.

11. Chauncey Billups

Scores: Achievement 4, Longevity – 2, Image – 4. Jersey retirement worthiness: 70%

Mr. Big Shot, Billups is a hometown hero who played his high school ball at George Washington and his college ball at CU. He had two stints with the Nuggets. The first was from 1999-2000 and was largely forgettable, the biggest thing of note during that time being Chauncey settled a lawsuit against him for sexual assault allegations. However, his second stint was much more successful. Chauncey returned to Denver after being traded for Iverson early in the 2008-2009 season and made an immediate impact. Unlike AI, he did turn out to be what Denver needed to get over the first round hump and led the Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Chauncey was a casualty of the Melodrama. When then Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri finally traded Anthony to the Knicks in 2011, Billups was added to the deal. Both Ujiri and Josh Kroenke publicly stated (and apologized in the case of Kroenke) that they didn’t want to trade Chauncey but that it was in the best interest of both the team who was doing a soft rebuild and Chauncey who was at the tail end of his career and looking to win now.

10. Dave Robisch

Scores: Achievement – 3, Longevity – 4, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness: 71%

I know what you are saying: “who the heck is Dave Robisch?” Well, he was a forward/center for the Denver Rockets back in the early seventies and later returned to the franchise in the early eighties. He made up a big three with Byron Beck and Ralph Simpson and later served as the backup to Dan Issel and Kiki Vandeweghe. He is twelfth all time in win shares for Denver. His Rockets days didn’t result in a ton of success for the franchise with only one playoff series victory to show for it. I can’t make any judgement on what he did for the image of the franchise as I was not around in those times but by all accounts Robisch is an excellent person who learned the importance of being a high character individual both on and off the court during his college days at Kansas.

So close, but maybe just not quite enough

9. Bobby Jones

Scores: Achievement – 4, Longevity – 2, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness: 73%

Unknown date and unknown location; USA; FILE PHOTO; Denver Nuggets forward Bobby Jones (24) in action during an ABA game. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Network.

Another Hall of Famer on the list. Jones made his mark as one of the best defenders the NBA has ever seen. He began his professional basketball career in Denver when the Nuggets were still in the ABA and created the three headed monster that was Jones, Issel and David Thompson and that resulted in a trip to the ABA finals in 1976. He was no slouch on offense either, leading the league in FG% three of the four years in Denver. That’s where he gets dinged though as four years is a short tenure with the team. Jones went on to have a fantastic career with the Philadelphia 76ers but it can be argued his best years were actually in Denver. Another consummate professional, if he had spent his entire career here I have no doubt his name would be hanging right next to all the others at Ball Arena already.

8. Nene

Scores: Achievement – 3, Longevity – 5, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness: 76%

Nene is the most underrated Nugget of all time and is seventh overall in franchise win shares. One through five in franchise win shares all have their jersey retired (or will) and the sixth should. Eighth and tenth in franchise win shares are also hanging in the rafters. Some of this is Nene playing for some really good Nuggets teams throughout almost his entire career but more of it is about the impact he had on the court. I knock him down a point in achievement in comparison to Melo and Billups because they were the clear top two guys on the team (that’ll come up again soon) but Nene still went to the playoffs in nine of his ten seasons in Denver. Those ten seasons also earn him top marks for longevity. Nene also never shed bad light on the organization as a gentle giant (some might even say too gentle on the court) and was as loyal to the franchise as you could be. That hurt him in the end when he agreed to re-sign in 2011, only to be traded a few months later.

We can debate, but they should probably go up there

7. Carmelo Anthony

Scores: Achievement 4, Longevity – 4, Image – 3. Jersey retirement worthiness – 77%

Dec 07, 2009; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony (15) drives the baseline on Philadelphia 76ers guard Andre Iguodala (9) during the second quarter at the Wachovia Center. Denver defeated Philadelphia 93-83. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to dive into the Melo debate again. I wrote on it a couple weeks ago in my Three Takes You’ll Absolutely Hate column. Suffice to say, I believe he should be in there. Interestingly though he ranks only 7th in these power rankings and is not even the highest ranked member of the Nuggets organization from his era. His trip to the WCF in 2009 as Denver’s star and the eight years he spent with the franchise earn him high marks for achievement and longevity. Unfortunately, there were some less than flattering off the court incidents for Melo including a DUI, a marijuana possession charge (Melo must have been talking with Cris Carter because he made sure to have a fall guy for that one), an appearance in a stop snitching video, the in-game fight with the Knicks and of course the Melodrama. That would normally knock a guy down into Ty Lawson one point for image territory but Melo is also the guy who rose Denver from the ashes and made them a respectable franchise again so his image score lands right in the middle.

6. Aaron Gordon

Scores: Achievement – 4, Longevity – 3, Image – 5

Our first current Nugget on the list and lets just say the top 5 is going to be pretty heavy in the current era (makes sense as shoo-ins from previous eras have in fact already had their jersey retired). Similarly to Nene, AG loses a point in achievement as he is not one of the top 2 guys on the roster. We’ve also got to do some projection with longevity. Gordon will play his sixth season with Denver next year and can opt out of his contract after that. If the Nuggets continue to be a championship contender, and definitely if they win more rings in the next two seasons, AG is going to be a hot commodity. The Nuggets will also be fairly cash strapped and will have to make some hard choices. Suffice to say, I don’t think we get more than two more seasons of Gordon in a Nuggets uniform. In terms of image there’s nothing bad to say. Billed by some as a guy who might not adapt from being the guy in Orlando, Gordon has done everything the Nuggets asked and everyone has reaped the rewards.

5. Michael Porter Jr.

Scores: Achievement – 4, Longevity – 4, Image – 4. Jersey retirement worthiness: 80%

MPJ checks in at number 4 with similar justifications as Gordon. Porter is under team control a bit longer and is also a bit younger so I can see him definitely getting to 8 seasons in Denver. I’m not sure he retires here though. His game is getting better and better every day and the Nuggets will once again be forced into a tough decision when his contract is up and he’s close to 30 years old. Like AG, Porter will be looking for what might be his last opportunity to get a max contract. One point knocked off on image as well, Mike’s had some social media posts that stirred controversy and did in fact dox Adam Silver immediately upon entering the league (albeit unintentionally).

No debate, they belong in the rafters

4. George Karl

Scores: Achievement – 4, Longevity – 5, Image – 4. Jersey retirement worthiness: 85%

Oct 30, 2010; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl talks to Denver Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups (1) during the third quarter at the Toyota Center. The Nuggets won 107-94. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Our first coach on the list! I know what you are thinking, coaches shouldn’t count but tell that to the Nuggets who retired the number 432 for coach Doug Moe (432 is the number of career wins for Moe with the Nuggets). If Karl doesn’t get fired in 2013 after the best coaching job of his career he passes Moe and becomes the current all-time leader in wins for a Nuggets coach. Instead his time ended in Denver with him sitting on 423 wins. He guided the Nuggets to their longest stretch of consecutive playoff appearances, coached the team to the ’09 WCF and despite his unceremonious departure, supports the franchise and the community of Denver to this day. He falls short of perfect score on image because his post Nuggets career came with some cheap shots at his former players, in particular Melo and Kenyon Martin.

3. Jamal Murray

Scores: Achievement – 5, Longevity – 5, Image – 4. Jersey retirement worthiness: 97%

Jammin Jamal checks in at number three and like everyone in this final tier he could not play another game and his jersey retirement is still a lock. His run through the NBA Finals last year will forever be part of Nuggets lore and he is the emotional leader of the team. Despite only being 26, he is already headed into his seventh seed in the franchise. Like Gordon he will be a free agent after next year, but unlike Gordon he’ll be on the right side of thirty and one of the two pillars of the franchise. The Nuggets likewise have already stated they intend to extend Murray so unless something drastic happens he should be here for a long time. On the image side, Jamal had a very….we’ll call it intimate, social media post that I’m sure everyone regrets, including the Nuggets, and that keeps him from a perfect score

2. Michael Malone

Scores: Achievement – 5, Longevity – 5, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness: 100%

In four seasons, maybe even three if things go really well, Michael Malone will hold the Denver Nuggets coaching record for wins. He is the coach that led them to a title and took them from a rebuild to a champion. He is the greatest coach in Nuggets history. There were times when that was not the case and times where nearly everyone was calling for Malone to be fired. The Nuggets stuck by him and were rewarded for their patience. Give credit to Tim Connelly, he absolutely knew what caliber of coach he had in Malone. Now that he’s won a title, the job is likely Malone’s as long as he wants it. Obviously, you have to have the players to win, but Malone also took over a team whose image was in shambles. Players counting down how many weeks are left in the season in the huddle, Lawson imploding, a very public feud between Andre Miller and Brian Shaw, it was a mess. Malone put a stop to all that, wiped the slate clean with everyone and started building a culture that exemplifies Nuggets basketball today. Denver is lucky to have him and in my opinion jersey retirement is a given for a coach who looks likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.

1. Nikola Jokic

Scores: Achievement – 5, Longevity – 5, Image – 5. Jersey retirement worthiness – 100%.

May 18, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) in the fourth quarter during game two of the Western Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Hail to the king. There’s not much left to say when it comes to Jokic. He will lead every single statistical category of note (save for blocks) for the Nuggets when he retires. He has two league MVPS and a Finals MVP and no one thinks he’s done winning those. Like Malone, he can be a Nugget as long as he wants and given his style of play should age well, he could play with the Nuggets for a very long time. Jokic has remarked on more than one occasion that he wants to play for only one franchise in his NBA career. On the image side if I could give him a higher score I would. Jokic is the atypical NBA star. He doesn’t care about brand, he doesn’t care about big markets, he doesn’t care about flash. He cares about his family, his teammates, his horses. He understands there is more to life than basketball. It’s incredibly refreshing in this NBA world. Nuggets fans are so lucky to get not only the greatest talent in the NBA but also one of it’s greatest people.