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Unearthing New Denver Nuggets

By Dave Bruning

The long-awaited trade of Carmelo Anthony finally happened about a week ago. Despite all the speculation and posturing Melo ended up with the New York Knicks, as most thought he would. Yours truly was hoping for a deal with the New Jersey Nets. In retrospect, the deal Denver was able to pull off with New York is probably the better deal and as good as the Nuggets could have done.

I was very concerned the Nuggets would end up with the short end of the stick as they waited until almost the last hours before the trade deadline to pull the trigger on Melo. This actually played in their favor. As the deadline approached it became clear Anthony would not leave the $65 million extension unsigned. Unless the Knicks gave Denver everything they wanted, Melo would have signed the extension with the Nets or the Nuggets. Denver’s inexperienced front office of general manager Masai Ujiri and President Josh Kroenke showed some moxie. In the end the Knicks had to make the deal. It is a deal that is good for both teams.

The trade sent Anthony and local hero Chauncey Billups plus other salary cap pieces to New York for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, two other players, a 2014 1st round pick from the Knicks plus two other 2nd round picks. Billups is collateral damage as he did not want to leave Denver, but you have to give talent to get talent. There is an outside chance he could return next year if the Knicks buyout his remaining contract. The hidden nugget in this trade is the $24 million Denver will save in salary cap relief through the 2012 season. This gives them tremendous flexibility moving forward be it through free agency or draft picks.

Knicksmix.com writer Jared Dubin talked very favorably of the new Nuggets with me. Early returns indicate he was correct. The new Denver Nuggets are 4-1 without Melo. The only loss was a tough road defeat in OT to Portland, a game Denver should have won. There has been an emphasis on sharing the ball and playing better defense, two tenants of George Karl basketball. The rest of the season will be interesting and entertaining basketball to watch. Let’s take a brief look and the new Nuggets.

• Danilo Gallinari – Gallo is 22 years old and 6’10”. He is a wing player with an excellent shooting touch. He also shows the ability to get to the free throw line and shoots from the charity stripe like Chauncey Billups. He exploded for 30 points in his second game as a Nugget and his 3-pointer to win the game rattled in and out at the end of the Portland game. He injured his toe in that game and will miss 7-10 days. He has untapped potential galore and reminds me of a young Dirk Nowitzki.

• Wilson Chandler – Chandler is 23 years old and 6’8”. He is an athletic wing player who is also a good shooter. He has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and score in transition. I have been impressed with Chandler, who will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. Look for Denver to resign Chandler.

• Raymond Felton – Felton is the most experienced of the bunch at 26 years old. He and Ty Lawson combine to give Denver the fastest pair of point guards in the NBA. Neither player is a great shooter. Their roles are to push the tempo, penetrate the lane to create shots for themselves and their teammates and distribute the ball in general.

• Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov – These are two raw, unproven 7-footers. Big, athletic players are not easily found. Don’t expect much here initially but down the road either could develop into at least a solid role player.

The end of the Melo Drama has reshaped the Denver Nuggets. The trade has brought youth, athleticism and salary cap relief to the Nuggets. Balanced team play and ball movement will now define the Nuggets. It remains to be seen who will be their go to player down the stretch in close games. I personally like Aaron Afflalo. He is a good shooter who can create off the dribble. Player decisions on the future of Nene, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin are pending in the offseason. Ultimately, Denver gave up a very talented Nugget but may have struck gold in the process.

Posted 3/3/11


  1. Dave,

    Good stuff. Glad to see you've come over to the "the Knicks' offer was better than the Nets' offer anyway" side of this whole thing.

    There are a few things I don't understand though, from Denver's point of view. First, why did they insist on receiving Mozgov in the trade if he wasn't going to play? So they could say they got everything under the sun from the Knicks? Seems that way. (I also selfishly wish Mozgov was still a Knick so maybe we wouldn't have had to sign my third least favorite Knick ever, Jared Jeffries) Secondly, and probably more importantly, why in the world were they the ones who insisted on the Billups/Felton swap? They both have contracts which end after 2012, and if the Nuggets really thought Ty Lawson was their PG of the future, they could have bought Billups out for $3.5 million at the end of this season and saved him the trouble of moving to NY for a few months. He wanted to stay and end his career in Denver and maybe move up to the front office, but Masai and Josh insisted on getting back Felton, who now doesn't even start.

    I really think you are going to love Gallo. You seem to be seeing many of the same things in his game that I did while watching him, and I'm insanely jealous that you'll probably get to watch him grow into the player I feel confident he can be. He should do nothing but watch tape of Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, and other tallish shooters who found creative ways to get to the line and get their teammates involved as well.

    Chandler seems like a really nice fit as a small-ball 4 for George Karl, but I always thought he was more suited to being a 6th man who swung between the 3 and 4 positions. He's a little frustrating in that he's so good at getting to the basket but too often settles for long 2's, but he's really improved a lot since his rookie year (and even last year) in that respect.

    Anyway, keep up the nice work.

  2. Ho Hum. Not you Dave, but the trade, the treatment of Billups and the NBA. So nothing will supplant my feelings towards the NHL, the NBA is trying it's damnedest. I don't mind the trade, although I don't care for Gallo or the 7 foot euros, but it's merely a case of who gives a sh%t. Seeing Utah move Williams means you would have to go as far as OK City to see pro basketball. The Nugs could be 5-1 after the trip to Utah but frankly they are playing the softest stretch in their schedule. I'm going back to watching the 'Cuse and hoping the CSU Rams make the big dance. As far at the 12 team NBA is concerned...count me out.

  3. Jared,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    As far as Mozgov, he has played a bit in the last couple of games, but I think that was more about fleecing the Knicks for as much as they could get.

    As far as Chauncey, I'm not sure what to say. The spin out here is he had to be included in the deal. Ultimately, I could be as simple as money. The Nuggs saved a ton in this trade. As I mentioned previously, I believe Billups will return to Denver, just not sure now when and what his role will be. I have little doubt he will be the Nuggets GM or President someday down the road. Look forward to your future posts and feedback. Thx!

  4. Dave,

    Wondering what your opinions are on the Knuggets after about a month or so of watching them play? You guys are off to a real nice start with the new-look team so I bet they'll be good ones.

  5. Jared,

    Will have a new post soon. Just watched Denver rally and beat San Antonio. Very well played game. I'll check back soon