The Nuggets' loss of Dahntay Jones to a free-agent deal with the Indiana Pacers hurt, and not just because Kobe Bryant grew to despise him over the course of the Western Conference Finals this year. His toughness and aggressiveness were just what the Nugs need to become a perennial playoff power. Fortunately, though, the team's braintrust understands that, and made a wise deal to fill his role by obtaining Arron Afflalo from Detroit in a trade that also involved forward Walter Sharpe, some cash and a Nuggets second-rounder in 2011.
Afflalo never got much of a chance to show what he could do in Detroit, whose acquisition of Allen Iverson in the ill-advised (from the Pistons' perspective) Chauncey Billups trade triggered the Nuggets' growth spurt last season. But he was trained in Ben Howland's UCLA system, which teaches how defense can lead to offense on a fundamental level. He can score, too, as he proved in Iverson's return to the Pepsi Center in January. But it's his ability to harass opposing guards that makes him a fine acquisition -- and because the Pistons were desperate to clear cap space, he didn't cost a fortune. True, the Nugs haven't made the sort of upgrades managed by other Western Conference foes this off-season. But they're demonstrating that the lessons learned during the playoffs were learned well.