The NBA trade deadline is thirteen days away -- just enough time to quell that gnawing feeling in the gut telling you that, well, Kevin Garnett is old, and he has a lot of money left on that two-year contract, but he sure would shore up that interior defense. And, he would instantly be the most intense human being west of the Mississippi; that might be enough to win an extra handful of games. But would a trade for KG be one of the best ever?
The Nuggets' fortunes have swung wildly throughout their trade history, with the team either coming out way ahead or (potentially) way behind.
How good has Carmelo been this year? Sorry.
Still, the Nuggets are situated well in the NBA's Western Conference right now. They are sitting in fourth, two-and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers and a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies. They've been nearly unbeatable at home thanks to the Pepsi Center crowd and extra rays of sunshine, and Gallo seems to have rediscovered the skills that made him the centerpiece of the Knicks trade. They picked up Andre Iguodala this year, and his ability to lock down the opposing team's best player is a skill the team desperately needed. But their outside shooting is still suspect, as is the interior defense (Faried, McGee and Koufos combine for 4.3 blocks per game; league-leader Larry Sanders averages 3.16). They can always get better.
Rather than speculate about all the trade scenarios getting kicked around out there, however, we're going to delve into the real thing and take a look at the top five trades in Nuggets history (post-ABA-NBA merger).
Number 5: July 15, 2004. Denver trades its 2005 first-round pick (Joey Graham), 2006 first-round pick (Renaldo Balkman) and 2006 first-round pick (Marcus Williams) for Kenyon Martin.
Martin spent his first four years in the league dominating the Eastern Conference on a New Jersey Nets team that made multiple runs to the finals. When Denver picked him up for the 2004-05 season, he stepped in and contributed immediately as the second-leading scorer on the team (15.5 points per game) behind Carmelo Anthony (20.8). The team made the playoffs before flaming out in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. But Martin's value increased over the next four years until he became one of the cornerstones of a Nuggets team that went to the Western Conference finals during the 2008-2009 season before losing a relatively hard-fought series to the Lakers, four games to two. During that season, Martin averaged a respectable 11.7 points, 6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. The numbers don't jump off the page, but Martin served as the intimidating, consistent defender on a front line (Nene and Chris Andersen) prone to mental lapses. Martin, and the addition of another player to be named later, put the 2008-09 Nuggets team over the top, and the players the Nuggets gave up have done next-to-nothing with their careers. A surefire trade win.
Continue to count down the rest of the top five trades in Denver Nuggets history. Number 4: June 25, 2009. Denver trades its first round pick (Luke Babbitt) to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft day for Ty Lawson.
This trade is still playing out, of course, but it sure looks like the Nuggets came out way ahead. In his three years in the league, Lawson has increased his scoring and assist averages each season, as well as leading one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The Nuggets like to run, and Lawson, with his world-class speed, is the perfect point guard to helm this team. He still has difficulty finishing around the rim among the trees if the paint is too packed, but his exceptional speed and improving mid-range game is forcing teams to respect him as a multi-dimensional threat. Since Lawson took over as the primary ball handler last season, the team has improved, and he is looking like one of the league's emerging point guards. Luke Babbitt, on the other hand, has had trouble finding regular minutes despite showing some flashes as a deep threat for the Portland Trail Blazers this year. Lawson is dynamic, intelligent and, best of all, young. As long as the team keeps him around, he'll continue to be one of the better draft-day decisions made by the franchise.
Continue to count down the rest of the top five trades in Denver Nuggets history. Number 3: November 3, 2008. Denver trades Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, Cheikh Samb.
The Allen Iverson experiment lives in some kind of basketball purgatory. It didn't put the team over the top, but neither did it make the Nuggets worse. It did make them inconsistent, however, and helped cement the team-of-head-cases perception around the league. The two ball-dominating scorers (Anthony and Iverson) had difficulty co-existing. Enter Billups, who was coming off an impressive handful of years with the Pistons; he led them to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a championship in 2004. Billups had proven himself to be a heady point guard capable of hitting big shots, playing dogged defense and being a good leader in the locker room.
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To say moving from Iverson to Billups was an upgrade is a little misleading, but not much of an understatement. The Nuggets needed stability and veteran leadership, and Billups, with his championship pedigree (no doubt groomed by his years dominating as a CU Buff) was exactly the person for the job. During the 2008-09 season, Billups averaged 17.9 points, 6.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, he bumped his scoring up to 20.6 points and made almost three treys per game. Iverson was a damn good player in his prime (he was MVP during the 2000-01 season, when he willed his seriously inferior team to the finals before losing to the Lakers juggernaut), but he wasn't the man for the job in Denver. Billups came in and took control, leading to one of the best finishes in Nuggets history.
Continue to count down the rest of the top five trades in Denver Nuggets history. Number 2: December 3,1980. Denver trades its 1981 first-round pick (Rolando Blackman) and 1985 first-round pick (Sam Vincent) to to the Mavs forKiki Vandeweghe.
When Vandeweghe joined the Nuggets for the 1980-81 season, he joined a team facing two consecutive losing seasons after having some success in the playoffs behind David Thompson. They needed someone to help Alex English with the scoring load and get the team back to a position of respectability. The first season, the team jumped from thirty wins in 1979-80 to 37 wins. For the next two seasons, the Nuggets averaged 45 wins, making it to the second round of the playoffs during the 1982-83 season before losing to the Spurs in five games.
During that season, Vandeweghe averaged 21.5 points per game, shooting 56 percent -- a respectable percentage for a jump-shooting forward taking about 15.5 shots per game. The following year, bumped his scoring up to 26.7 points per game, good for second on the team, while still shooting about 55 percent and taking 18 shots per game. In his final year with the team, Vandeweghe led the team in scoring, averaging 29.4 points on 56 percent shooting (twenty attempts per game). The Nuggets traded Vandeweghe the following season, and they finally broke through to the Western Conference Finals. But during his four years, Vandeweghe helped lead the team back to legitimacy, combining with English to lead one of the most explosive scoring tandems in the franchise's history.
Any time your team is a part of another team's "worst trade in team history" footnotes, you probably made a good move. George McGinnis was, at one point in his career, a prolific, unstoppable scorer. By the time he was on the Nuggets, he was still averaging 22 points and eleven boards, but he was clearly on the downside of his career. Alex English was a good-but-not-great player for the Pacers who showed considerable promise during the 1979-80 season, so when the opportunity to acquire McGinnis arose, the trade seemed like a win-win for both teams: The Nuggets got rid of an aging superstar for a talented, young scorer.
Neither team knew how good English was going to be. And as he proceeded to tear up the league (he led the NBA in scoring during the 1982-83 season with 28.4 points per game and made eight consecutive all-star games) for the next nine years, it became clear the Pacers had made a huge mistake. During those nine seasons, English's scoring average never dropped below 24 points per game, and in the 1984-85 season, the Nuggets ran out to a 52-30 record and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, losing in five games to the absolutely stacked Lakers (who went on to beat the Celtics 4-2 to win the championship). During that run to the WCF, English was unstoppable, averaging 30.2 points, 6.6 boards and 4.5 assists per game. The team made the playoffs every year during English's career except the 1980-81 season. Who knows if English would have blossomed into the same dynamic talent with the Pacers. But as one of the greatest scorers of all time (he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997), it's clear that the Nuggets' decision to give up McGinnis resulted in the best trade in their post-merger history.
More from our Sports archive: "Andre Iguodala trade improves the Nuggets -- and makes the Lakers even better."