View Full Version : The Denver Nuggets: What could have been...

05-28-2003, 08:14 PM
From castoffs to NBA playoffs
This team to beat stocked only with former Nuggets
By Mark Kiszla

The best team alive in the NBA playoffs is the Denver Nuggets.

Go ahead, laugh.

With a formidable starting five, a bench stocked full of talented veterans, the best coach in the business, capable assistants and a wise front office, it would be possible to create a serious championship contender from nothing except former Nuggets currently going strong in pro basketball's postseason tournament.

OK, you can stop laughing now. Here's a hankie. It's time to sit down and have yourself a real good cry.

Read the players in this starting lineup of ex-Nuggets and weep: point guard Nick Van Exel, shooting guard Chauncey Billups, small forward Rodney Rogers, power forward Raef LaFrentz and center Dikembe Mutombo.

Their coach would be Larry Brown, who might not possess the ego of a Zen Master, but knows the secrets of winning hoops and understands the meaning of life in the NBA as well as anybody.

Maybe this collection of discarded Nuggets ain't the Lakers, but these guys could not only push Los Angeles to seven games, they could beat the defending league champions.

"There are plenty of guys on playoff rosters who have been through Denver to put together a pretty good team," Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said Wednesday.

It's not Vandeweghe's fault Denver has nothing to shout about in the NBA playoffs except what might have been. But know what really hurts? For the worst part of a decade, the Nuggets have been a waste of perfectly good talent.

Think New Jersey could take out a team of players who once called the Rocky Mountains home? Fuhgetaboutit. You don't suppose Mutombo, an eight-time NBA all-star now residing in the Nets' doghouse, would rather be back in the House of Mutombo, leading Denver to postseason victory? "I sometimes think about all the great players who have come and gone from the Nuggets," Mutombo admitted not long ago, "and it is enough to make me crazy."

Me, too.

The sixth man on our squad of long gone and much-lamented Nuggets could be Bobby Jackson, who not only plays the role better than anybody in the league, but has the trophy to prove it.

With a bench that could feature the blocked shots of Keon Clark, defensive stops by Tariq Abdul- Wahad and pearls of wisdom delivered from Kevin Willis, it would be no problem putting together a complete 12-man roster of players eighty-sixed from Colorado. Meaning no disrespect to the NBA powers that be, but this Denver dream team could conceivably kick the Spurs.

If Sacramento Kings executive Wayne Cooper, recently rated the 41st-most influential minority in U.S. sports by a prestigious national magazine, was more to the Nuggets than a former center, perhaps the present Denver braintrust might have more important issues to ponder than brainstorming ways to get lucky in the Le- Bron James lottery.

Vandeweghe would rather be scheming ways to beat Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals, rather than sending sincere thank-you notes to all those suffering Nuggets fans who have mailed him talismans, everything from a cereal box of Lucky Charms to a secret New Orleans voodoo potion. "I'm mixing the recipe right now," Vandeweghe said.

Here's what is so depressing: Everywhere you look in the playoffs, there are harsh reminders Denver threw out too many solid basketball people with those old rainbow uniforms. Frank Hamblen is a trusted assistant with the Lakers. Chris Wallace serves as general manager of the tradition-rich Boston Celtics. Elston Turner works diligently on the Sacramento bench.

While Vandeweghe is almost as cautious about criticizing past Denver blunders as he is at avoiding a repeat of them, what strikes him about all these former Nuggets in the playoffs is the crazy notion that an architect of a successful NBA franchise must not only have vision, but the patience to see his plans through to fruition. In all the clumsy bungling, maybe the worst franchise pratfalls have resulted from giving up on players such as Billups and Jackson too soon.

"A lot of general managers look at building a team as there is only so much time before I've got to win. They figure I better do something before my time is up. Maybe that same clock is ticking for me, too. But I've never looked at it that way. I won't compromise the plan," Vandeweghe said.

Denver is nowhere on the NBA map, left out in the cold. But Detroit and San Antonio are in the middle of the hot playoff action? It hardly seems fair. The guys we once cheered - from Brown to Billups - are now household names and heroes in somebody else's hometown.

The Nuggets could've been somebody. They could've been a contender.

What might have been ...
Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla picks a championship-caliber starting lineup and staff of former Denver Nuggets still involved in the NBA playoffs:

* Position - Player - Current team

Point guard - Nick Van Exel - Mavericks

Shooting guard - Chauncey Billups - Pistons

Small forward - Rodney Rogers - Nets

Power forward - Raef LaFrentz - Mavericks

Center - Dikembe Mutombo - Nets

* Head coach: Larry Brown, Sixers

* Assistant: Frank Hamblen, Lakers

* Assistant: Elston Turner, Kings

* General manager: Wayne Cooper, Kings

Guards: Bobby Jackson (Kings), Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Mavericks)

Forwards: Keon Clark (Kings), Kevin Willis (Spurs), Eric Williams (Celtics)

Centers: Aaron Williams (Nets), Tony Battie (Celtics), Mark Blount (Celtics)

05-28-2003, 08:21 PM
Still nobody compares to the Clipper's allstar factory over the past 25 years.

05-29-2003, 09:14 AM
What???? The Clippers? Name me one all-star. In actuallity, the Clips have been pretty good about NOT over-paying for mediocre players. Who are you talking about? Darius Miles is a spare. Rodney Rogers is a spare. Stanley Roberts, Cherokee Parks, Stanley Roberts? Who are you talking about? Jeff McGinnis, Derrick Anderson, Maurice Taylor have never lived up to the potential they were claimed to have while with the Clips. In fact, the only guy who I can think of who has actually become a better player since leaving the L.A. is Brent Barry, and he's not a star by any means. There a whole HELL of a lot of ex-Clippers out there. But there aren't a whole lot of GREAT ex-clippers.

05-29-2003, 12:42 PM
Elton Brand for one would be a five time all-star if not for on the clips. Nuggets could have should have would have? Except for Lafrentz a pretty good lineup.

05-29-2003, 01:16 PM
Yeah, Brand is a good player. And I'll wager that he'll be the one player that they DO keep. The perception that the Clippers let all-stars just walk away is a widely held perception that is absolutely false.