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Denver Nuggets

We are now starting the second round of the Usenet Mock Draft.  While we don't have a true second round, we allow teams without a first round pick to make a selection and write a report.  The first team to pick in this round is the Denver Nuggets (who traded their first round pick to Boston for Ron Mercer).  In the real draft, the Nuggets pick 47th Their GM is Jeffrey Burgoyne who selects:

Ken Johnson, C, 6'11, Ohio State

Year Overview

Last year I said "Success for a franchise in Denver's situation (rebuilding from one of the worst teams ever), however, should be measured in small increments of positive news and developments, not in quantum leaps of games won. Now instead of competing with the Warriors, Bulls and Clippers for the top pick, they were competing with the Mavericks, Houston's and Cleveland's for some semblance of pride." How far did they progress over last year? Immensely. They managed an almost miraculous .500 record. While that does not sound impressive, it is very important to note that the Midwest division is by far the best and most competitive division in basketball, with the Pacific the second best (Midwest, +65 games, Pacific, +34, East as a whole -99). Denver plays the majority of games against the Midwest, then the Pacific. There is no doubt that Denver would be a playoff team in the East, and quite possibly a top 4 team. That is a hard pill to swallow when you are looking at the playoffs from the sideline, but Denver can take some pride in this fact. The Midwest will not always be this strong, and they will rise through other teams attrition. The question now facing the franchise is one of how to fill the gaps in their lineup and become the best team that they can be 3 years from now when their current "stars" begin to mature.

As with the last few years, Issell exerted a high level of control on his players. When someone was not living up to his expectations, he was sat. If he griped, he was gone. If he tried, he was rewarded. As such, Issell has not only surrounded himself with a nice handful of team players, he has managed to convert previous problem players over to his methods. Respect starts at the top, and Issell has it for his players, and they for him. At the same time, Issell is one to make his displeasure known in public, and he created an irreconcilable rift with Clark and almost created one with Raef LaFrentz. Coaches have to cut a fine line between being one of the "boys" and being the disciplinarian. Right now Issell is walking the line a bit to hard.

The year also say the consistent rumours that Issell would have to relinquish his GM or coaches title. It has become apparent that he believes his best value to the franchise is as coach. The respect his players have for him bears out his assessment. Even Issell seems ready to concede the GM title to another party and is actively involved in the search. This has been talked about for two years and is really about one year to late. Seeing Clark go for a pittance last year furthers my belief that the coach should not be the GM because friction is bound to happen with a coach and player, and if the coach is a GM, he may be forced into a rash decision. The GM, generally a person at arms length from the player, provides a cooling buffer and a level of reason that a coach may not be able to see beyond.

Going forward will be tough. One player can transform a team from 30 wins to 40 wins, but the jump in wins from 40 to 50 is immense. This Denver team is not a 50 win team in this division. They may be a 50 win team in the East, but the Midwest is where they will make or miss the playoffs. They have significant holes to plug up and when it comes down to it they only have one really good player. It is hard to say that internal player improvement will contribute to the bottom line as McDyess and NVE are about as good as they are likely to get. Only Posey has significant upside at this time, and Denver does not have a draft pick this year to fetch an asset.

Unfortunately, I now do not see how the current personnel become a championship contender without some significant upgrade, which is not likely to happen, yet they could become a perennial 2nd round team with the right tinkering. Team ownership has to decide what direction to take with the team. Right now they seem a second priority to the Avalanche in terms of securing extra funds to build a championship team. I'll present two scenarios, one which addresses the probable reality of tinkering to produce a competitive, but lower tier playoff team. The other involves radical thinking required to produce a potential NBA champion.

Draft History

Last year Denver went back to their usual drafting pattern by grabbing an undeveloped big player. Denver moved up in the draft to grab unheralded Mamadou N'diaye. N'Daiye was a virtual unknown commodity coming out of school. N'Daiye was also an unknown commodity going out of Denver. In fact, with only ten minutes of playing time all year, it is a pretty safe bet to say he's an unknown commodity around the league. Why they traded up to grab him is still a mystery. Obviously they saw something they liked. As usual, they traded away a future first rounder for a flop. This is the third year in a row that they do not own their own first round pick. That may work if you are the Lakers or San Antonio and picking in the high 20's, but teams not making the playoffs cannot afford to consistently be giving their picks away.

As you look through Denver's draft history, there is not much good to say. Most of the draftees are still not with the team, a testament to Issell's fax and phone lines to other GM's. The two players he has managed to retain are more role players than stars. LaFrentz and Posey are two nice players, but nothing to build a winner around. If you are not New York or the LA Lakers, you need to build through the draft, and Denver must start to do a better job of retaining their original picks and retaining those players they get with those picks. If they do not, they will not be getting past the first round in the foreseeable future.

Notable past draft picks and their current status :

  • 2000 - Mamadou N'diaye - Traded up to draft him. He never saw action. Traded away with Keon Clark For Kevin Willis and Alex Radojevic
  • 1999 -
    James Posey
    Chris Herren Not with team
  • 1998 -
    Raef LaFrentz
    Tyronne Lue (traded to LA with Battie for NVE)
  • 1997 - Tony Battie Overpaid backup someplace in the NBA
  • 1996 - Efthimis Rentzias (Denver traded his rights and a 2000 2nd round draft pick to Atlanta for Preist Lauderdale)
  • 1995 - Brent Barry (traded with other players for Antonio McDyess)
  • 1994 - Jalen Rose, dealt to Indiana.

Position Analysis

Major players stats, size and contract status


McDyess     70 2555 577 1165 .495 304 434  .700   0   0  240  845  146  43 162 102 220 1458 20.8
Van Exel    71 2688 460 1112 .414 204 249  .819 135 358   44  241  600  61 165  18 109 1259 17.7
LaFrentz    78 2457 387  812 .477 183 262  .698  51 139  173  607  107  37  97 206 290 1008 12.9
Lenard      80 2331 336  846 .397 153 192  .797 147 382   47  231  190  65 102  18 170  972 12.2
McCloud     76 2007 250  655 .382 152 181  .840  77 234   55  224  279  53 117  27 165  729  9.6
Willis      78 1830 304  690 .441 113 147  .769   1   6  177  532   50  57  87  52 216  722  9.3
Posey       82 2255 243  590 .412 115 141  .816  65 217  125  431  163  93 102  40 226  666  8.1
Pack        74 1260 181  426 .425 105 137  .766  12  31   30  137  293  65 135   1 114  479  6.5
Goldwire    20  201  30   80 .375  13  17  .765   9  34    1   12   34   9  15   0  13   82  4.1
Abdul-Wahad 29  420  43  111 .387  21  36  .583   4  10   14   59   22  14  34  13  54  111  3.8
Bowen       57  696  80  144 .556  27  44  .614   4  11   62  113   30  37  24  12  95  191  3.4
McClintock   6   58   9   18 .500   0   5  .000   0   0   10   17    1   0   3   2  11   18  3.0
Cheaney      9  153  10   30 .333   1   2  .500   0   0    5   20    9   4   5   2  14   21  2.3
Davis       19  228  12   25 .480   9  22  .409   0   0   24   53    7   1   5   1  34   33  1.7
Joseph       4   16   1    5 .200   0   2  .000   0   0    2    2    1   0   2   1   1    2  0.5
Radojevic    0    0   0    0  ---   0   0   ---   0   0    0    0    0   0   0   0   0    0  ---

When you look down the list of players it becomes painfully obvious this team really lacks quality depth. The shooting percentages are pathetic, although to their credit Denver shoots a lot of three pointers so that number is deceptive. Two scorers above 13 ppg? This team obviously is in need of help in all phases of the game, and is obviously very weak at SG and lacks backup height.

Player                   signed   years     salary     misc          FA
Terry Davis ...........  9/26/00    1      minimum                  '01
Anthony Goldwire ......  1/29/01    1      minimum                  '01
Dan McClintock ........   4/4/01    1      minimum                  '01
Robert Pack ...........  7/25/96    5    $15 million                '01
Calbert Cheaney .......   8/5/99    3    $6.6 million               '02
Voshon Lenard .........   7/1/97    5    $11.5 million              '02
George McCloud ........   8/3/99    3    $6.6 million               '02
Raef LaFrenz ..........  1/23/99    4    $12,086,502    rc          '02
Kevin Willis ..........  8/19/96,10/7/99  4+2  $9 mill + $6.1 mill  '02
Ryan Bowen ............   8/1/00    3     $1.9 million        t-opt '03
James Posey ...........  7/19/99    4     $4,866,409    rc    t-opt '03
Alek Radojevic ........  9/28/99    4     $6,376,379    rc    t-opt '03
Antonio McDyess .......  1/22/99    6    $67.5 million              '04
Nick Van Exel .........   8/3/99    5    $55 million                '04
Tariq Abdul-Wahad .....   8/1/00    7    $43.3 million              '07
Denver is actually well positioned for a FA run in '02. By declining Bowen and Radojevic options, I see a salary of approximately 33 million. This goes down significantly if Wahad is somehow traded. Thus they may have the room to pursue a big FA. Who is available in -'02? Al Harrington, Vince Carter, Jerome Williams, Dirk Nowitski, Mike Bibby, Larry Hughes, Antwain Jamison and Bonzi Wells.


Denver felt they were undersized at center last year, necessitating the drafting of N'Daiye. Not only was N'Daiye soon gone, but they also got rid of Keon Clark, the only other player who could bang underneath with McDyess and LaFrentz. Adding Willis was a spark, but now that Bourque is retiring, perhaps this old workhorse will not be far behind in Denver. Denver cannot possibly be going into the season with LaFrentz, McDyess and Willis as their only size. Radojevic has thus only proved hype can translate into million of dollars as after two years and a few million he has yet to see one minute of action. Bowen tries, but hardly produces.

In any case, LaFrentz will be pulling in 30 to 35 minutes a night of pretty darned good basketball. While he is not the banger that a team usually requires from a center, his outside shooting spreads the floor on the offense and his inside shot blocking skill wreaks havoc on the defensive end. Denver was the number 2 shot blocking team in the league last year, and LaFrentz anchored that portion. He started to rebound someone more befitting his size, and really kept his mistakes to a minimum. Unfortunately, as strong as the Midwest is, they are now relatively weak at the center position and LaFrentz, while not having easy night, certainly did not have to go up against the best in the business on a night by night basis. Kevin Willis will probably come out for one more season and provide adequate backup. If not, Posey better grow 6 inches really fast. Bowen will likely be brought back (as he has one more year left on his contract), but in all likelihood Denver will look to sign a FA from outside the organization that has some semblance of size.

Power Forward

McDyess played very well last year. He took up the challenge given by Issell and responded with a year that justified his credentials. Keon Clark was a great backup last year. This year McDyess better get ready to break Chamberlains minute record because their literally is not a backup in sight. LaFrentz and Willis are both better suited for the PF position, but they will need the minutes at center to keep this team afloat.

The trading of Clark still leaves me bitter. Obviously not getting along with Issell did not bode well for his future, but the fact is he has potential. He is a nice spark off the bench. I thought they could have done better (i.e. Jerome Williams).

Small Forward

This position was split quite evenly between James Posey and George McCloud last year. Expect them both to get 24 minutes each this year. Posey forte is defence to go with solid rebounding and the ability to hit the open shot. McCloud can shoot in any situation (and often does) and is a good passer. Overall they complement each other fairly well. Posey seems to be the long term answer, but a platoon at this position is adequate for a team that would be happy with an 8th place finish in the West.

Shooting Guard

So much for bringing back Abdul-Wahad. Voshon Lenard became the starter in the regular season, and unfortunately not because he played his way into the position. Lenard is no ones long term answer at SG. He has potential to be a three point specialist off of the bench, but does not have any complementary game to justify his minutes. Abdul-Wahad will be back as he is untradable with his contract. He did have injury problems last year, and hopefully they get resolved this year.

The team really needs another scoring option at this position. With Posey playing a defensive stopper, and McDyess and LaFrentz patrolling the middle, defense is needed less here than a guy who can drive to the basket and create some open look opportunities for the big men.

Point Guard

Van Excel had a great year, more for the fact he stayed out of the news (now commonplace with him) and was able to play 38 minutes on his knees. Two years ago the feeling was his chronic knees could limit him to 30 minutes a game, but seems to have risen above that. Speaking of bad knees, Robert Pack returned to Denver and played very well in his 12 minutes a game. A certainty to be brought back this season as a backup if a contract can be reached that makes sense. If not, this league and the CBA is teeming with backup PG's, especially offensively oriented ones.

Therefore, OPTION ONE for me would be to make this team an NBA champion contender. This will only be done by adding in a signifigant player at SG or SF. I think Harrington, Hughes or Wells would make solid additions to the team. I believe the team should look at making a big run for any of these three. Certainly there are some attractive players here, but Denver could do better than another PF, and we will assume Carter will go for the best chance at a winner. Thus I think Denver should look at this opportunity and make any moves required to clear up cap space and be ready to pursue a FA. Since this can be done without exposing an asset to the market, it is a small risk venture. At worst you lose Bowen and Radojevic.

Team Needs

Everything. Immediate concerns seem to be some size for backup duty at center and PF and a backup PG if Pack is not brought back. They need to acquire a reliable SG, but that is not an immediate concern. What they do not need is to sign a contract that may affect their cap position next year. They should look for a backup PF/C in the draft and find a backup PG on the open market (a minimum type of player). These two players fill an absolute immediate need, and will not cost much while ensuring little impact on cap space for next year. They can still manage at SG with Lenard and Wahad.

OPTION TWO should be minor tinkering with an expectation that this current team will make the playoffs for a number of years, but will never be able to challenge for the championships. In this option, the need is to secure a backup PG and PF/C through the draft or NBA dregs. This fills the immediate holes and ensures Denver may be playoff bound.

Players Considered

Anyone with size. The team has so many holes and questions right now that I felt the best player available would do the job, but they just cannot head into the season with 3 players of any size, especially with one on the verge of retirement and one about to be a free agent. A flyer on a SG/SF would also be ideal, but Denver is just not in a position to leave such a hole as they have at center and PF.

Terrence Morris - While he does not fit the bill for a big guy, he is probably one of the more NBA ready players in the draft, and certainly the best at this position

Jason Collins - Has size, but little basketball instincts. Nice FG and FT%, played for a winner. Will be gone before Denver picks

Steven Hunter - A project, but starting to learn how good he may be. Will not be around when Denver chooses after a good camp showing

Samuel Dalembert - Not a great rebounder and on the small side

Ken Johnson - Played on a winner. Not very big but very active. This is the type of player Issell likes

Alvin Jones - Potential, but likely gone before Denver picks

Kirk Haston - I didn't think he fit in Denver's mould very well. He as well will be gone before Denver picks.


Ken Johnson, C, 6'11", Ohio State

While all my instincts say Denver may go NBA ready with Morris, I've got too many concerns about Denver's lack of size. With Johnson still on the board how could I pass him up? He's a project, but LaFrentz has one more year left before he can leave, and Willis is likely gone soon too. Denver has to stock up on the odd big man project or they will be trying to lure Benoit Benjamin back from the dead.

What do I like about Johnson?

  • He is very active on the floor.
  • He has shot well from the floor (improving every year) and from the FT line.
  • As a senior, he is more ready than most players available.
  • He played for a winner.
  • He is quoted as being coachable (have to be with Issell).
  • He plays tough, belying his size.
  • If Issell can teach him to play more under control, he has the ability to be a Theo Ratliff type of player (as quoted in the scouting reports).

What don't I like about Johnson?

  • At 6'11, 235 he is a PF, not a center, which I would have preferred.
  • He doesn't have as much bulk as I wanted.
  • His limited offensive ability is of concern as he will be substituting in for Denver's scorers.
  • Not the strongest rebounder.
  • Due to his shot blocking enthusiasm, his overall defense (as implied by his steals stats or lack thereof) and rebounding is at risk.
  • His play in the camps was not impressive and he outplayed by players originally thought to be below him in the draft order.
  • Given the chaotic nature of these camps (i.e. no more than a pickup game sometimes), athletes should be able to fare better than more polished players, and he did not.
  • Has a PF/C gem ever been discovered this low? Guards, yes, but PF/C? The odds are not with him.

I know I'll look bad because Johnson will go lower than this. Haston was available and will go higher and if I just wanted to get on the plus side in the mock draft, he was the logical pick. I just believe Johnson is a much better fit for Denver.

The Team Will Take

Someone big. They have the advantage of the workouts that I cannot see. I expect if they see anything at all as a positive in any big player, they will take him. There are just too many big men to guess. It really depends who is on the board when Issell steps up. I expect they will go for more bulk than I did.

Other Moves

This team has needs one more starter and 3 solid bench contributors. Unfortunately, Denver has neither the cap room nor playoff promise to attract the better FA's this year. They have already lost out on some great talent by trading draft picks and should hold onto those. The only players of value they have they need simply because of a lack of quality personnel. If this team is to make the playoffs this year, they will need some quality role players. SG is a major concern on both ends of the floor, and the lack of any backup PF/C is disconcerting. In recent years teams have done fairly well combing the CBA and NBA cast offs to fill the gaps. Denver needs to start scouring these areas to find the next Bo Outlaw, Rubben Patterson or Anthony Mason. Denver does score enough, but really needs to add some grit players to their roster, guys who leave it on the floor, never give up, inspire the fans and teammates alike and are willing to take on a defensive challenge. Adding these types of players will not win them the championship, but it will get the team into the playoffs, which is the next big step.

The reality is though that Denver is capped out and will not be able to sign any impact free agent this year. They have no draft picks worth discussing. I think they should concentrate on the FA market next year. To do that, they need to make Denver seem to be a place to be. Now would be the time to target a position (i.e. SG), and try to clear up incumbents at the position and add young players at other positions. This will give the impression to potential FA's that Denver is building a winner and is one piece of the puzzle away. The fact that Denver only has a second round pick is not all bad. This means they can sign the player chosen to a one year contract thus having limited liability in terms of next years cap space. A first rounder comes with a guaranteed contract and cap implications.

Jerome Williams would be a solid fit for Denver. He is not happy in Toronto and on the last year of his contract. He can provide some size, rebounding, defence and intensity. The team could also use a scorer at the SG position. Perhaps trying to pry one of Bonzi Wells or Steve Smith from Portland would advised, but Denver has little to give in return. Wells would be ideal on either end of the floor. As Wells and Williams are FA's next year, however, Denver may be able to sign both without exposing any current players if they play the salary cap cards correctly.

Getting a new GM is a priority. Issell has been the most busy GM in the league for a few years now, and combining that with coaching is a recipe for trouble.

But by far I think the bets move they can make is to decide as a team to build cap space towards next summer and be ready to compete for some FA's. The team is not about to draft an impact player, nor trade for one. Unless they are able to sign a good FA SG/SF next year, this team will likely not make it out of the second round for the next decade.