Denver has just thrown in the towel in the playoff race and giving the lottery race their best shot.
DENVER (Reuters) - The Orlando Magic acquired three soon-to-be free agents from the Denver Nuggets Monday
night in a five-player deal, the Denver Post reported on its web site.
According to the newspaper, the Nuggets will send guards Chauncey Billups, Ron Mercer and Johnny Taylor to Orlando
for guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad, veteran forward Chris Gatling, a first-round draft pick and some $1 million in cash.
It is another move by the Magic designed to clear more salary cap room for this summer's free agent period. Tim
Duncan of San Antonio, Grant Hill of Detroit, Tracy McGrady of Toronto and Eddie Jones of Charlotte are players who
could be available in the free agent market.
Orlando has stockpiled more than enough ammunition with eight first-round picks over the next five seasons. Among
those picks is a first-round selection from Golden State this year, which more than likely will be a lottery selection.
The first-round pick the Nuggets would receive in this deal was the one they gave up in a trade for forward Keon Clark
and Taylor with Orlando on January 21, 1999.
Denver likely made the deal amid concerns over whether the team could re-sign Mercer, who is second on the club in
scoring at 18.3 points per game.
The deal would mean that Mercer, selected sixth overall in 1997, would be on the move for the second time in less than
five months. He was acquired from Boston on August 3 for forwards Danny Fortson and Eric Williams.
"Mercer and I had an understanding from the very beginning that if I didn't extend him before the season started he
would look around," Nuggets general manager and coach Dan Issel told the newspaper.
"The biggest problem in this trade, I don't want to trade Chauncey. I wouldn't trade him, except for the fact that he is
going to be a free agent at the end of this year. And you never know what the future will hold. Also, any organization
cannot lose a player without getting something for him."
Orlando media relations director Joel Glass would not confirm a deal had been completed, but indicated something could
"We have nothing to announce at this time but that could change in the morning," he told SportsTicker.
The Magic are set to acquire Billups, knowing he is out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in
December. Drafted third overall by Boston in 1997, Billups was acquired by the Nuggets in a three-way deal on
January 21, 1999. "It's really a shock to me, but I couldn't help this team with my injury," he said. "Maybe they will want
me back next season. Basically, this is a three-month vacation."
Taylor has played just one game this season and has been on the injured list since January 11 with a knee ailment.
The Nuggets get another potential free agent in Abdul-Wahad. He also is on the move for the second time in less than
five months after he was acquired from Sacramento on August 3 for Nick Anderson and a future first-round pick.
Abdul-Wahad is averaging 12.2 points per game but is known around the league as a solid defensive player.
Denver will add another big body to its lineup with the addition of Gatling, who is joining his fourth team in three
seasons. The 6-10 Gatling is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in 45 games.