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great article on how the nuggets helped build the pacers

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by wrath_of_khan, Jun 14, 2000.

  1. wrath_of_khan

    wrath_of_khan Contributing Member

    Jun 7, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Reminds me of why I like Rudy T and CD ... they always seem to have a plan ...

    Pacers-Nuggets connection offers insight into winning and losing Some teams have a plan, and some teams keep changing their plan

    By Dave Krieger, SportsWritersDirect

    INDIANAPOLIS (June 14) -- The proximity of the NBA Finals and the NBA draft lottery raises the issue almost annually: Why do some teams perennially succeed and some perennially fail? This year provides a case study.

    Two of the five starters for the Eastern Conference champion Indiana Pacers were obtained from a perennial Western Conference doormat, the Denver Nuggets. No indictments have been handed down, but these transactions were grand larceny.

    The Pacers, of course, were in the Eastern Conference final this season for the fifth time in seven years. The Nuggets were in the lottery for the eighth time in 10 years -- or would have been if they hadn't already given up their draft pick. The lottery would have provided them with the 10th choice in this year's draft had they not already traded it to Orlando.

    Are the Pacers just smarter than the Nuggets? Is the difference between good and bad in the NBA simply intelligence?

    Nuggets fans -- the few, the proud -- might make that case. But the truth is a little more complicated.

    Like many unsuccessful teams, the Nuggets can't seem to figure out what they want to do. And by changing their minds every year or two, they have left themselves vulnerable to front offices, such as the Pacers', that follow a consistent blueprint year after year.

    The starters the Nuggets provided are small forward Jalen Rose, traded to the Pacers in 1996, and point guard Mark Jackson, traded to Indiana eight months later.

    Unfortunate as they were, even these moves do not fully account for Denver's missteps in dealings -- or potential dealings -- with Indiana. Except for yet another apparent mistake, the Nuggets might at least have Antonio Davis to show for dallying with their former ABA colleagues. Alas, they blew that one, too.

    Here's a blow-by-blow of three transactions that helped fuel the Pacers and sink the Nuggets:

    -- In 1996, you could have been forgiven if you had liked the Nuggets' prospects better than the Pacers'. Indiana was already an aging group that seemed to have reached its potential. It was looking to get younger and more athletic.

    The Nuggets, on the other hand, were a young team on the rise that had stalled the previous season. Denver had received national attention two years before when it became the first No. 8 playoff seed to oust a No. 1 seed.

    That surprising Nuggets team, headlined by Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis, Brian Williams, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Robert Pack, came within one game of the Western Conference final in 1994, losing to Utah in seven games in the second round.

    Following that playoff run, GM Bernie Bickerstaff drafted Rose with the 13th pick of the '94 draft.

    Ellis missed the following season with what appeared to be a career-threatening knee injury, and the Nuggets had a disappointing record. Rose appeared in 81 games his rookie season, averaging 8.2 points on .454 shooting. The Nuggets made the playoffs again but were swept in the first round.

    Deciding he could not go through another season without a power forward, Bickerstaff swung a deal with the Clippers on draft day 1995, shipping out Williams, Rodney Rogers and the No. 15 pick in exchange for the No. 2 pick, which he turned into Antonio McDyess.

    In hindsight, the Nuggets' nucleus in the '95-96 season of Mutombo, McDyess and Rose should have been a playoff contender for a decade. But it was a strange year.

    Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem, the first step on a solitary road that would lead him out of the league altogether.

    In the final year of his contract, Mutombo became preoccupied with getting paid, electing to sit out most of April with an alleged hamstring injury.

    Rose averaged 10.0 points on .480 shooting, but he was playing mostly point guard and his decision-making remained erratic.

    The club fell back into the lottery.

    Fed up with his team's rampant immaturity, Bickerstaff decided to import some veteran leadership. In June, he traded Rose and Reggie Williams to the Pacers for Jackson and Ricky Pierce.

    -- Bickerstaff's impatience with Rose's immaturity seemed to be validated in Indiana, where Larry Brown quickly grew exasperated and parked Rose on his bench. In his third season, Rose's average slipped to a career-low 7.7 points, and he appeared in a career-low 66 games.

    Meanwhile, in Denver, pressure was growing on Bickerstaff, in his sixth year at the helm, to produce results. When the team got off to a slow start in 1996-97, he turned the coaching duties over to Dick Motta. When it continued to skid, he accepted an offer from the Washington Wizards to become their coach, leaving the Nuggets' front office vacant.

    In just four months, Jackson had developed a close friendship with the young McDyess. He insisted one partial season was not enough time for the new mix in Denver to come together. But when the Nuggets hired Allan Bristow to replace Bickerstaff as GM in February 1997, the team's strategic plan changed instantly.

    Bristow embarked on a campaign to strip the team of its long-term contracts in order to clear room under the salary cap. He was especially unhappy with a two-year contract extension Bickerstaff had given Jackson.

    Pacers president Donnie Walsh had promised Jackson the extension before the trade sending him to Denver. He told Bickerstaff that honoring his promise was a condition of the original trade. Bickerstaff agreed.

    Within two weeks of taking over, Bristow shipped Jackson back to Indiana for Vincent Askew and Eddie Johnson. He didn't want either player; he just wanted their contracts, which were about to expire.

    By the time the season ended, the Pacers had both Rose and Jackson. The Nuggets had a couple of future second-round draft picks in return.

    -- As if some awful postscript to a nightmare in which the Nuggets already had been robbed blind, the Pacers went looking for a high draft pick last year so they could select a young player to increase their athleticism and long-term prospects. Walsh had drafted high schooler Al Harrington the year before, and he was looking for another prospect but one more highly rated.

    He set his sights on the highest rated high schooler in the '99 draft, the long, lithe Jonathan Bender. As he examined the lottery portion of the draft, Walsh concluded the fifth pick would nearly guarantee him Bender.

    To whom did the fifth pick belong? Why, the Nuggets, of course.

    Or, to be more accurate, it would have been the Nuggets', much as this year's No. 10 would have been theirs, had they not already traded it away.

    The Nuggets had wanted native son Chauncey Billups in Bristow's lone draft, in 1997, but Boston took him with the No. 3 pick, two spots before Denver had the chance. A year later, however, Billups' stock had fallen dramatically. Boston had traded him to Toronto, and the Raptors were ready and willing to trade him as well.

    The Nuggets saw it as an opportunity. Dan Issel, who had replaced Bristow as GM, traded the club's 1999 first-round pick to Toronto for Billups.

    That didn't seem so unreasonable until Issel made Billups a throw-in in a deal with Orlando. That deal sent Ron Mercer to the Magic and brought Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Chris Gatling in return. Another salary was needed to make the scales balance, and Billups was thrown in.

    Meanwhile, the Nuggets' 1999 pick, the fifth overall, now belonged to Toronto, which traded it to Indiana for veteran big man Antonio Davis. Had the Nuggets held on to the pick, no doubt they could have made the same deal.

    As it happens, the Nuggets' main problem last season was a lack of muscle in the middle. McDyess, their leading scorer, was also required to play defense against opposing centers because center Raef LaFrentz, at 230 pounds, didn't have the strength to do it.

    Add Davis to McDyess and Nick Van Exel on last year's Nuggets roster, and you might have had a playoff team.

    Now an emerging star who took over as Indiana's scoring leader in his sixth pro season, Rose compares his first year with the Pacers, under Brown, to being in jail. If that was jail, he was asked the other day, what were his two years in Denver?

    "Well, the first year we made the playoffs, so I can't be mad at 'em," Rose said of his rookie season. "Only eight teams make the playoffs in each conference.

    "The second year was probably like juvenile hall. It was a revolving door. We were losing players, we weren't re-signing Mutombo, we were doing a lot of stuff I felt we shouldn't have been doing. We had one guy that was the coach, the GM and the president. There was a lot going on out there."

    Jackson remains baffled about being acquired to lead a young cast in June 1996 and then being shipped out just eight months later.

    "I knew Allan Bristow didn't know much the first day he came in," Jackson said. "When he talked to the team, right away I knew. He didn't have a presence. He never talked to the veteran guys. And it just showed. Here I am still playing, and he was there two weeks."

    Occasionally, the two starters will pause in their pursuit of a championship and reminisce.

    "We just talk about our time in Denver," Jackson said. "We both enjoyed it. It was a great place to play. I really enjoyed it when Bernie was there. I think when he left, things turned -- with Dick Motta and Bristow and those guys."

    The Nuggets missed the playoffs this season for the fifth consecutive year. With McDyess and Van Exel now their nucleus, they like to think they're on the way back, although they are again in search of some muscle in the middle and again don't have their first-round draft pick.

    The Pacers are not merely playing for a championship, they are getting younger and preparing for the future at the same time. Even as Jackson, Reggie Miller and Rik Smits proceed toward the end of their careers, Rose, Harrington, Bender and Austin Croshere form a nucleus for tomorrow's Pacers.

    If there is any lesson to be learned from all this, it has to do with the most important position on a basketball team. Some say it's point guard. Some say center.

    But in reality, the most important position is that guy behind the curtain pulling the levers. In perhaps Indiana's biggest one-on-one matchups of the 1990s, Donnie Walsh beat his counterparts in Denver every time.

  2. RocketSiv

    RocketSiv Member

    Feb 14, 1999
    Likes Received:
    I don't know if it was mentioned in the article but from what I read I goet the feeling it is not but the Nuggets traded Jackson to Indiana as a favor to Jackson. Maybe they could have got more but they were loyal for a player that was loyal to them for that they deserve credit even though it was probably a stupid move.


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