Back in 1985, give or take a generation depending on what year was dialed in, Doc Brown retro-fitted a campy DeLorean with a few spare parts he had around his workshop and spawned an entire time-traveling series of Hollywood comedies.
Nearly 30 years later, Denver Nuggets VP of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has cobbled together a roster largely out of spare parts, discards and items from the NBA’s great cutout bin and essentially made time stand still. As in another multiplex favorite, the one with Bill Murray and the rodent in which every day and night ends up the same: Win, win, win, win …
Consider the two hottest teams in The Association at the moment and how they came to be. The Miami Heat, aiming for their 26th consecutive victory Sunday evening against Charlotte, were conceived in a lightning bolt and thunderclap moment of AAU-comes-to-NBA inspiration, the brainstorm of the three key Hall of Fame-caliber players involved. Then there are the Nuggets.
Denver, which extended its lower profile winning streak to 15 games Saturday night, have made do – and made dangerous – with far more humble pieces than the crew in south Florida. At the risk of putting a silly “NBA.com has learned…” spin on something that’s been hiding in plain sight, it is worth looking again (if you haven’t done so recently) at the how the Nuggets’ roster was built:
- Drafted (3): Kenneth Faried (2011, Round 1, No. 22 overall); Evan Fournier (2012, Round 1, No. 20 overall), and Quincy Miller (2012, Round 2, No. 38 overall).
- Trades (9): Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov.
- Free agents (2): Anthony Randolph and Julyan Stone.
Looked at as a group, the ensemble nature of what Denver and coach George Karl are doing this season – 15 straight, 49-22, fourth-best record in the league with a legit chance to catch OKC to claim the Northwest Division and the West’s No. 2 seed – is amazing and undeniable. That whole sure had better be greater than the sum of its parts, because its parts, on paper especially, wouldn’t scare hardly anybody.
Faried’s sleeper status out of Morehead State has gotten wide play by now. But it’s indicative of Denver’s recent draft history, with the Nuggets stuck at No. 20 or lower for their last 10 picks overall. The last single-digit guy – heck, the last lottery guy – by the Nuggets? Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
As for player acquired via trades, look how many current Nuggets were disappointing Something-Elses before they made it to Denver. Brewer, Randolph and Koufos, huge contributors on a surging team, were left at the curb by Minnesota. So, in a pre-arranged draft night trade, was Lawson, on the same date the Timberwolves spent the No. 6 pick on Jonny Flynn.
Andre Miller was considered old and broken-down by some at age 34, after five teams and 12 seasons. Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov (and Quincy Miller, as a future pick) were, at the time of the Anthony trade, the best Ujiri and the Nuggest could do when faced with a marquee player who wanted out. Hamilton was a throw-in from Dallas to Portland to Denver on the night he was drafted in June 2011 at No. 26.
McGee? He was classic addition-by-subtraction for Washington, eager to reduce the knuckleheads quotient of its locker room. Even Iguodala, so helpful at both ends and in a leadership role, had fallen out of favor in Philadelphia.
Ujiri, early this season, referred to the process as a “rough two years.” Yet the Nuggets did not drop out of the playoffs in that span. They did not, obviously, sit and pine for pricey, big-name free agents they weren’t going to get anyway.
They took what was available and, with Ujiri working as hard in the front office as Karl on the sideline and the players on the court, rigged it MacGyver-style into something special. Gourmet chefs, three-star restaurants and the finest meats and veggies often make for great meals, but occasionally so do leftovers used creatively in perfect balance.