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Nuggets trade Atkins, first-round pick to Thunder


Posted Jan 7 2009 7:55PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Denver Nuggets pulled off another deal Wednesday that had both owner Stan Kroenke and coach George Karl smiling.

The resurgent Nuggets, who have been building momentum ever since sending Allen Iverson and his big contract to Detroit for Chauncey Billups two months ago, sent point guard Chucky Atkins and a protected first-round pick in this summer to Oklahoma City for center Johan Petro and the Thunder's second-round pick this year.

"George has been asking for another big man," Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien said.

Here comes 7 feet, 255 pounds.

Forward Nene also has been begging for another big man to eat up some minutes, and Karl has been angling for more beef with an eye on the playoffs, where the Nuggets will need all the big bodies they can throw at the likes of Yao Ming or Shaquille O'Neal.

The deal also put the Nuggets under the $71.15 million luxury tax ceiling, even if all the players on their roster hit all bonus benchmarks, quite a feat for a team that began the year with more than $90 million in payroll and had to dump defensive star Marcus Camby for basically nothing but salary cap relief last summer.

The trade makes just as much sense for the rebuilding Thunder, who potentially get a third first-round draft pick this summer along with Atkins, whose time in Denver has been marked by injuries and who fell behind Billups and Anthony Carter on the depth chart.

As long as the Nuggets make the playoffs, the Thunder will get their first-round pick next season. If it's a lottery pick, however, the Nuggets keep it and owe Oklahoma City a first-rounder down the road.

With an NBA-worst 5-30 record, the Thunder have an eye on their future -- and Petro wasn't a part of it. The 7-footer got a chance to be a starter earlier this season in Oklahoma City, but didn't pan out and the team signed restricted free agent Nenad Krstic last week to replace him.

Still, Petro has averaged 1,000 minutes a season during his career, so he brings experience and muscle to Denver. He can also provide some presence in the paint for the Nuggets to get through the next month or so without All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who broke his right hand Monday night.

Oklahoma City gains a veteran presence in Atkins, who has averaged 10.4 points in nine NBA seasons but played in only 14 games this season in Denver after a knee injury in camp.

The second-round pick Denver gets from Oklahoma City is potentially a very valuable chip at the trade deadline because the Thunder is on pace to finish with the league's worst record. Because second-rounders make significantly less money and teams don't have to guarantee two years of their contract as they do first-rounders, the 31st pick is the wild-card in the NBA draft deck.

On Monday, the Nuggets sent center Cheikh Samb of Senegal, whom they had acquired in the Iverson deal, and cash considerations to the Clippers for a conditional second-round draft pick. That deal put Denver under the luxury tax threshold.

This latest deal gives them enough leeway to make sure they're not going to inch above it through bonus payouts. Additionally, if they stay beneath the benchmark after the trade deadline, they'll be a benefactor to the tune of up to $3 million instead of being one of the big dollar-for-dollar contributors.

That's about as much the Nuggets, who also sent cash to the Thunder, could have expected to get for Atkins, a 34-year-old point guard who missed last season (groin, hernia surgery) and wasn't getting the minutes he needed to show prospective suitors that he still has NBA skills.

"Chucky's going to provide some veteran leadership that balances out our roster," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "We're excited to have Chucky. He's a good point guard and brings some veteran presence. He's one of the better 3-point shooters in the league and he still has the ability to get to the paint and create."

The Thunder now have three first-round picks in this year's draft and two in the 2010 draft, thanks to some creative deals by general manager Sam Presti. He got two first-round picks -- including one used last year -- from the Suns in a deal that brought Kurt Thomas to Seattle, and then another when he sent Thomas to the Spurs last season.

"As a team that's continuing to build and continuing to grow, having the flexibility of the additional first-round picks helps us either add talent or facilitate potential trades," Presti said.

Atkins joins a backcourt that's going through a youth movement, after rookie Russell Westbrook -- the No. 4 overall draft pick last year -- replaced veteran Earl Watson as the starting point guard. He and Kyle Weaver, another rookie, could both be backups at either guard position.

"Chucky brings experience and the ability to stretch the floor to our basketball team," Presti said. "We're excited to be able to add him and feel like he's someone that's going to advance our development as we move forward."

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