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Nuggets, with NY's No. 1, watch with interest as Knicks falter

Nuggets, with NY's No. 1 pick in '14, watch with interest as Knicks falter

POSTED: Jan 23, 2014 9:46 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Denver GM Tim Connelly (left, with J.J. Hickson in July) is keeping a careful eye on the Knicks this season.

The Nuggets -- owner Stan Kroenke, president Josh Kroenke, general manager Tim Connelly -- have the Knicks' first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and so every New York loss is a good thing for Denver. Connelly won't say so, of course, because being caught in public dancing on another team's coffin would seem tacky. But this was the easy part of the job description as he left New Orleans to replace Masai Ujiri as head of basketball operations in Denver: Sit back and hope the Knicks spend the season on a steep greased hill.

It's the same thing with the Hawks. They control the Brooklyn first-rounder in a highly anticipated draft with the right to swap picks as part of the Joe Johnson deal of 2012, an option that is looking less profitable as the Nets rally toward mediocrity. Still, the more favorable of the Nets-Hawks selections will end up in Atlanta and the lesser, the one Brooklyn is left with, will be sent to the Celtics as one of the conditions of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce blockbuster. So the Nets could miss the playoffs and not get either of the two No. 1s that pass through their hands.

The Nuggets get the Knicks' choice via the Carmelo Anthony deal of Feb. 22, 2011, a trade that turned out well for Denver despite being forced into it. The trade helped move Ujiri from relative unknown to one of the more prominent front-office names in the league. Two summers after the 'Melo deal, he was involved in the four-team mega-move of Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to the 76ers and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets that included the provision that the least-favorable of the 2014 picks -- either originating with New York or Denver -- belongs to Orlando.

After Ujiri left to become general manager of the Raptors, Connelly arrived to three players from the blockbuster still on the roster -- Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov -- and an unprotected first-rounder about to come due. The Knicks then began 2013-14 by stepping into a deep pothole, which only raised the potential for a massive Denver windfall this June. At this pace, the improved play of recent weeks puts New York on track to be a close call for the playoffs, which means the Nuggets, likewise on the postseason fringe, could either have two lottery picks or push into the top eight in the West and still have a top-10 pick thanks to the Anthony trade.

"They're a good team, though," Connelly said of the Knicks. "Any team with Carmelo on it, you've got a real chance, and they're well-coached. I think they'll figure it out."

Indeed, there is a small enough gap and enough disparity in the schedules that it is easy to imagine that the Knicks, for all their problems, finish with a better record than the Nuggets. It is also plausible that New York finishes with a worse record than Denver but makes the East playoffs while the Nuggets miss the postseason in the West. That would mean the Nuggets would keep their own pick, hand the New York choice to Orlando and never get the 2014 Draft benefit from the Knicks' problems. Clearly, Denver -- and Atlanta -- need the return of the early season dual New York City pratfalls.

There is an obvious attempt to downplay any notion of early season scoreboard watching. The Nuggets, not the Knicks, take up his focus, Connelly said, and what time is left after that goes first to the places where he has a personal connection. One brother is an assistant general manager with the Suns, another a player-development coach with the Wizards, another a scout with the Jazz. There are also the many friends around the Pelicans after three seasons as assistant GM there.

"It's premature," Connelly said. "Masai did such a great job, I think, getting so many good assets for the Melo trade. Wilson, Gallo, Timo. And certainly those picks are a great call by him in the front office. We'll keep our fingers crossed, but who knows. It's such a long season."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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