Denver Nuggets

Jameer Nelson heard Denver call his name, then trade him.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
2005 DRAFT SELECTIONS
No. 20 (from Was.), No. 22, No. 52
CURRENT FREE AGENTS
Greg Buckner (player option)
DerMarr Johnson (unrestricted)
Wesley Person (unrestricted)
Mark Pope (unrestricted)
Bryon Russell (unrestricted)
RECENT DRAFT SELECTIONS
2004: 20. Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s
2003: 3. Carmelo Anthony, Syr.
46. Sani Becirovic, Italy
2002: 5. Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Italy
25. Frank Williams, Illinois
33. Vincent Yarbrough, Tenn.
2001: 47. Ousmane Cisse, St. Jude Catholic HS (Ala.)
2000: 26. Mamadou N'diaye, Aub.
53. Daniel McClintock, N. Arizona
By Bill Evans

When the 2004-05 season began: Coach Jeff Bzdelik was hearing whispers about his job security despite leading the Nuggets to the playoffs with a 43-39 record in 2003-04. The team had bigger goals for 2004-05 after acquiring Kenyon Martin in an off-season deal with New Jersey.

What happened? Those whispers Bzdelik was hearing were screams after Denver’s 13-15 start. Six months after being runner-up for Coach of the Year (double-check!!), Bzdelik was replaced by assistant Michael Cooper, and things went from bad to worse.

At 17-25 and staring down a lost season, the Nuggets turned to George Karl. The turnabout was as immediate as it was complete. Denver was 32-8 under Karl, climbing from 11th to seventh in the West. During one stretch, the team won 24 of 26 games, with the only losses coming at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. They finished 49-33.

Carmelo Anthony flourished under his new coach. A 39 percent shooter before Karl’s arrival, Anthony shot better than 47 percent on Karl’s watch. Over the final two months of the season, Anthony averaged 24.5 points and shot better than 50 percent.

Denver was already one of the league’s deepest teams before acquiring Wesley Person at the trade deadline. Person’s long-range shooting opened the floor for teammates. A 30.9 percent shooting team from the arc before the deal, the Nuggets hit 40.6 percent from downtown after his arrival.

What now? Only a first-round matchup with Western Conference champion San Antonio kept Denver from continuing to steamroll with one of the most athletic, deep and versatile rosters in the NBA.

Among those who logged meaningful minutes a year ago, only DerMarr Johnson is a free agent. Only reserves Voshon Lenard, Person and Francisco Elson are up after next season.

The Nuggets will add two first round pick (Nos. 20 and 22) in the upcoming draft, but it’s hard to imagine any first-year player cracking this lineup. Shooting guard is the primary need, given the health of Lenard, (who tore his Achilles tendon in the season's first game), the age of Person (34) and the impending free agency of Johnson.