Denver Nuggets A to Z: Kiki Vandeweghe

Sweet-shooting forward helped franchise as player and executive
by Aaron Lopez
Nuggets.com

In 1981-82, Kiki Vandeweghe helped the Denver Nuggets start a string of nine consecutive playoff appearances.

Two decades later, he did it again.

As part of a month-long tribute to the most memorable and notable players in franchise history, we are taking a look at the Nuggets from A to Z.

V is for Vandeweghe.

There are two distinct chapters to Vandeweghe’s story in Denver. He averaged 23.3 points and made two All-Star appearances for the Nuggets from 1980-84. He later guided the franchise back to postseason prominence after returning as the team’s general manager in 2001.

Drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1980, Vandeweghe was traded to Denver on Dec. 3 after an extended contract dispute with Dallas. As fate would have it, he made his NBA debut against the Mavs exactly a week later.

The Nuggets missed the playoffs that season, but they quickly became a perennial postseason participant behind the guidance of coach Doug Moe and the talent of Vandeweghe, Alex English and Dan Issel.

English (28.4 ppg) and Vandeweghe (26.7 ppg) were the NBA’s top two scorers in 1982-83. The following season, Vandeweghe averaged 29.4 points to finish third among the scoring leaders, one spot ahead of English.

With two premier scorers, the Nuggets looked to add more versatility after falling to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 1984 Western Conference playoffs. On June 7, 1984, Denver traded Vandeweghe to the Portland Trail Blazers in a deal that would pay dividends for years to come. The Nuggets received Wayne Cooper, Calvin Natt, Lafayette Lever and two future draft picks (Willie White and Blair Rasmussen).

Denver advanced to the West finals the season after the big trade and made five more playoff appearances to close the decade.

Vandeweghe, meanwhile, enjoyed an impressive 13-year NBA career with Denver, Portland, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged 19.7 points and made 12 playoff appearances before retiring in 1993.

Vandeweghe stayed involved in basketball by working with young players, and he returned to the NBA when he joined the Mavericks as an assistant coach and director of player development in 1999.

After two seasons in Dallas, Vandeweghe came back to Denver as the team’s general manager in 2001. Following a blueprint to create salary-cap flexibility, he overhauled the roster through trades, the draft and free agency. The plan required patience as Denver won a combined 44 games in the first two years of Vandeweghe’s term.

Vandeweghe and Nuggets fans were rewarded in 2003-04 as Denver won 43 games and qualified for the playoff for the first time since 1995. The 26-game improvement from a year earlier was the biggest jump in NBA history by a team that won less than 20 games the previous season.

The breakthrough season ignited a stretch of 10 consecutive playoff appearances by the Nuggets – the longest such streak in franchise history.

Game to remember, Jan. 11, 1984

Vandeweghe scored 50 points on 21-of-30 shooting as the Nuggets outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 163-155 at McNichols Arena. Denver’s point total set a franchise record for a non-overtime game – a mark that stood for 24 years before the Nuggets exploded for 168 points against Seattle on March 16, 2008.