Not many Denver Nuggets fans could've guessed throughout the entire Carmelo Anthony trade saga that in less than two years following the departure of one of the best players in the league, this team would become one of the deepest and most exciting teams to watch in the entire NBA.
Possessing the highest-scoring offense throughout the shortened 2011-12 season, the Nuggets return nearly their entire roster from the previous season, with a few minor additions and subtractions.
The depth, balance and youth this team possesses is probably unmatched by any other team in the entire league. Lacking a superstar, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has built a team that arguably possesses a top ten player at each position.
Following a completely different model than the Oklahoma City Thunder yet nearly as effective, Ujiri has completely revamped his roster in the two years that he has been a part of this organization through very shrewd trades and contract extensions.
Only three current players were a part of the Denver Nuggets roster when Ujiri took over in August of 2010. Two of them were acquired via trade (very shrewd moves as well) and one via free agency.
Ty Lawson had been acquired the previous offseason in a draft-day trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves for a future first round pick. Arron Afflalo was acquired shortly after from the Detroit Pistons for a future second round pick.
It's becoming more evident year-by-year who came out on top in both of those trades.
A month before Ujiri's arrival, the Denver Nuggets signed free agent forward Al Harrington to a long-term contract. He has become a key member off the bench since his arrival, providing instant offense and a touch of rebounding.
These three players have all contributed in many different ways to the overall success of the Denver Nuggets over the last two years; however, they make up just 20% of this team.
Here's a rundown of all the transactions Ujiri has completed involving the entire, current Denver Nuggets roster:
October 22, 2010: Nuggets exercise third-year option on Ty Lawson.
February 22, 2011: Nuggets acquire Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, New York's first-round draft pick in 2014, New York's 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks (both acquired from the Golden State Warriors the previous summer) and cash considerations from the New York Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams.
The Nuggets also send their 2015 second-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who receive Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph from the Knicks in exchange for Corey Brewer.
June 20, 2011: Nuggets exercise fourth-year option of Ty Lawson.
June 20, 2011: Nuggets extend qualifying offers to Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo.
June 23, 2011: Nuggets select Kenneth Faried with the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
June 24, 2011: Nuggets acquire Andre Miller, Jordan Hamilton and a 2013 second-round draft pick from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Raymond Felton. The Trail Blazers also send Rudy Fernandez and the rights to Petteri Koponen in exchange for Jordan Hamilton.
December 9, 2011: Nuggets sign first-round draft picks Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton.
December 9, 2011: Nuggets sign undrafted free agent Julyan Stone to a multiyear contract.
December 13, 2011: Nuggets acquire Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for a future second-round pick.
December 20, 2011: Nuggets re-sign Arron Afflalo to a multiyear contract.
January 25, 2012: Nuggets sign Danilo Gallinari to a multiyear contract extension.
January 26, 2012: Nuggets sign Kosta Koufos to a multiyear contract extension.
March 15, 2012: Nuggets acquire JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Nene. The Nuggets also receive a future second-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Washington Wizards also receive Brian Cook and a future second-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Nick Young.
March 18, 2012: Nuggets re-sign Wilson Chandler to a multiyear contract.
June 29, 2012: Nuggets select Evan Fournier with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
July 10, 2012: Nuggets sign first-round draft pick Evan Fournier.
July 11, 2012: Nuggets re-sign Andre Miller to a multiyear contract.
July 18, 2012: Nuggets sign free agent Anthony Randolph to a multiyear contract.
July 19, 2012: Nuggets re-sign JaVale McGee to a multiyear contract.
Following two very good trades completed by his predecessor, as seen above, Ujiri has completed four trades that have made him look like a basketball genius.
Sure, many will argue that no team should ever trade away a superstar in his prime, regardless of the circumstances. With that being said, Anthony was almost a guarantee to bolt to New York following the completion of the 2010-11 season, and how the Nuggets were able to get back so much talent in return for him is still beyond me.
The Knicks could have easily waited for the offseason to sign Carmelo Anthony and would have had leverage with free agents Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, as both were restricted free agents. By acquiring those two players, along with the other three men, the Nuggets did not suffer any dropoff in terms of talent on their roster.
In fact, following the Anthony trade, the Nuggets ended their season with an impressive 18-7 record, reaching the 50-win mark and clinching the number five seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
By acquiring Miller, Fernandez and Brewer for basically nothing, Ujiri proved that he is capable of turning very little into a whole lot.
It is still too early to decide the fallout from the McGee-Nene swap; however, if McGee is able to reach his full potential, the Nuggets will come out as big winners from that trade yet again. If anything, the Nuggets were able to save a lot of money in that trade, as the oft-injured Nene is owed a lot of green paper over the next four years.
In addition to all these great acquisitions Ujiri has completed in his short tenure with the Nuggets, he has also done a great job in convincing his players to stay with this team, proven by the fact that he convinced Afflalo, Chandler, Miller and McGee to re-sign with the team, all at good prices, and convinced Gallinari and Koufos to sign contract extensions.
So what's next for the Nuggets and Ujiri?
First and foremost, signing Lawson to an extension should be and is their number one priority. Both sides seem to be more than willing to negotiate and seem to be optimistic that a multiyear contract extension will be reached in the near future.
If and when this happens, the Nuggets will have eight of their players signed for at least three years and four more players signed for at least two more years with team options for the third year. Due to the fact that the Nuggets have not overpaid anyone, they basically have two options available to them.
The first option is to keep the roster intact over the unseeable future and hope that this young core of players with copious amounts of potential develop team chemistry that pushes them from a perennial playoff team to a perennial championship contending team.
After all, if the Pistons won the championship exactly this way in 2004, why can't the Nuggets?
The second option is to take advantage of the fact that they possess such a great mix of talent, youth, potential and manageable contracts (not to mention two first-round picks next year) and attempt to turn those assets into a superstar via yet another trade.
If there is one team in the league who has the best pieces to do so, it's this team!
The road Ujiri and his staff make will most likely depend on how well this roster plays together throughout the 2012-13 season and how much success they achieve. It will also depend on the availability of a superstar and the asking price from his present team.
Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure: The Denver Nuggets will be a very fun team to watch throughout the 2012-13 season and paying attention to what the front office decides to do will be just as interesting!