Ranking the Best NBA Free Agency Signings in Denver Nuggets History
Denver has certainly had its misses in the draft, but most of the Denver stars began their NBA careers with the Nuggets. This goes back to the days of David Thompson who started with the Nuggets when he was a member of the ABA to the 2003 pick of Carmelo Anthony.
However, for the sake of giving respect to some of the bigger names, players who the Nuggets signed in free agency after they were sent to Denver in a trade are eligible for the list (or a sign-and-trade). This still doesn't open the gates for players like Dikembe Mutombo or even Allen Iverson, but it does give access to some of the best players dating back to the 1980s.
Denver's top free-agency signings range from sharp-shooters to electrifying playmakers at the rim.
5. J.R. Smith
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Even though J.R. Smith came off the bench for a vast majority of his time in Denver, he could catch fire and change the momentum of the game at any point.
After spending his first two seasons with New Orleans, he was shipped to Chicago in the summer of 2006 and then traded six days later to Denver. Smith averaged just under 13 points per game the next two seasons with the Nuggets and was originally extended his qualifying offer for the following season. After the free agency period started, Smith signed a three-year deal with the Nuggets worth between $4 million and $5 million annually.
For someone that could always create his own shot and consistently score in double digits, this was the perfect fit for Denver's needs. Carmelo Anthony was the face of the Nuggets, but they needed a guy to come in and continue putting the pressure on the defense. Smith did that and helped get the Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
Even though J.R. is continuing to get better with New York, his three-point numbers were actually the greatest when he was on Denver. Smith shot 39 percent or better from behind the arc in four of his five years with the Nuggets and fired at least 5.3 attempts-per-game in three of those seasons.
The Nuggets could use someone like J.R. right now to help their poor deep shooting.
4. Nick Van Exel
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Nick Van Exel's time with the Nuggets was short, but he brought life into a franchise that was significantly having trouble under head coach Dan Issel.
Van Exel was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Nuggets in the summer of 1998 with one year left on his contract. After he put up 16.5 points and 7.4 assists, Van Exel signed with the Nuggets in free agency the following summer for six years at $77 million.
It was a big commitment, but the crafty point guard continued put up big numbers and eventually had his best season in 2000-01 with 17.7 points on 41.4 percent shooting and 37.7 percent from three. Van Exel had tremendous skill with the basketball, great vision and always found a way to score.
The problem was the Nuggets only got to a 40-42 record that year and Van Exel lost his patience by demanding a trade. Denver granted his wish and was sent to the Dallas Mavericks, but according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Van Exel later regretted the decision.
It's easy for Denver fans to be upset by his motives to leave their city, but Van Exel gave 100 percent each night and is one of the best point guards to put on a Nuggets uniform.
3. Marcus Camby
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The Nuggets acquired Marcus Camby in a trade for Antonio McDyess with the New York Knicks in 2002, but Camby became a free agent in the summer of 2004.
The 1996 second-overall pick re-signed with Denver and Camby proved to be one of Carmelo's greatest assets in making the Nuggets a consistent playoff team. He averaged a double-double for the next three seasons, while earning All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2005 and 2006 before earning All-Defensive First Team in 2007 and 2008.
Camby's dominance came in protecting the rim as he led the NBA in blocks from 2006 through 2008. Combining his awareness along with his lengthy wingspan at 6'11", Camby was a nightmare for opposing offenses wanting to penetrate the lane.
Offensively, Camby continued to get better after re-signing with Denver. He didn't have the most polished attack, but he had a mid-range game to stretch the defense, found the gaps in the defense and had great touch at the rim.
The Nuggets brought Camby back when he was in his prime and was the influential player they needed to help their franchise progress under George Karl.
2. Antonio McDyess
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Antonio McDyess was one of the most explosive players to ever play for the Denver Nuggets.
After playing his first two seasons with Denver, McDyess was traded to Phoenix for the 1997-98 season, who then entered free agency.
Then the craziness started. According to Sports Illustrated, McDyess was ready to sign with the Nuggets, but cancelled the press conference when he learned LaPhonso Ellis wouldn't be playing beside him.
Several members of the Suns flew to Denver to talk to McDyess about staying in Phoenix at a Colorado Avalanche game. However, Nuggets general manager Dan Issel kept McDyess inside the arena until members of the Nuggets arrived while instructing the security guards to keep the Phoenix players from interfering.
The Nuggets convinced McDyess to re-sign with the Nuggets, despite that the Suns could offer him at least $20 million more, according to the Sports Illustrated article.
Issel's aggressive tactics paid off as McDyess had his best season the following year. His career highs in the 1998-99 season included 38.7 minutes, 21.2 points, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals. McDyess also grabbed 10.7 boards that year.
Denver's quiet, but passionate star kept shining as McDyess was part of the U.S. Olympic gold-medal team in 2000.
Unfortunately for McDyess and the Nuggets, he suffered a knee injury during the 2001-02 season that sidelined him for the rest of the year and the 2002-03 season. McDyess' days in Denver were over and the Nuggets traded McDyess for Camby before becoming a lottery team in 2003, where they selected Carmelo with the No. 3 pick.
McDyess continued his NBA career with four other franchises, but never provided the same impact as he did with the Nuggets.
1. Alex English
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The best free-agent signing in Denver Nuggets history also happens to be the best player in Nuggets history overall.
Even though Alex English spent a majority of his NBA career in Denver, he was drafted in 1976 by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. English eventually made his way to Denver in a trade with the Indiana Pacers in the middle of the 1979-80 season, before becoming a free agent that summer.
After playing a limited role with the Bucks and Pacers, but instantly succeeding with 21.3 points per game in his final 24 games with the Nuggets the previous season, there was no doubt where English would be playing in the future.
English thrived with Denver and coach Doug Moe for the next 10 seasons. Not only did he lead one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA during the '80s, he became the all-time leading scorer in Nuggets history with 21,613 points.
Furthermore, English was an efficient player and shot an impressive 50.7 percent from the field in his career and 83.2 percent from the line. His best overall season came in 1985-86 when English posted 28.4 points (led the NBA that season), 7.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals.
These accomplishments helped the Nuggets get to the playoffs nine-straight seasons, four second-round appearances and the 1985 Western Conference Finals.
English officially retired in 1992 ranked seventh all time in scoring and is currently No. 13.