Back in 2006 when the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers made the blockbuster deal that sent Allen Iverson to the Nuggets for Andre Miller and Joe Smith, Denver had high hopes for a championship. They thought the superstar tandem of Iverson and Carmelo Anthony would bring Denver to the next level and get them an NBA championship.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, that duo never gelled and was nothing better than a mediocre team that couldn't make it out of the first round. After a year with the team, it was evident that Iverson would not bring glory to Denver and that a change was needed. Three games into the season this year, the Nuggets sent the superstar to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups.
The trade for Billups completely transformed the makeup of the Nuggets and turned them into a championship contending team. Under Billups leadership, Denver won 54 games, the Northwest Division, and sky rocketed into the second seed in the crowded Western Conference.
They went from a team that had trouble just making the postseason last year to a team that is disciplined, defensive-minded, and championship worthy. The Nuggets whole attitude and mindset changed and they went from a team without an identity to a fundamental basketball team that takes care of business on both sides of the ball.
And with all of their recent success, the Denver Nuggets have become the feel good story of this year's NBA playoffs. They are breezing through the playoffs, beating the New Orleans Hornets in the first round in five games and then taking care of the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the second round.
Now they are off to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1985 to face off against the defending West Champs, the Los Angeles Lakers. While Kobe Bryant and the Lakers might seem like a daunting task, these Nuggets are focused and prepared.
They are 8-2 in the playoffs so far and have won 16 straight games on their homecourt, while the Lakers are tired and battle-tested after just finishing off a grueling seven-game series with the Houston Rockets.
While the Nuggets are considered the underdog in this series, no one on Denver is thinking that way.
"It’s special. We worked hard in the offseason and training camp and throughout,” Anthony said. “We stuck to everything, we overcame adversity, we stayed humble and our hard work paid off.”
Everyone is really enjoying Denver's turnaround and fans are having fun watching their success. But, most of that success has to be attributed to Mr. Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups.
He has become a vocal floor floor leader for his hometown team that has brought veteran leadership and a defensive mindset to the team. He has transformed the Nuggets into a fundamental squad that's all business.
“He’s a leader,” Carmelo Anthony said of Billups. “He came on this team and he brought a businesslike attitude to our team. He brought a defensive mindset we were looking for.”
And with that business-like attitude, the Denver Nuggets will look to challenge the top-seeded Lakers. And if they can pull off the upset, they will be one step closer to an NBA title and truly being the 2009 Cinderella story.