- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Making the playoffs might not salvage Carmelo Anthony's Rookie of the Year campaign, or save coach Jeff Bzdelik's job ... but it has ensured a full salary for Bzdelik next season whether or not the Denver Nuggets elect to retain him after the playoffs.
ESPN.com has learned that a clause in Bzdelik's contract was triggered as soon as Denver qualified for the playoffs, making his $1.5 million option year in 2004-05 fully guaranteed. The Nuggets secured the eighth spot in the West with a 97-89 victory Monday night over Sacramento.
"It's absolutely true," Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe confirmed Tuesday morning. "Jeff is under contract for next season."
The Nuggets, of course, could still elect to make a coaching change after their first trip to the playoffs since 1995. Had the Nuggets failed to qualify -- having lost eight of their first 10 games after the All-Star break to spoil a 31-23 start -- league sources insist that Bzdelik would have been fired despite overseeing Denver's astonishing rise from a 17-65 season in 2002-03. In that scenario, Bzdelik would have collected a payoff of $500,000.
Vandeweghe reiterated Tuesday that Bzdelik's long-term future with the club will be evaluated after the season.
"I've maintained all along that the time to discuss contracts is after everything is over, when we can give it its proper due," Vandeweghe said. "My position is going to stay the same.
"We want to enjoy the moment right now and get ready for the playoffs. Everyone's excited. I'm really happy for the fans -- they've waited a long time for this. It means so much to the city. And it's nice to really earn it with the way we've been playing. Our players have been great. Carmelo has been unbelievable."
With that, Vandeweghe asked who would be receiving ESPN.com's Rookie of the Year vote.
Informed that it would be Cleveland's LeBron James, Vandeweghe said: "All right. Good bye."
Then he added: "This is just my opinion, but I don't see how you can not vote for Carmelo. This is not me being biased -- this is a team that went from 17 wins to 43 wins. In the West. Carmelo is our leader. He hits all the big shots. What is being an MVP about? It's about improving your team. Did you make the playoffs? All that, I would think, should enter into it. It's just not a popularity contest. And I would venture to say that, the last half of the year, I think Carmelo's jersey outsold LeBron's."
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann