- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- Forget the makeup or the facelift. The Denver Nuggets' mug, for years upon years the intense scowl of Dan Issel, has completely shapeshifted into the calm, sunny visage of general manager Kiki Vandeweghe.
The franchise's future outlook has undergone a similar transformation.
The Nuggets aren't any more of a playoff team now after Vandeweghe's draft-night trade of power forward Antonio McDyess, No. 25 pick Frank Williams and a 2003 second-round pick for Mark Jackson, Marcus Camby and No. 7 pick Nene Hilario than they were last season. Not in the incredibly competitive Western Conference. The difference is that Vandeweghe now has building blocks, instead of ankle weights, to create one.
Instead of being hopelessly over the salary cap, the Nuggets now have the potential of signing three players to maximum contracts over the next two years.
Jackson, who won an assist title and was a fan favorite in Denver during his previous stint with the Nuggets, has two years left on his contract, but there's an option to buy out the second. Camby has three years on his deal, one more than McDyess, who agreed not to exercise his opt-out next summer. The draft started with McDyess refusing to do so, but with three picks on the board he changed his stance.
Such equivocating is reminiscent of the last time McDyess was faced with deciding his place of employment. As a Suns free agent during the 1999 lockout, McDyess had his Suns teammates waiting in a car outside the Nuggets arena while he agonized about signing with Denver, the team that traded him to Phoenix two years earlier for three first-round and two second-round picks.
The Nuggets' newest building blocks also are particularly suited to Vandeweghe's craftsmanship.
With No. 5 pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Hilario and even Camby, the Nuggets have three unformed but mobile big men. Vandeweghe, of course, has been Pete Newell's right-hand man since the inception of his Big Man Camp 25 years ago. If there's anyone who can teach the sweet science of post play to Nik and Nene, it's Kiki.
Denver is now loaded with post players, having acquired Juwan Howard late last season from Dallas while unloading Nick Van Exel, Avery Johnson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Raef LaFrentz. Better yet, they're young post players with contracts all expiring in the next three years, which means Vandeweghe has the luxury of sifting through them and finding the ones best suited for the long haul.
That, of course, means we're a long way from knowing what the Nuggets will look like down the road, but not knowing is considerably better than the certainty of what they looked like just one year ago.
And ones ...
Outside of the first three picks, no one could have been happier with his selection than Stanford guard Casey Jacobsen going at No. 22 to the Suns. "I think Phoenix has 95 percent more to offer me than any other team in the league," Jacobson said. "I had such a good feeling after working out there." That confidence was a big reason why he canceled a workout with the Jazz, which had the 19th pick. "Utah would've been kind of reaching," he said.
The pro-Knicks crowd wanted president/GM Scott Layden to take Caron Butler when he was still available and chanted, "Fi-re, Lay-den!" after the selection of Hilario and the announcement of the trade.
Kareem Rush had the biggest emotional swing, going from disappointment over being taken 20th by Toronto -- he was convinced he'd go either to the Pacers at No. 14 or Sixers at No. 16 -- to being dealt to the Lakers with Tracy Murray for Lindsey Hunter and No. 27 pick Chris Jefferies.
Late trades that weren't announced during the draft: The 76ers sent Speedy Claxton to the Spurs for Mark Bryant, No. 26 pick John Salmons and No. 57 Randy Holcomb; the Grizzlies moved Nick Anderson and No. 46 pick Matt Barnes to the Cavs for Wesley Person; the Magic dealt No. 18 Curtis Borchardt to the Jazz for No. 19 Ryan Humphrey and No. 47 Jamal Sampson. But Sampson's tenure with the Magic is already over. Orlando then shipped him to the Bucks for the draft rights to '95 pick Rashard Griffith, who currently plays in Italy.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.