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Friday, February 22
Rip Issel, not Nuggets for Mavs trade

By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com

Donnell Harvey
Big news! Harvey is heading from Dallas to Denver.

In case you missed it, the Denver Nuggets traded every bad decision that seeped its way into Dan Issel's basketball-addled brain to the Dallas Mavericks for Donnell Harvey, a guy averaging three yawns, two trips to the bathroom and 16 glances into the stands for some third-row hottie per game.

On the surface, this may look like a bad deal for the Nuggets.

OK, on the surface, in the middle and underneath this may look like a bad deal for the Nuggets.

But, in reality, it's not a terrible place to start for new general manager Kiki Vandeweghe and assistant GM Dave Fredman.

Hey, we're looking at positives here, and when you compare what Kiki (I just like to say Kiki) had to start with, and what he ended up with, you could say Kiki should get a gold medal that's not even tainted or smeared by Russian tears compared to the antics of Phoenix's Colangelos or Golden State's Garry St. Jean.

The Suns' move to ship two of their top four scorers to Boston for a bag of baked beans made sense only if they were going to couple that with another deal -- which several sources said was supposed to be the case, ironically, for Golden State's Marc Jackson.

But the fact that the Suns traded away Jason Kidd to make this team more exciting and appealing for the fans, then took on the contract of Bo Outlaw to make a push for the playoffs, then a few weeks later decided that, OK, Outlaw was not such a good idea and this team is not even going to make it to the playoffs, then to give up altogether, is, shall we say, suspect decision-making.

But not as suspect as St. Jean, who, I'm guessing, will be scouting players somewhere in the lower panhandle of Asia Minor next season, looking for the next great overseas jump shot.

He matched Houston's offer to Marc Jackson because he considered Jackson an


asset, messing up the chemistry of his locker room; then he pulled out of a trade with Phoenix for Jackson that would have netted him a first-round pick (an asset) because that pick was not lottery protected; then he ended up with Dean Garrett (not an asset) and a second-round pick (not an asset) in 2007 -- which is around the time the NBA says it is expanding to Europe, a perfect time for St. Jean to conclude his scouting trip in Asia Minor and apply for a job with the Milan Catwalkers.

Compared to those two debacles, Kiki is Harvey Kissinger.

Kiki Kissinger, if you will.

Look, Kiki was facing the same thing Michael Jordan was facing in Washington. He was cleaning up somebody else's mess.

In this case, it was the mess of Issel, who signed Nick Van Excrement to a max contract after seasons in which Van Excrement made it a nightmare for Del Harris in Los Angeles and then Mike D'Antoni in Denver. Imagine, Van Excrement then made it a nightmare in Denver. I believe, in detective school, they call this a "pattern."

Issel also signed Tariq Abdul-Wahad to a crazy contract -- $43 million over six years -- when Abdul-Wahad had never proven himself as even remotely above average. Yes, he can D up, but George Karl once beat Stephon Marbury in a game of one-on-one by playing good defense -- George fouled a lot in that game -- and you don't see George getting a new contract to be a stopper.

So Kiki dealt them, along with point guard Avery Johnson, another salary soaker, to the Dallas Mavericks, where Mark Cuban has adopted Bear Bryant's approach to player acquisition. We don't necessarily want them, but we don't want you to have them either.


In return, Kiki took on Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway and -- are you ready for this? -- Donnell Harvey. Kiki also got a first-round pick (note to St. Jean: that's an asset) and $1 million (also a pretty big asset).

OK, let's face it. The Nuggets are going to suck. But they sucked anyway. What's the difference if you finish 20 games out a playoff spot or 30 games? It's not like you can pull the goalie.

"I think it would be really more dangerous ... to not do anything, stand pat and continue the way we were continuing," Kiki said. "The toughest situation for a team to be is in the middle of the road without a good draft pick and strapped financially. You're in a box and there is no way to improve under the rules of the (collective bargaining agreement).

"You have to create something. You have to make a bold move. Obviously, you want to make a positive move. The inherent risk was not doing anything."

Normally, I'd call BS. But I think Kiki has it right on. What was he going to do, play out the year with Nick Van Excrement making everybody in the organization unhappy, then lose Raef LaFrentz to free agency because he's unhappy, then have to sit around and watch Abdul-Wahad soak up money for the next half-decade?

Now, at least, the Nuggets have a sense of direction, even if that direction is way way way down before it can go up.

They now have two first-round draft picks this year, and one of those is guaranteed to be high. With no point guard except a creaky Tim Hardaway -- the only player I really fell badly for in this whole transaction -- and a draft full of strong points, that high pick will be used on the point guard of the future. If it's the top pick, it's Duke's Jason Williams.

But the real cherries come in the summer of 2003. That's when Howard's $105 million contract, including the last year at almost $21 million, expires.


Also, Antonio McDyess has an escape clause in his contract that summer. While the Nuggets call McDyess the cornerstone of the franchise now, a good PR move, I'll bet at least a part of them prays he opts out so they can let him go. After all, the guy is pulling bank, and he seemingly always has an injury.

Also, the Nuggets have team options on the contracts of both Hardaway and Harvey, which means you can waive goodbye to them.

I'm no math major, but here is what the Nuggets will have as they head into the summer of 2003.

The only players they will have under contract is whomever the two first-round picks turn out to be this year. James Posey, assuming they pick up the option on that contract. And nobody else. Which means they will have somewhere between $40 million and $50 million in cap space.

Here is the list of free agents that summer: Jason Kidd, Tim Duncan, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Jermaine O'Neal, Elden Campbell, Clifford Robinson, Juwan Howard, Donyell Marshall, Brad Miller, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman, Dale Davis, Antonio Daniels and David Robinson. And this list does not include restricted free agents like Baron Davis, Andre Miller, Elton Brand and Wally Szczerbiak.

A few words of advice to Kiki: Tear up the blueprints used by Crumbs Krause. It's not working there.

Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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