NBA, Where Are They Now? / Oct 16, 2009 / 10:59 am

Where Are They Now: 2002-2003 Denver Nuggets

Nikoloz Tskitishvili

In June of 2003, the Detroit Pistons made a decision that forever changed the face and future of the Denver Nuggets. By selecting Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick, it allowed Denver to finally secure a franchise player in Carmelo Anthony with the next selection.

Since that evening in the Garden, the Nuggets have only gotten better. Business the prior season though, pre-Melo, was anything but exciting for the city of Denver. The 2002-2003 squad, which featured a younger Juwan Howard, ultimately rotated through 21 players and 65 losses. The Nuggets finished the year with 17 wins and found themselves 43 games behind the division-leading and eventual NBA Champions, San Antonio Spurs.

Going into the ’02-’03 season, hopes were high in Denver. The organization had put their faith behind a promoted scout-made-head coach, Jeff Bzdelik, who they tagged as their coach of the future. Bzdelik only made it a little over two seasons with the club and after getting the axe, made his way south to coach the Air Force Academy and is currently up north with the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder.

The team relied upon a heavy rotation of energy players and an influx of newly untested talent to offset their lack of veteran leadership. The Nuggets had essentially assembled a team where the crowd favorite was a second-round hustle player out of Iowa and half of its roster belonged in the D-League.

They even had the NBA record for fewest points in the first quarter, with three, in a game against the Spurs in November of 2002.

So where are the 2002-2003 Denver Nuggets now?

Of the 21 players used during the season, only seven are still in the NBA, with two being on the Nuggets. The Nuggets that remain through the rubble are a pair of weathered big men in Nene and the Birdman, Chris Andersen.

Nuggets still in the NBA: James Posey, Marcus Camby, Andersen, Nene, Howard, Devin Brown and Ryan Bowen.

Notable Nuggets gone from the League: Shammond Williams, Rodney White, Donnell Harvey, Kenny Satterfield and Junior Harrington.

When your notable team members include Harrington, a D-II product who played in all 82 games, I guess the best you can hope for is 17 wins.

Howard has most recently caught on with the Blazers, Camby is with the Clippers, while Posey and Brown are still finding minutes with the Hornets.

The biggest surprise still in the League, besides the Birdman for obvious reasons, is Bowen. An everyman from Iowa, Bowen has found a niche in the NBA as an unselfish energy guy for nine seasons. The quiet and hardworking guy started 31 games for Denver in ’02-’03 and is currently in camp with the Thunder.

It’s also hard to discuss the state of the ’02-’03 Nuggets without mentioning its most notable mistake.

The 2002 NBA Draft may not have had the depth of talent as its 2003 brethren did, but it did produce some solid players. In a draft that featured Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler and Yao Ming, the Nuggets had the fifth pick.

It’s embarrassing to rehash any discussion involving the Nuggets selection of Nikoloz Tskitishvili with that fifth pick, whose career high coming into the draft was 15 points. Still, in his rookie season, he was named the starter midway through the year. Fast-forward three years from his draft selection and Skita couldn’t even find a home in the NBA.

The current verdict is still undecided on the Nuggets, but they have come a long way since 2002-2003. With a Western Conference Finals appearance under their belt and almost the entire team making a return, Denver has a lot of upside this year.

It has been rumored that then-General Manager, Kiki Vandeweghe, was so enamored by Darko in ’02, that he was ready to make him the Nuggets’ selection if given the opportunity. Now imagine a frontcourt anchored by Tskitishhvili and Milicic in Denver. The fans in the Mile High have to be thanking Detroit to this day for believing in Tayshaun Prince over a young man from Syracuse.

Come to think about it, the city of Denver should also be thanking Detroit for giving back their hometown hero Chauncey Billups in exchange for Allen Iverson. So, in retrospect, this article should have been written as a thank you note from Denver.

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  • That’s whats up

    Picture Caption:

    “What is this thing I’m holding?”

  • control

    Honestly, I don’t know if Detroit would have had the successes they did if they picked up Melo instead of Darko. History proves me correct, Detroit won championships, were a force and made the ECF year after year, that team dynamic that earned them that would have been absolutely gone with Melo divaing it up in the D.

  • Scott

    @ control

    Really? I don’t think it would’ve changed things towards the negative.

    Melo was young and came from a team oriented program. The Pistons at the time were at their best, and most of the guys on the squad were proven vets. If anything he would’ve adapted to their system and instead of them losing a step as they did I bet he would’ve helped feed their hunger to win.

    It really wouldn’t have changed much with regards to their record, and consequentially them drafting Stuckey.

    Stuckey and Melo would make a hell of a 1-2 punch that would have had staying power past their elders time.

    That being said, I wonder more about how many Chips they could’ve won with Melo eventually blossoming into the talent he is.

    Or Rip would’ve corrupted the hell out of him and he’d be a whiny bust. lol

  • http://dime fan

    Won a championship. They pick melo. Possible a dynasty. No if and’s or b’s about it. He was and should of been R.O.Y. or co in the West. Took a team to the playoffs single handely with a rookie coach. He would of been a better defender by now. Chauncey would have made him look like the Nuggets this past yr. That was a blunder. Only worse one of late is the Hawks passing up Deron & Chris. THe Hawks these past yrs with either could have had a ring or two. You can’t make an Overseas player a Franchise player. It won’t work. They still have a ways 2 go. You could make an All-Star from overseas. They’d still lose bad to our All Stars. With a few exceptions. Why was Rubio drafted so high again? Some of our worse players star in overseas leagues. They can’t even get picked up in open run and could star for another country. Funny but true. Carmelo Anthony is so underatted alike to Wade because of the comparison to Lebron. Lebron is better than Kobe better than Mike. The best this. Damn take it easy. He’s special but so is WADE,GIL,MELO,JJ,BARON,AI,DURANT. You get it.

  • Fiesta

    4: Dirk nowitzki, Tony Parker, Manu ginobili, Yao Ming. Sounds like a decent group of all stars to me.

  • sh!tfaced

    As forgettable as that team was, you forgot that Mark Blount was part of that roster, don’t blame you for that though… LOL

  • Kobeef


    Not even Joe Dumars would admit that picking Darko over Melo was a good idea.

  • sh!tfaced

    @4 Hah! Yeah, Chauncey playing with Melo for the Nuggets now is giving Dumars sort of a glimpse of what he could have had.

    He was too high on ‘chip fever that time and was too worried about repeating and chemistry that he just should have gone with common sense and picked Melo instead.

  • Kobeef

    BREAKING – Marbury to sit out 2009-10 season

    Stephon Marbury has decided not to play in the NBA this season and will instead focus on business opportunities while hoping to return in 2010-11.

    Seriously…”decides”?…as if he had a choice.

  • cru_thik305

    someone please explain to me how detroit ended up with the 2nd overall pick the year before they won the chip. how were they that bad one year, then the next year win it all?

  • Celts Fan

    You can’t blame the Pistons too too much though. People were salivating over Darko’s potential at the time. It didn’t work out, but if it had, they would’ve been a dynasty. Darko could’ve taken over Big Ben’s spot when he left and that team could’ve kept on rolling… I don’t think Melo would’ve been a great fit, but he certainly would’ve been a hell of a bench guy as a rookie (he wasn’t taking Tayshaun’s starting spot in year 1, dude had done too much) but if they’d reached for Bosh instead… Honestly though, you can’t blame them. Melo could’ve been taken over Darko, but everyone had Darko rated as the 2nd best prospect in that draft. Unfortunately for Dumars, it doesn’t always work out that way. I feel like dumping Chauncey was a MUCH worse decision… and so was $90M this past offseason on 2 guys with, count ‘em, ZERO all star games under their belt. You’d really rather have BG and Villanueva than Chauncey? Terrible…

  • control

    I’m not saying Darko was a GOOD pick, and that he’s better than Melo, or anything crazy like that. I’m thinking that Detroit would have been better picking up Bosh or Wade over Melo. I’m pretty sure Melo wouldn’t have meshed well with the squad they had at that specific time. If we are talking right now, then Melo is A LOT better than anyone they have on their team NOW. Back then though, not adding Melo was a good idea, and the success they had would make any team envious.

  • sh!tfaced


    The Pistons got the 2nd pick from Memphis because of the Otis Thorpe trade from way back.

    It was a bogus protected pick since the Grizzlies would only get that pick back if they ended up with the number one choice in the draft.

    Yep, Grizzlies management sucked even before Chris Wallace was there.

    Jerry West doing a Chris Wallace or is it the other way around?

  • M Intellect

    Fuck Melo, imagine if they took Dwayne Wade. A D-Wade and Chauncey backcourt? Oh my days. Toughest team in the L for years.

  • Shrink This

    I like the where are they now ‘team edition’ format.

    Please do more and elicit suggestions. Anyone have any ideas?

    How about the high scoring 1990-1991 Nuggets?

  • Kobeef

    Where are the now, Jail Blazers edition.

  • calvin brodus

    youre ruining my friday bringing up that skita pick.

  • Name (required)

    if your talking about IFs. Imagine if the Pistons drafted Melo, Larry Brown would have sat him on the end of his bench, turned him into a little bitch and made a bust out of him. Darko could have gotten loads of PT in Denver, reached some of that potential and been an all star.
    Or, more likely, Detroit played Melo and Tay in an undersized frontcourt, never traded for Sheed and never won a ring.

  • Ashlov

    That’s whats up says:

    Picture Caption:

    “What is this thing I’m holding?”

    +1, sir.

  • ldawg3323

    I think ALOT of people forget that, Larry Brown had a LOT to do with Darko not panning out. Larry Brown is the same guy who took Team USA to Bronze, cause it was filled with rookies (melo, wade, bron) and didnt play them much. He is a rookie killa…I doubt Melo woulda sucked playing under Brown, but i dont think he would be where he is today had he. (take that for good or bad)

  • George W Kush Sr

    Come on now, Melo wouldn’t have hurt the Pistons at all. In all honesty it was a dumb move to pick Darko, that decision screwed Detroit’s future up. Not immediate future because of all the ECFs but you can’t deny that if they had kept Billups, still have RIP and Prince along with Melo, they wouldn’t still be sick?

  • Diego

    @ fan, post 4. Darko pick much worse than Hawks pick of Marvin Williams–the Hawks starting small forward last year and for the next 4+ years. Marvin was everyone’s consensus pick–except for a few of you fortune tellers out there.

    Only thing I really blame Hawks for in this regard is, because of their situation then, regardless of whether Marvin was deemed better consensus pick, Hawks at that time already were loaded with small forwards (not at all so much now), including J-Chill and Harrington, but really needed a point guard. They should have gone for need that year, regardless of how everyone was singing Marvin’s praises.

    (I imagine you probably were rooting for the Hawks to pick Conley over Horford too–as most of the numb nuts in Atlanta were?)

    Why doesn’t anyone pick on Milwaukee as much for taking Bogut no. 1 that year?

  • sh!tfaced

    Unless he wins a championship first before CP3 or Deron, Marvin Williams will always be considered a damn bust.

  • ldawg3323

    The unwritten rule in the NBA is, draft size. Cause you cant teach height. Bogut, is a solid player when not hurt. a legit 15-9 type guy. Do you want MORE from a #1 overall pick, SURE!!! But he’s not a bust. He’s a talented big, with a sorry cast (minus Redd). CP3 was TRULY the only PG at the time, that was suppose to turn heads. The Jazz where BLASTED for taking Deron over CP3 when it happen.

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    question is if the pistons had to do it all over again, would they even consider picking carmelo over wade or bosh?

  • http://www.petsocietyhelp.com Paborito

    No doubt about that however if the pistons were to have selected Carmelo do you think that would of hindered their chances of winning a championship that year? Maybe Darko is a great practice player who helped their other big men become better players that year. Teams need practice bitches too for their starters to slap around. Basketball is all about chemistry, I’m pretty sure the Pistons wouldn’t have changed a single thing that season looking back.

  • kowtz

    So, in retrospect, this article should have been written as a thank you note from Denver.


    @4 (fan)

    Le Bron better than mike? are you referring to about Michael Jordan here?


    He’s better?

  • Mack Brownee

    i love these type of dime pieces…plz do the jailblazers

  • Da_Griff

    Didn’t Ryan Bowen get cut by the hornets last week?