A charter franchise in the American Basketball Association, the team was originally slated to play in Kansas City, Missouri before moving to Denver.
They tended to struggle in the postseason early and failed to make a championship game during this span. They had a solid lineup led by Byron Beck and Larry Jones, then later by Beck and Ralph Simpson. During the 1969-70 NBA season,the team also had controversial rookie Spencer Haywood. Haywood was one of the first players try to turn pro before graduating from college, and the NBA initially refused to let him play in the league. Haywood averaged 30 points in his only ABA season, then was allowed to sign with the Seattle SuperSonics to start a productive NBA career.
In 1974, in hopes of moving into the NBA, a contest was held to find a new nickname for the Rockets, as the nickname was already used by the Houston Rockets. The name Nuggets won, having been the nickname first used by the Denver 1949-50 NBA franchise. Their new logo was a miner holding an ABA ball.
With the drafting and signing of David Thompson and Marvin Webster and the acquisitions of Dan Issel and Bobby Jones and with Larry Brown coaching, they had their best seasons in team history in their first two seasons as the Nuggets, with the team making the ABA finals in 1975-76. They would get no second chance to win a league championship, as the ABA folded after the 1975-76 season. The Nuggets were one of four ABA teams taken into the NBA, along with the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers. The Nuggets and Nets had actually applied to join the NBA in 1975, but were forced to stay in the ABA by court order.
The Nuggets continued their strong play early on in the NBA, as they won division titles in their first two seasons in the league, and missed a third by a single game. However, neither of these teams was ultimately successful in the postseason.
Alternate logo, 1977-1981Brown left the team in 1979, helping usher in a brief decline in their team’s performance. It ended in 1981, when they hired Doug Moe as a head coach. Moe brought with him a „run and gun“ philosophy, a style of play focusing on attempting to score rapidly with little interest in defense, and it helped the team become highly competitive. During the 1980s, the Nuggets would often score in excess of 115 points a game, and during the 1981-82 season, they scored at least 100 points in every game.
Logo, 1982-1993 Anchored by scoring machines Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe at the two forward spots, Denver led the league in scoring, with English and Vandeweghe both averaging above 25 points per game. It was a novel strategy, allowing the Nuggets to top the Midwest Division and qualify for the playoffs during that span. (On December 13, 1983, the Nuggets and the visiting Detroit Pistons combined for an NBA record 370 points, with Detroit winning in triple overtime, 186-184.) In 1984-85, they made it to the Western Conference finals after being perennial playoff contenders, and they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Vandeweghe was traded before the 1984-85 season to the Portland Trail Blazers for 6-3 rebounding guard Lafayette „Fat“ Lever, undersized power forward Calvin Natt and center Wayne Cooper. Spearheaded by English and supported by the three new acquisitions and defensive specialists Bill Hanzlik and TR Dunn, the team replicated its success in the Western Conference despite the loss of Vandeweghe. However, they could not get past the dominant team of the era, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Moe left the team in 1990, and was replaced by Paul Westhead. Westhead also believed in a „run and gun“ style of play, and gave the green light for players like Michael Adams and Chris Jackson to light up the scoreboards within seconds of possession.However, Westhead cared even less about defense than Moe. As a result, while the Nuggets set more scoring records, they also set records for points surrendered. They finished with the worst record in the league for two seasons in a row. During this time, they were sometimes known as the „Enver Nuggets“ (as in no „D“).
Denver took a positive step in rebuilding by drafting 7-2 Georgetown University center Dikembe Mutombo in 1992. Mutombo would have a successful rookie year, finishing runner-up to Larry Johnson for the NBA rookie of the year that season. Denver finished 24-58 that year.
Denver fired Westhead prior to the 1992-1993 season and hired ABA legend and former Nugget Player Dan Issel. The Nuggets had two lottery picks that year and drafted Notre Dame University forward LaPhonso Ellis and Virginia University guard Bryant Stith. Denver improved to 36-46, just missing the playoffs that year. Denver ditched their rainbow colors for a dark blue and gold scheme starting in the 1993-1994 season. Led by Mutombo, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (who changed his name from Chris Jackson prior to the season), and Ellis, Denver would finish with its first winning season since the Doug Moe era at 42-40. Denver clinched the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs, playing the first place Seattle SuperSonics. Denver was a heavy underdog, having only a couple of players on their roster with actual NBA playoff experience. After dropping the first two games of the five game set in Seattle, the series returned to Denver. Denver won both games and tied the series at two games apiece. The Nuggets would make NBA history in Game 5, upsetting Seattle in overtime 98-94. They became the first 8th seeded team to defeat a 1st seeded team in NBA playoff history. Denver would almost do the same in the next round, falling to the Utah Jazz in game seven of the second round.
Denver acquired Sonics sharp-shooter Dale Ellis in the off-season and drafted Michigan University phenom Jalen Rose. Denver would struggle, causing Issel to resign as coach partway into the season. Assistant Coach Gene Littles would assume control for a brief period before relinquishing control to general manager Bernie Bickerstaff. Denver would rebound and get the 8th seed again in the playoffs, finishing 41-41. The Nuggets were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs that season.
Following that season, Denver would acquire Antonio McDyess in a draft day trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. McDyess would be the face of the franchise for the next few years, as Mutombo would leave after the 1995-96 season for the Atlanta Hawks, Ellis would miss the majority of the next few seasons due to recurring knee and leg injuries, and Abdul-Rauf was traded to the Sacramento Kings prior to the 1996-97 season.
Denver flirted with history in the 1997-98, by nearly setting the mark for fewest wins in an 82 game season (11). They would tie the NBA’s all-time worst single-season losing streak at 23 games – only one game shy of the overall worst mark of 24 by the Cleveland Cavaliers of the early 1980s. Several years later, the Nuggets tied for the worst record in the NBA in 2002-03, also with the Cavaliers.
The team has shown signs of another renaissance for the 2003-04 season, with the drafting of Carmelo Anthony and yet another uniform change (powder blue and yellow). In just two months of the season, they recorded more wins than they had in 5½ months of play in 2002-03. Much of the reason for this incredible turnaround were the front-office moves of General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe a former Nuggets player who assumed General Manager duties August 9, 2001, adding crucial personnel including: point guard Andre Miller, power forward Nenê, point guard Earl Boykins, center Marcus Camby and shooting guard Jon Barry. In April, the turnaround was complete as they became the first franchise in NBA history to qualify for the postseason following a sub-20-win campaign the previous year. They were eliminated in the first round four games to one by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On December 28, 2004, head coach Jeff Bzdelik was fired from the organization and replaced by interim coach, former Los Angeles Laker player and Los Angeles Sparks head coach Michael Cooper, before finally hiring veteran coach George Karl as a permanent replacement. Karl lived up to his reputation by leading the team to an astounding record of 32-8 in the second half of the regular season which vaulted the team into the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
In the playoffs, however, the Nuggets could not survive the powerhouse defense of Manu Ginobili and the San Antonio Spurs. After winning game one in San Antonio, the Nuggets proceeded to lose the next four games and lost the series 4-1. The Nuggets picked 20th in the 2005 NBA Draft; it was acquired from Washington via Orlando.
In 2005-06, for the first time in 18 years, the club won the Northwest division title. This placed the team in the third seed of the Western Conference playoffs. Due to their relatively weak record the Nuggets were forced to play the Los Angeles Clippers who, despite their 6th seeding, had a better record following a great season behind their NBA Most Valuable Player Award candidate Elton Brand. Based on their regular season records the LA Clippers received home court advantage. The first two games in the best-of-7 series were won by the Clippers 89-87 in game one and 109-101 for game two in LA. Game 3 was won by the Denver Nuggets in Denver 98-87. The Clippers went on to win the final two games and advance to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs for the first time in franchise history since the Clippers moved to L.A. for the 1984-85 season.
On, December 18, 2006, team co-captain, Carmelo Anthony, shooting guard J.R. Smith, and power forward Nene were suspended by the NBA (15, 10, and 1 games respectively) for a fight that occurred in the last two minutes of a game against the New York Knicks two days earlier. The fight was sparked by Knicks rookie Mardy Collins, when he tackled J.R. Smith on a breakaway layup. According to Anthony, Knicks coach Isiah Thomas warned him to not go in the paint shortly before the hard foul.
Allen Iverson arrives
On December 19, 2006, the Nuggets traded Joe Smith, Andre Miller, and two first-round draft picks in the 2007 draft to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ivan McFarlin and superstar Allen Iverson (McFarlin was waived immediately following the trade’s approval). The moves gave the Nuggets the top two scorers in the league at the time in Anthony, and Iverson who were both scoring over 30 points per game at the time of the trade. On January 11, 2007, Earl Boykins, Julius Hodge, and cash considerations were traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for point guard Steve Blake. With, many considered the Nuggets as one of the elite in the West, alongside the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and the San Antonio Spurs. However, chemistry would be an issue as the Nuggets finished the regular season with the #6 seed, giving them a first round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. In the playoffs, the Nuggets got off to a fast start, winning game 1 and taking home court advantage away from the Spurs. However, in an errie repeat of the 2005 playoffs, the Spurs bounced back to win the next four, as the Nuggets were eliminated in the first round in five games for the fourth straight year.
Current Starting Five
Point Guard: Steve Blake
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Power Forward: Nenê (Maybyner Hilario)
Center: Marcus Camby