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Former Nuggets staffer acknowledges trade rumors hurt play

Mar 24, 2011, 1:35 PM EDT

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It was pretty clear by the end that impacts of the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors had bled onto the court for the Denver Nuggets. They were not the same team that started the season, the one that seemed to have potential.

Dean Oliver was a former front office guy and staticiscian for Denver who last month swtiched jobs to write and work for ESPN. Writing for TrueHoop, he provided some interesting insight into how the trade rumors really hit the Nuggets. He said early on it was not bad — and the Nuggets were winning. That changed.

But on January 9, in the early minutes of a home game against New Orleans, news leaked out that hometown hero Chauncey Billups was to be included in a potential trade package to go to the Nets, along with Anthony. As a member of the Denver front office at the time, I was in the arena that night. (I left the Nuggets to join ESPN a few weeks before the Anthony trade.) If there was a time when it looked like the public trade talk started hurting the Nuggets, it was then.

Almost half the team’s players saw their names out there as potential ex-Nuggets. It’s hard to work when your future is that tenuous. It’s hard for coaches to push players who may not have a long-term future with the team.

That Sunday night, with a very negative buzz in the arena, the team crawled to a 96-87 loss. Before a similar trade with New York finally got done, the Nuggets went just 12-10.

Oliver, a stats guy — THE stats guy — knows that a teams emotional state plays a big role, and it has with the Nuggets post trade.

Denver coach George Karl got his “play hard” team, and that’s what the Nuggets did right away: play hard. Since the deal, Denver’s defense has been just a hair behind the Bulls for best in the entire NBA, allowing more than 10 points per 100 possessions fewer than before the deal…

On the offensive side of the ball, the emotional impact is also clear, as the team is sharing the ball very well. Most of the players are using between 17 percent and 22 percent of the team’s possessions, a far cry from when Melo was using 31 percent. Assisted baskets are up to 63 percent, from only 54 percent prior to the deal.

Oliver goes on to talk about things such as how Ty Lawson has always played better as a starter (which is one reason Raymond Felton comes off the bench) and how this trade has been a boon for him.

Come the playoffs, it’s still hard to see Denver knocking off one of the big four teams in the West. But whoever gets them in the first round is going to have to work hard to knock them off. And if the other team isn’t willing to work hard…. somebody is going to get upset in the West. Denver could be that team moving on.

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