Top Five: Nuggets Who Left Denver Too Soon

If Carmelo Anthony ultimately leaves the Nuggets, he’ll join five other former Nuggets whose basketball careers in Denver ended too soon.

If Carmelo Anthony ultimately leaves the Nuggets, he’ll join five other former Nuggets whose basketball careers in Denver ended too soon. 

#5: Kiki Vandeweghe, Departed 1984

Vandeweghe was on the wrong end of one of the great trades in Denver history when the Nuggets sent the 29.4 points per game scorer to Portland for Fat Lever, Calvin Natt and Wayne Cooper. Vandeweghe would go on to produce four more 20-plus PPG seasons while the Nuggets appeared in their first Western Conference Finals in 1985 and remained a force in the Western Conference for the duration of Lever’s career. 

#4: David Thompson, Departed 1982

Thompson’s departure was due to the many bad decisions made by Thompson himself.  But that doesn’t take away the tragedy of losing what could have been the NBA’s second-best two-guard had Thompson had better control of his life. Traded to the Supersonics in 1982 after years of cocaine abuse that led to a sharp decline in his on-court production, Thompson’s career in Denver ended as a 27-year-old and his NBA career was over just two seasons later. 

#3: LaPhonso Ellis, Departed 1998

Like Thompson, Ellis’ Nuggets career ended at the young age of 27 after six promising but injury-filled seasons. Had he remained injury free, Ellis – the team’s leader in the locker room and practice floor – may have been the Nuggets' best power forward of all time. The abrupt ending of Ellis’ Nuggets career remains one of the great tragedies in Nuggets history. 

#2: Dikembe Mutombo, departed 1996

Then Nuggets GM Bernie Bickerstaff decided that paying $10 million a year for an All-Star center was too much, so Bernie stupidly let the free agent Mutombo walk for nothing in the summer of 1996. Mutombo would go on to play in five more All-Star games, win Defensive Player of the Year three times and appear in two NBA Finals. 

#1: Spencer Haywood, departed 1970

All Haywood did as a rookie on the 1969-70 Denver Rockets was average 30 PPG and 19.5 RPG while leading the Rockets to a 51-win record and a playoff series victory. His reward was winning the ABA’s Rookie of the Year, the ABA All-Star Game MVP and the ABA MVP…and a contract with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics.  Haywood’s lone season in Denver remains as one of the best in professional basketball history. The fact that Haywood was a 20-year-old rookie makes it even more remarkable.

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