Carmelo Anthony trudged out of EnergySolutions Arena three years ago on the last night of April, months away from strong-arming a trade to New York, his Denver Nuggets career effectively over.
Down the concrete corridor, Deron Williams celebrated a first-round playoff win, four straight losses to the Lakers away from the end of his last hurrah with the Utah Jazz.
Within a year, the stars of that series were scattered; two franchises were reshaped by blockbuster trades. On Wednesday, the Nuggets (50-24) come to Salt Lake City the No. 3 team in the West, fresh off a 15-game winning streak, bearing few scars from the Anthony trade, while the Jazz, in the words of top executive Kevin O’Connor, are “a stage or two behind them.”
O’Connor acknowledges that he expected that series represented the end for a Jazz core that included Williams and Carlos Boozer.
Like the Jazz, Denver hasn’t had an All-Star since blowing up its roster and moving its franchise player. However, the rise back to the top of the West has been vastly more rapid, for reasons the Jazz say range from coach George Karl’s expertise to the fact the Nuggets traded Anthony for a collection of players with NBA experience, while the Jazz collected draft picks.
“It does surprise you that a team like that is still up there,” says Paul Millsap, the only Jazz player left from the 2010 series.
Like the Jazz, the Nuggets have seen a complete overhaul. Point guard Ty Lawson is the only player remaining from the 2010 Denver team.
That year, the Rocky Mountain rivals were similar. Each finished 54-29 and were led by mercurial superstars. In February 2011, the Nuggets traded Anthony to New York and the Jazz, knowing the then-New Jersey Nets had desperately wanted Anthony, shipped Williams to Newark in exchange for a picks-laden package that eventually turned into Marvin Williams, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Golden State’s first round pick in June’s draft.
“We went a little bit younger in some of the guys we brought in,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Where the Nuggets are one of the league’s rising teams, the Jazz (39-36) are in the middle of a slow rebuild reliant on potential.
It will continue into an offseason in which as many as eight players could leave as free agents.
The Anthony deal netted the Nuggets a bounty of NBA-ready players, including starters Danilo Gallinari and former Jazz center Kosta Koufos. The Nuggets already had an emerging Ty Lawson at point guard and last summer acquired Andre Iguodala by wedging themselves into a four-team deal using a 2014 first-round pick from the Knicks.
“Those players are playing significant minutes,” O’Connor, the Jazz’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, said. “They’re a year or two ahead of us in the food chain as far as I’m concerned. I think their administration has done a great job, they got their players, they’ve kept them.”
Denver is the NBA’s best home team with a 33-3 mark and is second in the NBA in pace of play.
“That’s George Karl,” Corbin said. “That’s how he’s always coached his teams. He’s got guys of different styles now who can play this pace he wants to play, so it’s a great match. He’s done a great job with the crew that he has.”
Rocky Mountain rivalry
• Denver and Utah followed similar paths after 2010 playoff series, but the Nuggets rebuild has been more rapid.
• The Nuggets have won 16 of their last 18 games, including a 15-game winning streak.
• Each team retains one player from 2010: Paul Millsap for the Jazz and Ty Lawson in Denver.
Nuggets at Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • Root. Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 39-36; Nuggets 50-24
Season series • Nuggets, 2-1
Last meeting • Nuggets, 110-91 (Jan. 5)
About the Jazz • They have won five straight. … Only five teams in the NBA have better home records than the Jazz (28-9). … In the last seven games, G Randy Foye has made 31 of 52 3-point shots (.596). … In two losses to Denver this season, C Al Jefferson averaged eight points on 5-of-22 shooting.
About the Nuggets • They have won 16 of their last 18 games. … They went 13-2 in March and George Karl was named the Coach of the Month in the Western Conference. … G Ty Lawson is their top scorer (16.7), but he is sidelined with a torn plantar fascia. Ex-Ute Andre Miller will start in his place.