Over Denver Nuggets history, they’ve acquired most of their top talent—e.g. David Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Alex English, Dan Issel, Fat Lever, Dikembe Mutombo, Nikola Jokic—via trades or the draft. They’ve typically been modest free agent spenders—rarely producing splashes or massive misfires.
With that in mind, let’s look at the five worst signings in Nuggets history. (Spoiler: they’ve had awful luck with power forwards.)
5) J.J. Hickson
After some promising moments with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hickson spent time with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers before landing in Denver in 2013. Hickson’s 3-year, $15 million deal wasn’t necessarily crippling to the organization’s cap sheet, but still provided subpar ROI.
Hickson put up 11.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG in 2014, only to be benched by head coach Brian Shaw. He then went on to tear his ACL in March.
He was waived by Denver in February 2016 and was out of the NBA by age 27.
4) Al Harrington
After failing to land a star in the stacked free agency market of 2010, Denver inked Al Harrington to a five-year, $34 million deal. Harrington, 30, had averaged 17.7 PPG the previous season with the New York Knicks, and Denver signed him to provide depth off the bench. Harrington performed that role poorly for one season, decently for the second (14.2 PPG), then was dealt to Orlando and out of the league before his contract was up.
3) Kim Hughes
Deep cut here—and pre-modern free agency—but Hughes was so awful that he deserves a shout out. After a respectable tenure as a role player for the New York Nets (1976 ABA champs), Hughes signed a veteran deal with Denver in 1978. In two seasons for the Nuggets, the 6-foot-11 center got steady playing time, 15.4 MPG, yet averaged just 2.9 PPG and 4.5 RPG.
2) Antonio McDyess
McDyess began his career with the Nuggets in 1995 before being traded to Phoenix in 1997. By the time he hit free agency in 1998, he had blossomed into one of the most explosive players in the game. He opted to return to Denver on a six-year, $67.5 million contract inked just before the lockout-shortened season.
McDyess had a career year in 2000-01—20.8 PPG and 12.6 RPG—but unfortunately tore his patella 11 games into the following season. He wouldn’t appear in another NBA game until December 2003—for the New York Knicks.
1) Kenyon Martin
Seven years, $92.5 million was simply a ton of money for Martin. After his lone All-Star campaign in 2003-04, the New Jersey Nets unloaded Martin onto Denver in exchange for three first round picks, rather than pay the big money he wanted.
Denver was happy to acquire and sign the 27-year old former Bo. 1 overall pick. K-Mart’s first season in Denver was encouraging (15.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG), but he suffered from knee woes early into the next season. Martin underwent micro-fracture surgery on both knees and missed 118 games across his first four seasons in Denver.
To his credit, he remained a valuable contributor for the second half of the deal, and a key cog on the 2009 Conference Finals team.