Woody Paige: Looking back after Mudiay trade, Nuggets should have drafted Devin Booker

If only . . .

The Nuggets would have gotten the other Devin.

Devin Harris was an exceptional NBA player – when he was 25 and averaged 21 points and 7 rebounds a game. At 34, he’s not so much.

Even so, he’s an upgrade over Emmanuel Mudiay.

In a three-way deal involving the Nuggets, the Knicks and the Mavericks, Mudiay is headed to New York, and Harris comes to Denver from Dallas.

(Last time the Nuggets sent a high first-round draft choice to the Knicks was seven years ago this month. Whatever happened to Carmelo Anthony?)

Emmanuel, we hardly knew ye.

The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft turned out to be a big bust, and the Nuggets finally gave up on him. Maybe Mudiay can become a player someday, but not this day. He can’t shoot straight.

However, to be frank and fair, Mudiay was considered a steal three years ago when he slipped to seventh.

In hindsight, the best sight, the Nuggets missed on the real steal, the real deal.

Devin Booker.

Imagine a Nuggets’ backcourt of Jamal Murray and Devin Booker, both from the University of Kentucky, and Gary Harris. Could have happened.

Buried deep on the internet is a photo from June 15, 2015, when Booker was on the Nuggets’ practice court at The Can working out.  In the background watching Booker was Nuggets’ president Josh Kroenke.

Kroenke had played basketball at Missouri. Oddly enough, Booker’s dad also had been an all-conference point guard with the Tigers years before Kroenke came along.  Melvin Booker, who was undrafted, would play five games with the Nuggets in 1996 – just after Kroenke’s dad, Stan, had bought the franchise. The elder Booker would go on to play in Europe for more than a decade – and once had a young teammate named Danilo Gallinari.

In an interview after his session, Booker seemed very enthused about playing with the Nuggets.

Nevertheless, Josh Kroenke and his staff weren’t impressed enough with Booker. He lasted until the 13th pick of the first round and was selected by the Suns. Mudiay, who didn’t accept an invite to show the Nuggets what he could do in a tryout in Denver, was the choice.

In his three seasons, Booker has averaged 19.3 points a game (24.1 this year). Mudiay has averaged 11.1 (8.5 this season).

Five other teams also passed on Booker, and he was the fifth Kentucky player drafted in the first round. Of the top 12 selected ahead of Booker, eight haven’t succeeded so far, and probably won’t ever. That includes Trey Lyles, also of Kentucky, who has ended up with Denver after being chosen by Utah.

With UK’s Booker and Murray and the others on the roster, the Nuggets probably wouldn’t be struggling to stay in the playoff race.

They are seventh at the moment.

Despite all the rumors, reports and repartee, the Nuggets weren’t able to get rid of Wilson Chandler or Kenneth Faried, and weren’t able to trade for Tyreke Evans or Marcus Smart or any other high-value players. They got Devin Harris, who will be a suitable backup down the stretch of the last 28 games.

The Nuggets need Paul Millsap if they are to fulfill the annual wish of reaching the postseason.

However, coach Mike Malone said this week that Millsap won’t be back from his serious wrist injury until early or mid-March. Circle March 17. The Nuggets have seven consecutive games on the road from that date until March 31. They must play at Memphis, Miami, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto and Oklahoma City. Five of those teams will be in the playoffs. It won’t be easy, especially considering that the Nuggets are the second-worst Western Conference team away from home (7-18 before Friday night’s game at Houston and Saturday in Phoenix).  They’re third at home (22-7).

On the positive side, the Nuggets finish with four of six at home, and they are in a pile with five teams that have their own issues. The Pelicans seemed a lock for the playoffs until losing Boogie Cousins. The Clippers traded Blake Griffin, and the Jazz can’t get untracked.  The Nuggets aren’t as good as the Thunder, but are virtually even with the Trailblazers (who beat out the Nuggets for the eighth playoff spot last season).

Of immediate concern before the All-Star break is a seven-game stretch featuring the Rockets and the Spurs twice each, and a game at Milwaukee.

Did the Nuggets do enough at the trade deadline?  No. Can they scramble into the last playoff position? Yes.

But, guess who they would play in the first round?

The Nuggets did split the season series with the Warriors 2-2.  And this franchise did upset a No. 1 seed in the playoffs once – long ago.

If only . . .

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