Just like Vince Carter, the Denver Nuggets had a chance to draft Dirk Nowitzki. Both ended up in Dallas at one point or another.
The 1998 NBA draft continues to haunt the Denver Nuggets each and every day. The absolute embarrassment of riches in the draft made it genuinely difficult for the Nuggets to not come away with a superstar talent.
Well, the Nuggets came away with Raef LaFrentz. Like Vince Carter, LaFrentz would go on to become a teammate of Nowitzki’s when he played in Dallas in 2002-2003. The Nuggets have not had as rich a history as many teams, as Alex English, David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Lafayette “Fat” Lever do most of the talking for the franchise.
In 1998, the team had quite the chance to change that. Nowitzki went on to become the greatest European player of all time and the best shooting big man in league history. As the sixth all-leading scorer Nowitzki would have completely changed the fortunes of a still fledgling franchise far removed from their much more successful days in the 1980s.
Of course, the Milwaukee Bucks were the team that screwed it up the most, as they originally drafted Nowitzki before trading him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The Mavs eventually won a championship and appeared in numerous postseasons while the Nuggets eventually waited it out until Carmelo Anthony fell into their lap.
The Nuggets missed on having one of the 20 greatest players to ever play, in favor of drafting a player even some die-hard Nuggets fans have a hard time remembering. Their pick, in passing on Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Nowitzki, and Jason Williams, ranks with the Portland Trail Blazers selection of Sam Bowie one spot ahead of Michael Jordan and two spots ahead of Charles Barkley as one of the worst draft mistakes in history.
While historical drafts are always based on hindsight, it is worth considering just how different NBA history would have been had the Nuggets pulled the trigger on the floppy-haired no-name European guy with a name no one stateside could pronounce. The Mavericks were sure happy they didn’t.