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Smart moves by the Nuggets

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After the Denver Nuggets pushed the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals last month, the consensus seemed to support Denver making as few roster changes as possible.

The team was content, head coach George Karl was secure, and most of the players were already under contract for the 2009-10 season.

There were a few bits of uncertainty. Backup center and energetic shot-blocker Chris "Birdman" Andersen was a free agent, along with defensive guard (and frequent starter) Dahntay Jones. Also, the Nuggets had to decide whether to continue with Anthony Carter as the backup point guard for veteran Chauncey Billups.

Today, in the middle of July, those questions are answered.

Denver signed the 6-foot-10 Andersen for five years and a maximum (with incentives) of $26 million, which seemed too long and expensive to some observers. But perhaps they didn't appreciate what Andersen meant to the Nuggets last season, not just swatting away opponents' shots but coming off the bench to fire up the entire team — not to mention the fans. He also didn't fade away in the playoffs, as many part-time role players do. He averaged 22 minutes and 6.5 points a game through Denver's three series, blocking 32 shots along the way.

Elevating his game for the playoffs clearly enhanced his value, and deservedly so. Apparently the Nuggets' front office realized replacing Birdman wouldn't be easy, either.

Next, after Jones signed a free-agent deal with Indiana, Denver wasted no time filling that vacancy.

The deal this week with Detroit, to obtain 6-foot-5 guard Arron Afflalo, didn't make big headlines around the league. But it's an excellent move for the Nuggets. Afflalo can play tough defense and match up well against high-scoring NBA guards, plus he's an above-average outside shooter who sees himself as more of a complete player, not just a defensive specialist. That goes back to his college days as a superb All-American backcourt star at UCLA.

Something else can't be discounted: Afflalo played in Detroit on the same team with Billups, who gave his emphatic seal of approval to Denver's management. Afflalo, who turns 24 in October, obviously hasn't reached his NBA peak, either. So he could be an upgrade over Jones.

Those changes, along with the post-draft deal for North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson as Billups' understudy, reaffirm the Nuggets' personnel folks have an excellent grasp on what they have, what they need and how to fill holes.

Do those maneuvers make the Nuggets a better team? Perhaps, though obviously it'll be Karl's job now to continue pushing Andersen while working Afflalo and Lawson into the mix as quickly as possible.

Perhaps the safest conclusion for now is that Denver certainly has not slipped in the offseason, which is encouraging for a team that came so close to making the NBA Finals.

From this view, the most pivotal factor for the Nuggets next season will be Carmelo Anthony, who stepped up through most of Denver's playoff run (averaging 27.2 points a game, after 22.8 in the regular season). If Anthony can maintain those higher numbers during the season-long grind, and if the Nuggets can avoid major injuries, they should push the Lakers as hard as anyone.

Quick hits: Good news from the State Games of America organizers, who now expect around 9,000 competitors for the extravaganza scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 2 at sites around the city. The participants will include at least 3,500 from states outside Colorado, which means a good week for motels and restaurants. For more information and online registration, go to thesportscorp.org. ... They're breathing a little more easily in Boulder, as University of Colorado sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen is throwing to teammates and is almost fully recovered from surgery on his right (throwing) thumb after spring drills. Hansen should have no trouble now returning to compete against junior Cody Hawkins for the starting job. CU's first two games will be on national TV, Sept. 6 against Colorado State (5 p.m., FOX Sports Net) and Sept. 11 at Toledo (7 p.m., ESPN).

routon@csindy.com

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