3 first-rounders acquired in sign-trade

Kenyon Martin was traded Thursday from the New Jersey Nets to the Denver Nuggets
for three future first-round draft picks, a deal that strengthens
Denver's frontcourt and weakens New Jersey's chances to stay among
the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

The picks coming from Denver include one of the Nuggets' own first-rounders, as well as a first-round selection from the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers that the Nuggets acquired in past deals. According to the Nets, included are the Clippers' first-round pick in 2005 (protected for overall picks 1 through 14) or '06, the 76ers' first-rounder in '05 (protected for picks 1-8), '06 (protected for picks 1-5) or '07, and Denver's first-rounder in '06 (protected for picks 1-5), '07 (protected for top two), or '08.

"Anytime you have a chance to add a player of the stature of
Kenyon Martin, somebody who has been to the finals, who has been an
All-Star, who plays with the ferocity that he plays with, that is
an opportunity you really can't pass up," Nuggets general manager
Kiki Vandeweghe told The Associated Press. "We are very, very lucky to have been in a
position to take advantage of his being available.

"We view Kenyon as a difference maker. We
wanted to add to this and not have to move anybody. We were lucky
to be able to add to it and only trade future draft picks."

The Nets, while wanting to keep Martin, chose to take the flexibility of the picks and the salary savings.

"This was an extremely difficult decision for our franchise, but I felt that the magnitude of the contract, both in its first year due to the signing bonus as well as over its duration, would seriously impair our ability to sign enough quality players. This core group of players has had an amazing run over the past few years, and we will work diligently toward once again competing for an NBA title."

Martin is expected to receive a seven-year deal worth more than $90 million from New Jersey before he is shipped to Denver. Denver is able to take on Martin without having to trade any
payroll back because it is far enough under the cap to absorb
Martin's first-year salary -- nearly $11 million if Martin gets the
anticipated deal.

The Nuggets will still have salary cap space remaining after the
trade, though the exact amount will be determined by the structure
of Martin's new contract.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported early Thursday morning that the two teams were close to completing the deal after negotiations over various sign-and-trade options involving Nuggets players fell apart over the weekend.

Denver had been pursuing a sign-and-trade with New Jersey for days in hopes that it could avoid signing Martin, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. The Nets had been hoping to receive a power forward back from the Nuggets, specifically Nene, while the Nuggets were offering a package featuring Nikoloz Tskitishvili and multiple draft picks.

The Nuggets now have one of the deepest front lines in the league, with Martin slotting in at power forward between small forward Carmelo Anthony and center Marcus Camby. Or the Nuggets could elect to start Nene at center and bring Camby off the bench.

The trade breaks up New Jersey's highly successful trio of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Martin, but the Nets -- with Jefferson headed soon for his own contract extension -- apparently preferred a package of good draft picks to the prospect of committing lucrative long-term deals to all three stars.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.