Apparently we do not need to wait for 2011 to experience the Summer of Carmelo. We may very well be on the verge of the Indian Summer of Carmelo. Ric Bucher is reporting that Carmelo Anthony no longer desires to play for Denver. The kicker is Carmelo may want out immediately as Bucher speculates Melo will start the season playing for a franchise other than the Denver Nuggets. If you have not yet had the pleasure of reading, hearing or seeing Bucher’s latest work, you can read the ESPN.com article here, listen to his ESPN Radio interview here and there is video below.
First of all, as we experienced with LeBron’s decision, this is one in a number of see-sawing reports we have witnessed over the previous few months which have ranged from Carmelo wants to play with Amare Stoudemire and Tony Parker in New York to Carmelo is likely to sign the extension currently on the table or Carmelo wants to wait to sign the extension in order to put pressure on the Nuggets to improve the roster and now we have moved to Carmelo is going to start the 2010-11 season somewhere else.
Clearly all of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Less than a month ago we went through this with Chris Paul as he wanted out of New Orleans. Despite the speculation by the media, including the TrueHoop Network, Paul will be in New Orleans for at least the next few months, if not longer. The same could be true for Carmelo although it warrants mentioning Paul is under contract with New Orleans for two more seasons as opposed to Carmelo’s one giving the Hornets more control than Denver enjoys.
Assuming Carmelo does tell Nuggets’ management he is no longer interested in continuing to play for Denver what options do the Nuggets have? Obviously there can only be two ways all of this is resolved, either Carmelo is a Nugget or he is not, but there are a number of possible ways to arrive at either outcome.
There is one undisputable fact in all of this speculation. Carmelo Anthony is under contract with Denver for the 2010-11 season. Unless he wants to sit out the season, and lose out on some serious cash, the Nuggets can tell him to suit up and go win some games. This option sounds appealing because it provides the illusion of control. As mentioned above, Melo can say whatever he wants, but he is a Nugget. The truth is the clock is ticking towards Carmelo’s early termination option which draws closer with each passing second. Conversely the Nuggets loose a little bit of leverage with every tick of the clock. Time is not on Denver’s side. Plus keeping Carmelo around against his will is wrought with potential problems.
First of all, Carmelo already lacks defensive intensity and is not known for restraint on offense when it comes to letting shots fly. How much worse will those characteristics be accentuated if Melo is longing to be somewhere else. The constant stream of possessions featuring some serious ole defense on one end and long range jumpers on the other are already eating away at my brain.
Secondly, it is difficult to ask the other members of the team to put it all on the line when they know there is one amongst them who refuses to make the same commitment. Such a situation would likely destroy the team on the court and off until Carmelo was dispatched either via trade or homicide.
The ideal result from keeping Anthony in Denver requires the Nuggets to rely on Carmelo’s pride and trust he would play to win instead of play to stay out of harms way. If the Nuggets could find success as they did for two thirds of 2009-10, execute a trade deadline move with Kenyon Martin’s expiring contract to add a piece to the puzzle and make a run at a championship maybe Melo can be convinced Denver is the best place for him and the drama ends with his Herbie Hancock hitting the dotted line on that thee year extension. It sounds nice on paper, but that paper is more likely to be a screenplay than a hardcopy of a Roundball Mining Company post from next June.
On the other hand if Denver chooses to keep Carmelo around and he is being a disruptive force, the Nuggets could simply tell him to hang out anywhere other than the Pepsi Center. The 76ers did exactly that with Allen Iverson when he demanded a trade in 2006 which triggered his arrival in Denver. This would allow the active members of the Nuggets roster to focus on playing while the front office worries about coming up with an acceptable destination for Anthony.
Should some combination of events keep Carmelo in Denver through the end of the season, the options are less clear. They can always let him walk away and receive nothing in return, which would be a complete disaster making the loss of Dikembe Mutumbo in 1996 seem like dropping off a urine stained mattress at goodwill by comparison.
With a new collective bargaining agreement needed to govern the next free agent bonanza there are a number of unknowns about what options the Nuggets would have with Carmelo. I believe we can safely assume that sign and trade deals will be a part of the next CBA and that Bird rights will be retained, if not strengthened, in order to avoid what happened to Cleveland and Toronto last month. If that is the case, Denver should still be able to do a sign and trade to receive some kind of compensation for parting with Carmelo. I am sure Anthony will want as much money as possible in order to make up for the $83 million he would be leaving behind (the combined value of the final year of his contract and three year extension). Still, the return in that situation would likely be minimal as the Nuggets would have very little leverage at that point.
The other option Denver has is to acknowledge the writing on the wall and begin working on a trade to relocate Carmelo Anthony immediately. Again, they have more than one option to work with here.
Undoubtedly Carmelo will have a list of teams he would be willing to play for, a list that is probably going to be very short. Obviously we all know the number one team on that list is the New York Knicks. When taking into account his desire to play in a major market the only other team that makes sense is New Jersey thanks to their upcoming move to Brooklyn.
If Melo indeed has his heart set on one of those two franchises the Nuggets’ options will be limited. Although things will not be as bad as they seem due to the fact both suitors will be desperate to make something happen. The Knicks and Nets had disappointing free agent hauls in July, especially New Jersey. I seriously doubt there were any high fives in the Nets ticket offices after the acquisitions of Outlaw, Farmar, Morrow and Petro.
The Nuggets could make significant demands of both teams and wait for each of them to one up each other. However, the Knicks have already lost control of their first round picks over the next two seasons as they will get the lower pick between the Rockets selection and their own in 2011 (probably in the 20’s if Yao returns and plays for most of the season) and Houston has the rights to the Knicks’ 2012 pick outright. New Jersey has their own problems because, even after their big free agent summer as documented above, do not have a lot of talent Denver could utilize.
There is always the possibility of Carmelo listing teams outside of Gotham as acceptable destinations which would bring more competition and more players to choose from. Plus there is always the corollary of adding a third or fourth team to the mix as a trade partner to help get everyone what they want. Regardless Denver’s options could be limited.
Before we get ready to welcome Anthony Randolph or Derrick Favors to Denver keep in mind that Denver does not have to trade Carmelo to his final destination. He does not have a no trade clause and cannot control where he is dealt. The Nuggets could send him to a team hoping to contend as a one year rental if they think such a trade would bring in the players and/or picks they wanted. Another possibility is to deal him as a de facto expiring contract with a team not on his list knowing he will exercise his early termination option. Denver is in the position to offer some very significant financial flexibility. They could actually acquire the entire Sacramento Kings roster with the expiring contracts of Carmelo, Kenyon and J.R. Smith alone. That is some serious cap relief. The problem is, as we have discussed before, there are very few teams in need of significant salary cap relief, and plenty of other expiring deals to go around. It will be a buyer’s market this winter when it comes to slashing payroll and that is bad for Denver.
At this point I am sure you noticed that whether Denver decides to keep Carmelo to start the season or not, the likely outcome is a trade. With Denver only being guaranteed Carmelo’s rights for another ten months and two weeks ultimately Carmelo holds the cards. If he truly wants to play for someone else by opening night, he will probably get his wish give or take a week or two.
Honestly, the news that Melo wants out did not startle me in the slightest. I have already shared my concerns about Denver’s fate if Carmelo signed the three year $65 million extension. I honestly believe the Nuggets ceiling is higher with Melo in another city than it is with Melo on the books for over $20 million a season.
What does startle me is the status of the management team. The Nuggets’ front office is currently incomplete after parting ways with Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman and there is no track record or past history we can rely on. I dreaded Denver becoming a perennially above average team with no hope of winning a championship or of acquiring a special player to put them over the top, however, with the current status of the front office the possibility of repeating the 1990s is back as a possible outcome should Carmelo indeed force his way out.
If Bucher is correct and the Nuggets do end up parting ways with Carmelo, the front office must ensure they work to rebuild as opposed to retool and I am not sure that they will do that. There are very specific assets the Nuggets should seek to acquire in exchange for their star player, but that is a post for another day. For now we are forced to live with the reality Carmelo will not go down as the greatest Nugget in history, at least until the next update in the Indian Summer of Carmelo tells us something different.