There are plenty of reasons why Carmelo Anthony might want to leave Denver. The Nuggets are not one of the storied franchises in NBA history. Denver is an awesome city, but it is not a top market. There will be snow and cold during the part of the year your job requires you to be on site. His lovely new bride would have more opportunities elsewhere and as a married man I believe in doing what you can to make your spouse happy.
I cannot debate the grass may seem greener on someone else’s lawn, however if you want to look at basketball, and only basketball Melo should stay in Denver.
To start let’s focus on the 2009-10 season. If Melo wants to be a member of a contending team this year, his only two options of the teams he is reportedly interested in. Those options are the Rockets and Nuggets. The Magic would be a great fit for Carmelo, but I do not see any way they could work out an acceptable trade with Denver and so in my mind the Orlando option is simply not feasible.
Comparing Houston and Denver, both teams have some pretty big question marks when it comes to the health of their big men. Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin have all had their health issues this summer. There is a bid difference between their status and that of Yao Ming. Yao has been cleared to play basketball again, but the last three seasons he has been hurt at the end of the season. He is a hulk of a man and that makes him both a force on the court and a force on his overworked haunches. For a man of his size his health problems make Kenyon Martin look like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. At this point Yao cannot be counted on when he is most needed, during the playoffs.
Carmelo can roll the dice and go to Houston. After all, maybe this is the season he comes through and plays a full slate of games. According to his Chinese birth certificate he will be 30 when the season starts. The truth is a birth certificate from China has something in common with my personal checks; neither is worth the paper it is printed on. The fact is Yao is getting up there in years. He has played over 500 games in the NBA, has dealt with a brutal schedule with his national team in the past and who knows how many games he played before he crossed the Pacific and landed in Houston?
If you want to include the Knicks and Nets in the discussion, I firmly believe both would make the playoffs with Carmelo on board. I also believe both would need a fortunate first round matchup to avoid Carmelo’s typical fate of a one and one playoff appearance.
The Nuggets will probably start the season without Kenyon and Birdman although Al Harrington will be here to fill in while Kenyon is out and once Martin returns they could provide a nice one-two offense or defense punch. I may not have been a big fan of the Harrington signing, but I never argued with the assertion that he will help Denver win regular season games.
Ty Lawson was fantastic as a rookie, and he will only get better next season. He is a pass first point guard who loves to drive and dish and has a knack for getting his teammates open shots. Chauncey still has some gas left in the tank and with Lawson taking on more minutes in the regular season hopefully some of that gas will still be there come April. Arron Afflalo is a terrific defensive wing who has improved his offensive game every season. Nene is inconsistent, but can provide some punch from the paint and J.R. Smith can help lighten the scoring burden every one out of three games.
The one advantage the Nuggets have over all of the other teams Carmelo is considering is the potential for making a deal at the deadline. There is no question that expiring contracts do not carry the weight they used to with so many teams having their current payroll under control. Even so, if one or two teams end up seeing their season fall apart, the market for those deals could open up a little. Between Kenyon and J.R. Smith Denver has over $23 million in tradeable expiring deals. None of the other teams on your rumored list can match that firepower.
Melo also needs to put more value on 2010-11 because who knows when the next season will take place. With what is expected to be a contentious battle over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement it is possible there is no 2011-12. To throw away this season with nothing more than the hope things will be better the year after that is dangerous.
Denver was a contender before injuries and the frightening bout Geroge Karl underwent with cancer. There is no reason that cannot be the case again this season. If Carmelo wants to win now, Denver is as good an option as any.
That is all well and good, but I understand Carmelo is considering more factors than what might happen next season. Every team Carmelo is rumored to be considering has some nice assets lined up for the future. Houston has two draft picks from the Knicks. Those may sound nice, but that lottery ticket did not pay off for Utah as well as everyone expected this summer when they only drafted ninth. The Rockets also have a nice asset in their $6.3 million trade exception. The Nets have some cap space to utilize over the next free agent period, but judging by their haul this summer that will not count for much. They own a pick from Golden State they hope will pay off big as well, although I find it hard to fathom that pick ending up much higher than the Knicks pick did for Utah last season. The Knicks also have some cap space coming up next summer although they are handicapped by the fact they do not own the rights to two of their upcoming first round selections.
Denver is not owed any future first rounders, although they also do not owe any at this point. From a salary cap standpoint, Denver could be in as good of a position financially as any of Melo’s potential suitors. Both the Knicks and Nets cap space would be chewed up by the addition of Carmelo himself and Houston would be in luxury tax territory with Melo on the books unless they let Yao walk after the season and what would be the point of going to Houston if Yao is not a part of the equation? Assuming the Nuggets buy Chauncey out, not a safe assumption, but I think they would be crazy to pay him $14 million at that point in his career, and Nene does not opt out of the final year of his deal, which heading into a new CBA he would be crazy to do, Denver would have a lower team salary than the Knicks, Nets and Rockets would have with Carmelo. The Nuggets could be players in the free agent market each of the next two offseasons.
Financially, Denver is the place to be. Not to mention personally for Carmelo it is the only place he is guaranteed to get a max extension although as long as he is traded before the trade deadline this season I am sure whatever team he is dealt to will ensure he will be able to take a bath with a tub full of Benjamins every day.
With finances out of the way, it is time to compare rosters.
New York again falls short. There are very few players on long term deals, but there are also very few high quality players. Danilo Gallinari is a fan favorite and he is a good player, but he is not a star and probably never will be. He struggles to get his own shot and over 75% of his attempts are from 16 feet and out. I am one of the many people in love with Anthony Randolph’s potential. Potential does not win games though and who knows if the issues that dogged him in Golden State will follow him across the country. Melo can forget about playing with one or possibly both of those two as at least one of them would be heading to Denver in exchange for Carmelo.
The biggest strength on the Knicks’ roster is Amare Stoudemire. Amare is a fantastic player, but I believe that strength will grow into a weakness in the near future. First of all immediately Amare would be a terrible front court partner with Melo. Neither player is defensive minded and both fall asleep on the defensive boards from time to time. The biggest issue with Amare is his ability to stay healthy. Despite the fact microfracture surgery has become much more reliable it is still an athletic death sentence. The clotted blood that takes the place of the missing cartilage will only hold out for so long. It eventually breaks down and at that point the players’ career is over. Amare is up to over 300 games on that repaired knee and sadly the clock is ticking.
New Jersey has some nice pieces, Brook Lopez being chief among them. However, they have a shoot first point guard in Devin Harris and not much else. Nets fans are excited about Terrence Williams’ performance his rookie season, but he will not help space the floor for Carmelo and Lopez to work. Derrick Favors is a great prospect, but as with Anthony Randolph in New York, potential has never won a game. Troy Murphy is unique and talented player with his ability to rebound and drain three pointers. He does not seem to be in the Nets’ long term plans though he could resign to provide some beef alongside Lopez. Again, keep in mind one or probably more of those players would be gone if Carmelo was a Net.
Moving on to Houston, we have already discussed the fragility of Yao in Houston. As he ages, it will only get worse and with Melo on board, Houston will not have the payroll flexibility or the high draft pick to replace a player like Yao. Aaron Brooks is a good point guard, but looks for his own offense more often than not. Kevin Martin is a very nice scorer, and would help Melo carry the scoring punch although he is not going to set Carmelo up with any easy looks. Plus if Melo is in Houston, one of those two probably are not as the sentiment amongst Rocket fans is they will have to part with one or the other to acquire Melo. Luis Scola is a talented player who works his tail off and is the kind of player most would enjoy as a teammate as he does not hog the ball and loves to do the dirty work inside.
Aside from finances and players there are two other factors that must be considered, market and ownership/front office. As already noted above as a market Denver cannot compete, but what does market really matter in today’s world? Carmelo Anthony is already in the upper middle class of NBA players from an endorsement standpoint.
Ownership and management is also a key. It is difficult to argue the Knicks are in good hands with James Dolan (Bill Simmons absolutely eviscerates him in this article – go to theory number four) and the Nets have Mikhail Prokhorov who might be savvy like Mark Cuban or could be a disaster like Dan Snider with the Washington Redskins. So far the addition of Billy King as GM is less than exciting and there is no doubt Melo would butt heads with the defensive minded Avery Johnson from the first practice on.
Houston is difficult to compete with thanks to Leslie Alexander’s willingness to spend coupled with Daryl Morey’s boy genius reputation makes the Rockets a very sound destination. With the Nuggets in upheaval thanks to the transfer of ownership from Stan Kroenke to Josh Kroenke and the current search for a new general manger, it should be noted that the Nuggets are seeking to spend as little as possible according to this report (more on that soon), the Nuggets are a bit of an unknown quantity.
Despite the current upheaval with the Nuggets I believe when you consider all the facts it should be a two horse race between Denver and Houston. The Rockets have some strong points, but when you consider the current roster and future flexibility I think the Nuggets are the best choice.
Apart from the measureable metrics in this debate there is one trump card that Denver has left to play. As one commenter put it recently, Carmelo is the Denver Nuggets. Carmelo can be the all time greatest player in franchise history. Combine that with the dream of bringing the first NBA championship to Denver and he can have one of the great legacies in NBA history. He can be the player who saved a franchise. That experience is not available in New York or New Jersey, and it definitely is not available in Houston. Maybe he can go on to be the man in one of those locations, but he will not be the franchise.
I put forward every effort to provide objective coverage of the Nuggets, but for just a minute allow me to look at this situation from the point of view of a fan. With apologies to Andrew at Denver Stiffs who penned a fantastic open letter to Carmelo, I have something to say to Carmelo as well.
Embrace the challenge of bringing a championship to Denver. Accept the responsibility on both ends of the court to be the best player on the floor every night. Lift your teammates up and lead by example yet do not be afraid to voice your displeasure when someone blows an assignment or becomes lazy on offense. You will have earned that right by giving it your all with or without the ball.
As far as that three year, $65 million extension, decline it. That is right, do not sign it. Of all the mistakes LeBron made this summer he did one thing right and that was accept less money for the sake of the team. Sign a three year, $45 million extension and show that not only is winning your number one priority, but winning in Denver with your team. If you are worried about getting help, know you do not need to go somewhere else. Other great players will join you when they see your commitment and desire and the Nuggets will be in the position to make that happen.
LeBron James could not stomach that responsibility, but you can. It is your time to show everyone who you are. Embrace your time and embrace greatness.