Merry Christmas Nuggets Fans…and some other thoughts

First of all I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas to RMC’s founder and main man Jeremy Wagner for bringing me on board and running THE best Nuggets blog out there-it’s been a great couple of months and I’m looking forward to many more in the future.

I’d also like to say thank you and Happy Holidays to all of our devoted readers here on Roundball Mining Company. Without you guys all this is just words on a page-here’s to a great 2011 for the Nuggets!

But now for the juicy stuff. A week ago today I had the good fortune of attending the Nuggets-T-Wolves game at the Pepsi Center, and for the first time in my 22 years I got to sit courtside at an NBA game (big shout out to John and Liz Fitzgerald for the seats), right next to Mrs. Chauncey Billups nonetheless! I’ve seen hundreds (probably thousands) of games on TV and many up in the nosebleeds, but let me tell you, if you’ve never seen a game from that up close, you get a chance to appreciate professional basketball like never before.

My girlfriend asked me who she should watch out for on the other team, and I said number 42, aka mister Kevin Love. After dropping a 30-30 game earlier this season, I was hoping for another masterful performance on this night (and a Nuggets victory of course), and he (and the game) did not disappoint. K-Love scored a career-high 43 points to go with 17 boards, but the Wolves rally late fell short and the Nuggets won 115-113, a margin that should have been much larger. No Chauncey, Bird, or K-Mart was disappointing but J.R. had a decent offensive game, Afflalo added 17 and Ty, “The Law”-son was the player of the game, dropping 23 points to go along with 9 dimes and 3 steals. As quick as the guy looks on television, triple it from up close. He had his way with first Luke Ridnour, then Johnny Flynn, getting to the hoop with ease.

But alas, not all was merry on this night, as the Nuggets bigs (especially Nene) were in foul trouble the whole game and were dominated down low by Love and Kosta Koufos. Yes, Kosta Koufos.

Yet the Nuggets did just enough to win, and I will again emphasize a point I made in my last post- this can be an above average NBA team without Carmelo Anthony. If they can get a solid return for Melo, a trade should be the way to go. I know you may want to hold onto those number 15 jerseys for as long as possible, but we have to face the reality that Melo will sign with the Knicks this summer (lockout pending) and that getting nothing in return is not an acceptable end result.

Who Should Denver trade Melo to?

Here’s the rub Nuggets fans. Melo wants to go to New York. New Jersey has the pieces to trade for him but doesn’t want a three-month rental. And the contenders that might (Dallas, Orlando) either don’t have the pieces or won’t part with them. So let’s analyze the possible scenarios:

Melo and Renaldo Balkman to Dallas for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Dallas’ 2011 1st-round pick

Looking at this trade on paper it might be as good as the Nuggets could do. Yes it may require another draft pick from Dallas, and yes Denver would probably have to trade either K-Mart or Birdman in a separate trade to free up the frontcourt logjam, but it could work. Dallas adds Melo to an already solid core of Kidd, Nowitzki, Chandler, Terry and Marion and gets rid of Haywood’s contract and uninspired play (and allows youngsters Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca to see time at backup center). Denver gets a solid starting three to replace Melo (which keeps J.R. as the super-sixth man), and can move Nene to power forward (where he truly belongs) alongside Haywood in the starting lineup.

Melo and Shelden Williams to Chicago for Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver and 2011 1st-round pick

Korver has to be thrown in to make the salaries work, but also gives Denver a three-point shooter off the bench (Korver is much more efficient from downtown than J.R.) that they could throw into another possible trade with K-Mart or Bird. Obviously Nuggets fans would like to see Joakim Noah wear the powder blue and gold but it’s evident that the Bulls will not part with their young center. In this deal the Nugs would get stuck with Deng’s extremely bloated contract, but also get a decent small forward who can score along with another solid player in Gibson who can play at either the 3 or 4 (and is an upgrade over Forbes off the bench). I’d prefer the Dallas trade over this one, but if Chicago offers this before the deadline, Denver might have to take it (if there are no better offers).

Melo to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala, Darius Songalia and two first-round picks

OR

Melo to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy and three first-round picks

This is when things get interesting. If you’re Masai Ujiri, would you rather have Igoudala (who becomes the small forward and team headliner for the foreseeable future), Songalia’s $5 million expiring contract (to go along with Smith [$6 million], Martin [$16 million] and possibly Billups [$13 million team option]) and picks, or the young big man in Favors, Murphy’s $11 million expiring deal, and possibly a third first-rounder? I predict New Jersey (who now has five first-round picks in the next two drafts) will throw a third first-rounder in to sweeten their offer, which may end up being as good as Denver will get. It’s either one of these two options, or take 50¢ on the dollar from the Knicks. Which brings us to this:

Melo and Renaldo Balkman to New York for Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and Knicks’ 2011 1st-round pick

As each day passes, Nuggets fans get closer and close to this becoming a reality. The Nuggets just don’t have a lot of leverage here (the impending lockout and Melo leaving $65 million on the table being the only reason for Melo to sign an extension) and knowing there’s a 99.9% chance he will bolt to New York this summer, Denver may as well take what they can get from the Knickerbockers. Now, if the Nets can convince Melo to sign an extension with them or the Sixers, Mavs, et al, are interested in a short-term lease then Denver may be able to get a better haul. I just don’t see it happening. Chandler is playing some great ball right now and I see him as a better fit with Denver than Gallinari (who wants to stay in New York); Randolph is getting absolutely no playing time with D’Antoni (surprisingly) and could fill in for Harrington and/or J.R. at the backup forward positions; and Curry’s 500 pound corpse (an exaggeration, but not by much) is clearly a salary dump.

But back to Randolph for a second. If the kid is given a chance, he could pan out to something. Those glimpses of explosiveness he showed at Golden State were not a fluke, and if his mid-range game can stay consistent, he could be a heck of a player. Could be the steal of this trade if given the chance by Coach Karl.

Anyways, hope you all have a great holiday weekend and hopefully the Nugs can pull out a tough road win tonight at the Thunder. Westbrook has been MVP-caliber at the point so far, Durant is on pace to win another scoring title and their role guys (like Collison, Ibaka, Green) do their jobs really well. These two squads always play each other tough and the outcome usually comes down to the wire (who can forget Melo’s game winner in Oklahoma City two years ago). Again, this one could come down to the play of Nene in the post, whose erratic play ranges from All-Star one game to fouling out with a 5 point, 5-rebound line the next (which he did against Minnesota). No Melo tonight, but J.R. should fill the scoring void nicely, and with K-Mart and Chauncey back in the starting lineup, I predict a Nuggets victory with a defensive stop at the finish-here’s hoping that’s not the eggnog talking! 

2010-11 Game 25: Denver Nuggets 112 – San Antonio Spurs 113

Box Score | Highlights

I know it was Manu Ginobili, one of the top two or three most despised players for Nuggets fans.  I know it was the Spurs, one of the two or three most hated franchises by Nuggets fans.  I know it would have been another game winner by Carmelo Anthony, but that was a charge.  Ginobili was outside the charge circle, he was on the spot before Melo gathered and Anthony dislodged Manu and knocked him to the ground.  Ginobili is notorious for his flopping and he sure did not try to remain upright, but who would not make sure they hit the floor hard on a play like that?

The interesting question in my mind is was there any disagreement amongst the officials on the call.   (more…)

2010-11 Game 19: Denver Nuggets 111 – Orlando Magic 94

Box Score | Highlights

If anyone was expecting to see the Denver Nuggets fold after the latest round of speculation and innuendo that all but had Carmelo Anthony getting sized for his new Knicks Uniform, sorry to disappoint you.  The Nuggets proved to be completely unaffected by the rumors surrounding the team as they put together what was probably their best all-around performance of the season since the opening night dismantling of the Utah Jazz as they downed the Orlando Magic 111-94.

Carmelo himself played a fantastic game.  He was in attack mode from the start.  Fourteen of his 21 shot attempts came in the lane and he also made 11 trips to the free throw line.  It was the most aggressive offensive game I have seen from him all season.  Orlando was without Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus, their two best perimeter defenders.  Without those two Carmelo possessed a quickness advantage over Rashard Lewis and when Vince Carter was guarding him, Carmelo knew he could do almost anything he wanted.

The Magic ran a lot of double teams at him when he would catch the ball in the post, but Melo responded by making quick moves to prevent the double from trapping him.  On the occasions where he found himself in straight up man to man coverage, he simply went to the rim.  The result was 35 points on 14-21 from the floor and 7-11 from the line.  It was a very impressive performance.

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The Carmelo to New York Talk Intensifies

With the Denver Nuggets making their lone stop in New York to play the Knickerbockers everyone knew regardless of the outcome on the court the real story would be if Carmelo would experience his next game at Madison Square Garden as a Knick.  The media did not disappoint.

Chris Sheridan reported that he was informed by a very trusted source that Carmelo Anthony has made it known to the Nuggets he will only sign the extension on the table if he is traded to the New York Knicks.  Carmelo’s representatives made sure that Sheridan shared the news with the rest of the league.  (Sheridan followed up his article with a chat which was dominated by Carmelo to New York questions.)

The fact the Knicks are Carmelo’s number one choice is certainly not news.  It is noteworthy though in that this is the first time there has been any definitive statement regarding who Carmelo will, or will not, agree to an extension with.  The important thing to keep in mind is regardless of how definitive that statement was it was merely a calculated escalation of the pressure being exerted on Denver to ship Melo out of town.

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George Karl Wins 1,000th Game

As the seconds wound down at the Air Canada Centre Friday night George Karl was the center of attention.  As players celebrated around him an emotional and humble Karl spoke about those people in his life who played a role in molding him into the successful and greatly respected coach who just earned career win number 1,000.

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Raptors Republic Q and A

With the Denver Nuggets preparing to face the Toronto Raptors Sam Holako of the fantastic Raptors blog Raptors Republic invited me to swap some questions and answers.  Below you can find out how Raptors fans feel about Linas Kleiza and what to think about Andrea Bargnani.  You can see my answers to his questions on the futures of Carmelo and Chauncey and what to expect from the game tonight over at Raptors Republic.

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Carmelo Anthony Mired in a Slump: Denver Nuggets 98 – Charlotte Bobcats 100

Box Score | Highlights

Carmelo Anthony may have only shot 8-21 from the field on Tuesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, but he actually increased his shooting percentage over his previous eleven games from 36.2% to 36.4%.  I was tempted to concoct a post about how efficient Carmelo had been to start the season until I remembered he has done this before.  While Carmelo does not always get off to a fast start he is no stranger to posting big numbers in the first month of the season.  The great start to this season is like mile high hair, nothing but a memory.  Over his previous five full games Melo’s best shooting performance was his 7-18 outing against the Bulls.  It is the longest stretch of games where he has made fewer than 40% of his shots since his second season in the league when his shot selection reached abysmal levels of absurdity.

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Nuggets 108, Grizzlies 107: Afflalo, Nene carry Nuggets to seventh straight win

Somehow, the boys in powder blue and gold keep on doing it; “it” being finding a way to win, in this case for a seventh straight time. Thanks to Aaron Afflalo’s career-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and a gigantic 27 and 11 from Nene the Nuggets were able to hold onto a lead that at one point was as large as 21 with a single-point victory.

Despite blowing their huge lead in a third quarter in which they were outscored 30-14, Denver resurrected itself in the fourth thanks in large part to some solid bench minutes from J.R. and Ty (though their stats may not show it) and Afflalo’s career night. A game which could have been a disastrous loss for the Nuggets instead remains part of a winning streak that couldn’t have come at a better time for Denver, who will head into a brutal four-game roadtrip out east starting in Charlotte tomorrow night and finishing at the Garden against the Knicks on Sunday.

Here are some thoughts from the game, in bullet format to speed things up a bit-

  • About Afflalo’s game and this season in general; yes, he is a primarily a catch and shoot player who is streaky (like his backup J.R. Swish, at least in the streaky part) and gets most of his points from long range. But that is not what makes Aaron dangerous on offense (nor why he is having a breakout season). He is posting up smaller guards and using good elevation on his jumper to hit that mid-range shot (which he is fairly accurate with). He is running the floor and finishing in transition, not afraid to keep the ball himself and take contact instead of dishing it to a running mate. And he isn’t settling for treys, putting the ball on the floor and knocking 15-footers (most of which are contested and tough shots to make).
  • I am loving Denver’s bench more and more with each passing game. I am a huge Birdman fan (which makes me even sadder that he’s injured again) despite people knocking him for his lack of toughness and on-ball defense; the guy is good at a few things (knocking down an open shot, passing) and great at a few (help defense aka monster blocks on unsuspecting guards, running the break, hustle rebounding) and his contract isn’t that ridiculous. Trust me, the Nuggets could do a lot worse with $4.5 million a year. You gotta love Forbes’ energy; Harrington (despite shooting terribly from long distance recently) has played much better-than-advertised defense and can always explode for 25 a night; J.R. has played his way out of George’s dog house and is reminding Nuggets’ fans of how this team got to the Western Conference Finals; and Ty Lawson is a top-flight backup point guard in this league. (and probably could start for some teams)
  • I said in my season-preview that Nene needed to make that leap into the next echelon of centers, and his play of late is suggesting he may be moving towards that. Yes he is still inconsistent, but his ability to steal the ball as a center, run the floor, finish in the lane with authority and contact (can Nene’s patented palming the ball, two big gallops and one-handed throwdown be called the “Nene” from now on?) and out-muscle centers bigger than him makes him a threat no matter who he is matched up against. If he can play like this against the Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, etc., lookout Western Conference.
  • Memphis’ 4-5 combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is one of the best in the league, and Grizzlies’ coach Lionel Hollins should have gotten those two the ball more. Yes, I love Rudy Gay too and he is slowly but surely working his way into a top 20 (dare I say 15?) talent in this league, but Gasol and Randolph will outwork, outbang, out…power (is that a word?) any tandem in the league. Gasol only put up 6 shots (and made five, despite tough D from Nene) and while Z-Bo put up 21, he didn’t seem to get in the rhythm of tha game. Conley is solid, Mayo and Gay can light it up, but if Memphis can get their two bigs involved every game they should make a playoff run (if you don’t believe me, ask the Miami Heat).

One last thought that passed through my mind before we turn the page; as I watch this group play more and more, the more and more I think they could survive (nay, dare I say thrive?) without Melo. Some are speculating that Chauncey would want out if Melo is dealt, but Mr. Big Shot loves playing here and wants to retire a Nugget. And what other competing team needs a point guard (ok, there is a team in South Beach but unless they offer Haslem and….five first round picks (that’s what I’m saying, not gonna happen!) why would you make that deal if you were Denver? Miami offers nothing the Nuggets would want, and in Denver you have-

  • A top 15 center (Nene)
  • Some quality role players (Affalo, Lawson, Andersen, Harrington)
  • A top-notch sixth-man, if he’s not in the coach’s doghouse (J.R.)
  • And a HUGE expiring contract (K-Mart)

The Nuggets proved they could win when Melo was gone and even on these recent nights when he’s struggled to find his shot (as Chauncey has) they’ve still found a way to win. They can parlay Melo and/or K-Mart’s deals into some good (maybe great pieces) to build a contender around. Who you might say? Well we’ll save that for another day. Just know the Nuggets are heading to Charlotte (close to Karl’s old stomping grounds in Chapel Hill) with a chance ot get their coach his 1,000th all-time victory. My quandary is, would number 1,000 be better in the head man’s alma mater or on national TV, in the Garden, against the defending Eastern Conference champs? Just saying…

2010-11 Game 17: Denver Nuggets 105 – Milwaukee Bucks 94

Box Score | Highlights

It is not a good week to have Carmelo Anthony on your fantasy basketball team.  After playing under three minutes in the previous game against the Phoenix Suns, Carmelo’s court time was limited to 27 minutes.  This time it was not the flu or other physical ailment that sent Melo to the showers, it was his disrespectful attitude that was an affront to the game of basketball (please note the heavy sarcasm).  Melo was slapped with two technical fouls for “arguing” calls and was sent to the showers midway through the third quarter.

Fortunately for Denver, they had already recaptured their energy and had just earned their first lead of the game since they were up 2-0.  From that point on the inspired play of J.R. Smith helped carry the day for Denver as they cruised to a 105-94 home win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Are the Miami Heat Good for the NBA Now?

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh agreed to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami one of the big questions, aside from how many games over 72 they would win, was whether or not having LeBron and Wade on the same team with a third all-star in tow was good for the NBA.

It certainly spurred record amounts of interest in the league during the offseason and gave everyone from hardcore NBA fanatics to grandmothers who did not realize Michael Jordan had retired pegged the Heat and LeBron in particular as public enemy numero uno.

A month into the season the Heat are an uninspiring 10-8.  LeBron and Wade are struggling with how to work together and at this point are not the unstoppable duo nearly everyone envisioned them to be.  Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat.  Chris Bosh is looking like an overpaid role player.

With Miami failing to meet even the most pessimistic projections heading into the season I think we need to ask the big question once again.  Are the Heat good for the NBA?

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