The New Jersey Nets are once again on the verge of a multi-team trade that would land them Carmelo Anthony. Only this time, it appears to make more sense for all parties involved. The idea is New Jersey takes on a ton of salary while upgrading its starting lineup, providing tax relief for Denver and much needed future savings for Detroit in the process. The Nuggets also acquire a younger, cheaper contingent of players highlighted by Derrick Favors, Anthony Morrow, and Devin Harris. But at what cost?
If any part of the trade doesn’t pass the eye test, it’s the inclusion of Chauncey Billups – a loyal Denver native whose potential loss is particularly painful for Nuggets faithful. Since no additional draft picks or salary relief come back as a result of Billups’ inclusion, it would appear that the Nuggets are trading him for immediate savings, avoiding his $3.4 million buyout cost at seasons end, and possibly making room for Devin Harris to assume a playing role in George Karl’s future rotation. While Billups has experience playing with Rip Hamilton and Carmelo on separate teams, the younger Harris is quietly out-producing him in points, rebounds, assists, and nearly every statistical category except three point shooting and free throw percentage (although they get to the line at a similar rate). To me, the evidence seems to refute the claim that Melo believes Billups, and not Harris – would give him and the future Nets a better chance of winning. Perhaps Melo isn’t a stats guy.
While the prospect of losing Chauncey to save money rubs many the wrong way, it seems clear that Denver’s front office is intent on cutting costs. It’s simply bad business to keep maintaining a team that is $13 million over the luxury tax threshold, yet barely clinging to a final playoff spot before they are about to lose their franchise player. Devin Harris, who turns 28 in February, is still a pass-first guard who creates nearly all of his offense off the pick and roll, and is averaging a career high 7.8 assists per 36 minutes. Outside of being highly attractive trade bait, Harris could be a good fit with the remainder of Denver’s crew under George Karl, who would have to look for more passing and a much less isolation-based attack without their top 2 scorers.
While Denver seems perfectly content to shed Billups’ salary for short term savings, the most puzzling part of the rumored mega-trade is the absence of Al Harrington or Chris Andersen’s involvement. Both players are signed longer than anyone on the roster, and if recent disappointing play is any indication – won’t live up to their increasingly expensive deals. Harrington in particular was a poor signing, technically made on Mark Warkentein’s watch before Ujiri succeeded him, who figures to have little to no value in Denver’s perceived plan for a new era of youth and more frugal spending. I would quite frankly be shocked if Denver wasn’t adamant about including long-term savings as part of a larger trade in which they are already giving up their 2 best players, one of them a franchise star. Johan Petro, a previous sticking point in the deal, is someone I personally might welcome taking back if it meant more significant savings for Denver now and in the future.
Despite rumors of talks with NJ becoming contentious, New Jersey and Denver remain natural trading players moving closer to a complex deal that can satisfy both party’s needs. With news that NJ may be acting on strict orders by ownership to land Anthony somehow, and Carmelo all but finished with his season-long charade in a Nuggets jersey – it appears an inevitable compromise approaches.