With all the consternation surrounding what the Denver Nuggets will or will not get in return for Carmelo Anthony we may be missing a significant component of building a champion. Losing. There is little doubt the Nuggets are going to be worse off with Carmelo playing in a different uniform, but the future success of the franchise could rest upon pulling off a trade that transforms the Nuggets into a big time loser.
Instead of worrying about whether or not the front office should be holding out for Danilo Gallinari or Landry Fields or if Andrew Bynum is worth more than Wilson Chandler and a first round pick they should worry more about what combination of players will make the team too competitive next season.
If you look back at the past 30 plus seasons there is one common thread amongst NBA champions, drafting a championship caliber player at the top of the draft. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers set themselves up for domination by drafting Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Boston nabbed Bird a season before he was done playing college basketball after their first losing season in 20 years while the Lakers drafted Magic with a pick that originally belonged to the Jazz.
The Detroit Pistons drafted Isaiah Thomas second overall in the 1981 draft after a 21-61 campaign.
The Rockets drafted Akeem Olajuwon first overall after winning 29 games in 83-84 which was preceded by a horrendous 14 win season in 82-83 after which they selected Ralph Sampson first overall.
In Chicago a 27-55 record in 83-84 resulted in the third pick in the draft and a bloke named Michael Jordan.
San Antonio won only 21 games in 88-89 and 20 games in 96-97. Both seasons the Spurs won the lottery and ended up with a couple of MVPs named David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
The Miami Heat were 25-57 in 02-03 and the result was the selection of Dwyane Wade who has a finals MVP under his belt.
The only teams who have won championships without bottoming out and acquiring a franchise player in the first few picks of a draft are the 82-83 76ers, both the 80s and 2000s Lakers and the 2004 Pistons. The 76ers acquired Dr. J and Moses Malone via trades. The Lakers were able to maneuver their way to enjoying the first pick in the Magic Johnson draft and pulled off the same feat again in 1981 when they landed James Worthy with the top pick. Jumping ahead a few years they did acquire franchise cornerstone Kobe Bryant on draft night although it was not with a high pick earned through futility. Finally the 2004 Pistons, the most inexplicable champion since the 77-78 Washington Bullets who finished the regular season with a 44-38 record, were pieced together largely through trades.
The common thread for nearly all championship teams is posting at least one pathetic season, but as Nuggets fans can attest being terrible is not enough. There needs to be some luck involved. The Nuggets have not enjoyed the glow of good fortune very frequently during the past 20 seasons. All you need to know is Denver has never once moved up, not even one spot, in the draft lottery and it is not for a lack of ping pong balls over the years.
Not only do you need to be fortunate enough to get a high pick, you need that high pick in a season where there is a champion caliber player available. Winning the lottery only to find someone like Michael Olowokandi or Kwame Brown staring you in the face is certainly not the solution to what ails a franchise. It is not an easy combination to master as evidenced by the small number of franchises to win championships over the past three decades. It is undoubtedly a long shot, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that most champions are forged through the fire of a dreadfully bad season.
I hear what you a muttering to yourself and of course we have to mention that landing that one star player does not mean the work is complete. It took the Bulls years to get the right mix around Jordan, the Lakers have had to build and rebuild their team over the past ten seasons, the Spurs would not be the amazing team we all know without Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Look no further than the Cleveland Cavaliers as evidence further evidence that losing and luck must be followed up with competent management.
I will leave you with one final thought. The most confounding moment in the recent history of the Nuggets franchise was when Bernie Bickerstaff allowed Dikembe Mutombo to walk in the summer of 1996. The next season Denver only won 21 games and had a very good chance to win the lottery in the spring of 1997. Things did not work out in favor of the Nuggets on lottery night, but imagine how the future of the franchise might had been different if lady luck had granted the Nuggets the top pick in the 1997 draft. Tim Duncan would have been a Nugget and letting Mutombo go very well could have proven to have been a positive turning point in the history of the franchise.
There is a fate worse than being terrible and that is being mediocre. The best trade the Nuggets can make, may not be the best trade for the future of the franchise. If you value playoff appearances and dread the prospect of repeating the 1990s, I understand you will find this post completely asinine. However, if you value championships over being competitive it is clear Denver must bottom out after they part ways with Carmelo.
Letting Carmelo go with little compensation will certainly make the 2011-12 season much more difficult to suffer through, but it also could end up triggering a series of events that could result in Nuggets winning their first championship.