Appreciating Melo and Chauncey Billups

When the Denver Nuggets take the floor against Milwaukee tonight, there will be more at stake than a regular season win. For one, depending on the outcome the Nuggets could end up anywhere from sixth to ninth place in the Western Conference standings. But more than that, it’s a time to reflect as all the drama and absurdity of a truly bizarre season reaches a tipping point.  The games stop, and only the future of the franchise beckons. The Melo trade saga has been going on so long I almost stopped believing a deadline for a resolution could still be real. Yet here it is nearer than ever. Serenity now!

That’s not to say this game marks an end to anything nor a new beginning. Of course there’s still a home game against Memphis next Tuesday before Thursday’s trade deadline. Still, I can’t help but believe this is it and the future of the franchise rests on what happens in negotiations this week. The clock starts ticking as soon as the final buzzer sounds in Milwaukee.

If something is going to happen, it makes too much sense that this would be Carmelo’s last game. Continuing to leave anything more to chance is something I can’t fathom, especially when management doesn’t have the distraction of games or a staff of players and coaches to worry about. This is their time to work. Whatever happens, they make a decision and we know. If they choose to prolong this “will he or won’t he” act to a point where we are discussing sign-and-trades this summer then so be it. The front office will own that decision along with living down whatever it means for the future of the Denver Nuggets.

It behooves the Nuggets to move one way or another on Carmelo and keep him away from the team while deciding. It’s one thing to finally come to terms with Melo not wanting to stay in Denver. Actually trading him is another thing more far-reaching. Unless the Nuggets are unequivocally getting better by trading Melo (which they aren’t), then you have to now justify exorbitant spending on a team that doesn’t give you the best chance to win.  Simply put – you can’t. It’s bad business which again brings us to the next harsh reality involving Colorado’s native son Chauncey Billups.

It’s not a surprise that Chauncey Billups’ name continues to come up in serious trade rumors involving Carmelo. Chauncey is due $14.2 million next year unless waived within five days of his team’s final game of the season – when he can be bought out of his final year for a smaller $3.7 million. I’m very comfortable stating there’s a zero percent chance the Nuggets don’t take that buyout option even if they’d like to keep Chauncey – at a lower rate. I believe most if not all 30 NBA teams would do the same if they had to.  If the Nuggets are truly wiping the slate clean for the future, you cannot pay Billups the remainder of his $13 million salary and a $3.7 million buyout to finish a meaningless season with a team in transition.

Chauncey Billups belongs to Denver, as my friend and colleague Jeremy stated better than I ever could. It’s not my money, and I want nothing more than the Nuggets to spend whatever it takes to keep Chauncey on contending Denver teams for the rest of his career. That is just not reality. Beyond the financial aspects, I cannot make an argument from a talent or leadership standpoint that makes holding onto Chauncey feasible in a post-Melo world. Against my better judgment I actually do want Chauncey here, but I can’t deny how much it would help if he took this trade in a manner that allowed Denver to pick up an asset while being able to bring him back after he’s eventually bought out.

If Carmelo is traded, I will be shocked if Chauncey doesn’t go too. I believe this will be ugly no matter what if it is to be done right. Even more could follow afterwards which makes it even harder for me to believe that a last minute deadline deal is a reasonable solution. If nothing else, Chauncey’s inclusion is worth the money savings alone. The more salary Denver sends out, the less they can take back in the allotted 125% matching rule in trades. This is the way the three team Nets/Pistons trade was constructed to save Denver money, and it’s likely something similar will in fact happen.

Chauncey and Melo are the Nuggets. They joined forces at a time that couldn’t have been any more perfect for the franchise and the fans. More than any Nuggets team since the mid 1980’s – they were something special and a team that embodied the quirky, cynical fanbase that loves them. If this is it for the team, and I’m not saying it is – then with no ill will I accept that all good things come to end. I do wish that our luck, our timing, and our city’s fit for a star basketball player had all been better. Watching these Nuggets take the floor in Milwaukee for perhaps the last time together, what I’ll appreciate most is the way this crazy, ragtag group of thugs that never fit right for anything were for a moment – perfect.

However dark or uncertain the future may be, there is hope when we can get this Melo circus over with. I loved this era, one of the funnest and most memorable in Nuggets history. I take my hat off to myself for being a part of it.

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Charlie Yao

Contributor at Roundball Mining Company since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.

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  • Andrew

    I understand your point about C Bill, but I still disagree and I think you should rephrase this line: “Beyond the financial aspects, I cannot make an argument from a talent or leadership standpoint that makes holding onto Chauncey feasible in a post-Melo world.”
    Umm, yeah, you can make a leadership and talent argument. You just choose not to. I would rather trade KMart and his fat contract than C Bill. K Mart probably has an other year or two at most, before he is done. Melo and K Mart and one of the scrubs that make the deal work to NY for Chandler, Curry, Galli, 1st round pic (Randolph) and Fields. Not great, but they will do it and the #1 may give us a shot at the big man we desperately need at Center (sorry, but Nene is a PF).

    • Charlie

      Thanks Andrew, but I have to stand by the assertion that when Melo is traded, Billups contract and his age doesn’t make any business or basketball sense to keep around when the competitive part of the season is over.

      I do want Chauncey here. However, I believe if the Nuggets chose to keep him it would be out of loyalty and nothing else. They wouldn’t be thinking about business or the long-term prospects of building a winner. In fact, they’d be hurting themselves and making a poor decision on both fronts by allowing Chauncey to finish a year that’s already been lost.

      Something still rubs me wrong about dealing Chauncey, ever since I’ve first heard him mentioned. But thinking about it, I can’t say it isn’t the right thing to do anymore (I’m assuming Melo is gone here)

  • ParkHillNative

    Nice piece, Charlie. I also want to argue for keeping Chauncey, though.

    Remember last summer, during all the FA madness, before Dwayne Wade had committed to the Heat? He was being courted by a lot of teams, including the Chicago Bulls. At one point, not long before announcing his decision to stay in Miami, he spoke of his reservations about the Bulls, saying something like “I look at their organization, and I don’t see any of their great players staying aboard. Michael Jordan’s not there, Scottie Pippen’s not there…”

    Chauncey says he wants to retire a Nugget and work in the front office. The Nuggets should really try to make that happen. Let future FA’s in Wade’s situation see the Nuggets as an organization that cares about their players and rewards loyalty. The Nuggets’ ownership and management has looked strange and incomprehensible for a long time now. Let’s set a new precedent now. Chauncey deserves it and it would make the fans happy. It’s not like there’s three or four years left on his contract, like Birdman or Harrington.

  • Truitt

    The more I read press about this melodrama coming from the nuggets front office, the more I feel like they are more concerned with the PR fallout than making smart basketball moves.. This has turned into a battle of attrition between melo and the front office..why would we want fields or Felton when we have billups afflalo and JR? And why would anyone want a draft pick over Randolph?

    First, both billups’ and felton’s contract can end next year and while billups is older, he is better and has the more vauable contract (if you are going to trade Chauncey do it next year). Also, Felton strengths are similar to lawson’s, so having both they would onlyexpose their weaknesses and could create a conflict between the two.

    Second, while fields is playing much better than any one expected coming into the season, he is always going to be that hustle/role player type. right now he is not as good on d as afflalo and no where near as good on offense as either JR or afflalo. So what? we hold out,and get nothing formelo becausewe need to have a third string sg who plays 10 mins every other game?

    Finally, why would we like a mid first round pick instead of Anthony Randolph? This is going to be a weak year for the draft, so I place very little value on a mid 1stround pick. What is one of the nuggets biggest problems? Interior defense and rebounding. Sure Randolph reminds me a bit of Ron artest on offense, but hecan fill a real need for us in those two areas.

    Personally, I would be stoaked if we could get gallo from the knicks. He is a 3, who is almost 7′, can stroke itfrom out side, drive, and get to the line almost at will. The only problem is that He can’t play d for hislife. Of all the young players mentioned thethenyk/nj deals, I think gallo has the best chance to be an all star someday.

    I guess I’ll ask youguys’ why do we need to get rid of Chauncey rightnow? How does that help us? How does having 3 decent shooting guards help us this season? Especially when we take on 2 more sf’s.. And why would anyone want a mid first round pick in this years weak draft class over Randolph?

    The only one that makes any sense is that you would want fields so that you can trade JR for…. A late 1st round pick in this years weak weak draft! All this leads me to believe that the nuggets front office is not interested in making basketball moves, they are interested in saving face and fufiling some vendetta against Carmelo.

    I say let Minnesota keep their pick..grab Chandler, if we can get gallo that’s awesome, get that 2014, maybe we can dump a birdman or harrington contract somewhere along the way and get this over with!

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

      Truitt, you bring up some good points. Above all, I would absolutely take Anthony Randolph over the Jazz’ (Jazz’s?) first round pick. If Denver wants a young cheap high upside player Randolph has more pure talent than any player that has been offered them, including Derrick Favors.

      I agree with you on your analysis of Fields. He reminds me a little of Kleiza in that he exceeded expectations early on and that caused fans to overestimate his ceiling. Kleiza was never going to be much better than he was after his second season and I doubt Fields will be much better than he is now in three or four seasons.

      I like Gallinari too, but do not let his size fool you, he is a poor rebounder with a rebound rate similar to Afflalo’s (7.7 to 6.2) and J.R.’s rebound rate far exceeds Gallo’s (9.3 to the aforementioned 7.7).

      As far as Billups, I firmly believe it is in the Nuggets’ best interests from a basketball standpoint to trade him. I know you can make an argument that you need a veteran leader in the locker room when you have a young team, but Chauncey would get in the way of Lawson’s development and he would also take up cap space that could be used to facilitate trades and acquire picks to help continue to rebuild. Plus, and I know no one wants to hear this, it is in the Nuggets best interests to suck next season.

      If there is a PR aspect to trading Chauncey is they do not want to be the team who buys him out of his contract next season.

      It is odd that Denver would seek Felton, but I would expect them to trade him as he only has one year left and his stock has never been higher.

      • Truitt

        Jeremy;

        Totally agree with 95% of what you said. I guess the only point where we differ is on what to do with Billups…Won’t his contract be just as valuable if not more next year? He might be getting in the way of Lawson’s development to some degree, but if you are going to replace him, Felton is the worst PG in the league to do it with.

        Both Felton and Lawson played for UNC (they have studied the same pedagogy), both are speedsters. Felton is a little bigger and Lawson is a better shooter, but neither are going to average 20ppg. The thing that separates them is that Felton has been in the league longer and knows how to run a team better than Lawson. If we traded Billups for Felton in some Melo deal, Felton would be the starting PG because of this fact. Thus, Lawson’s development is still being hindered.

        Both Felton and Lawson have the same weaknesses; neither are really big enough to be lock down defenders for their position, their jump shots are not great and they are not really big enough to finish at the rim all the time. They can get their points, but they usually get it in the flow of the offense or in transition.

        Billups on the other hand, has a different skill set; He is bigger, can create his own shot (even if it is not as good now as it has been) and is lethal at the line and pretty decent from outside. Sometimes, he plays the two guard while Lawson plays the one guard and it works. you could not have that combination with Felton.

        After the end of next season Lawson, Billups and Felton will be free agents. Billups has already made his money and will most likely try to get to a contender for a discount if he doesn’t just resign with Denver. However, Felton took a huge gamble signing that short contract with the knicks because he was counting on D’antoni’s system to pad his stats so he could get a good deal next time around (like David lee, but a pg).

        I am saying all of this because I think that it is universally dumb to pair two point guards together in contract years when they both have the same skill set, neither is markedly better than the other, and even worse they both have the same weaknesses. The only thing that will become apparent from this pairing are the weakness. That type of competition will not be good for either player or the team.

        Additionally, outside of Carmelo, there are not many great, game changing free agents available this year. When carmelo goes to the Knicks, Denver will have a gamut of pretty decent SGs and SFs (Chandler, JR, and Afflalo are all FAs) which they need to decide if they will resign. With whatever is left, who are you going after? Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Deandre Joardan, Kendrick Perkins? not happening, no way any of those guys are going anywhere. The ones that we have the best chance of getting will be players like Zac Randolph or Jeff Green and do you really want to over pay for them? Give me a few drinks and I could talk myself into Randolph, but not Green…

        Finally, do you think any other free agent are going to be psyched to come to Denver after hearing about all the BS the front office has pulled this season? They sure look like they really care about their players letting them play 50+ games without knowing whether or not they would be traded only that a trade would happen… You know whats worse than that? Trading a beloved, team first, former finals MVP who has publicly stated that he wants to retire in Denver and join the front office…that sure screams loyalty.. Nah, best move in my opinion is to lay low, rebuild your image, and hold on to that Chauncey contract until next year where it will be a valuable expiring and if nothing pans out make a move at a much better FA class in 2012.

  • k

    Everyones argument about billups is about loyalty/leadership. He is a streaky shoot first pg that is lucky to get 5 assists a game. So if melo isn’t there, does billups start taking 20 shots a game. While I admit I get just as excited as anyone when he gets on fire from 3 and takes his walk up 3ptr on a fast break. Chauncey does not run an offense or look to set other people up. So if the nuggets are going to rebuild than mr big shot is not the leader they need. And speaking of leading. Have you ever noticed that it is chauncey who gets the stupid tech at the wrong point in a close game? Or that when he is cold shooting, instead of changing it and looking to set nene(leading the leauge in fg%) he just shoots more. Does he do anything to make anyone better? I think if melo goes, billups won’t be happy anyway so will just be a bad role model basketball wise to rebuild with