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.