With the announcement on Wednesday that the New Jersey Nets have shredded their lottery ticket for the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes I am left with more questions than answers. In an attempt to work through my befuddlement I will do a question and answer with myself because I do not find anyone more interesting than me.
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.
I was not expecting to write about this today, but an article in the New York Post has speculated that the New York Knicks could target Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2011.
Anthony, who headlines the 2011 free-agent class, visits the Garden tonight with the powerhouse Nuggets, looking to duplicate the 50 points he hung on the Knicks in Denver on Nov. 28 in a 128-125 win.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh has been on a campaign to alert the team’s fans that all the cap room does not have to be filled this July, when the Knicks have space to sign two maximum free agents.
If they sign one maximum guy such as James or Joe Johnson and re-sign David Lee, they’ll probably be in position to have enough room for another maximum player in 2011, with Eddy Curry’s $12M coming off the books after next season.
“We got this thing [cap] down under, and now have to manage our cap to the best of our ability, taking into consideration what could be available to us as we go on [each summer],” Walsh told The Post yesterday.
Walsh admits he’s not going to waste money on a free agent he’s not crazy about just to fill up their 2010 cap space.
“I won’t,” Walsh promised. “Without in any way encouraging you to write about the names of the 2011 free-agent, class, yes. Of course. We’re looking at it over a five-year period.”
It is misleading to say Carmelo is a free agent in 2011 as he is under contract through 2011-12 and would have to terminate the lucrative final season of his contract in order to be a free agent in 2011. I posted my thoughts about the chances of Carmelo heading to New York in the Daily Dime (box three) because if we do not speculate about it, we are not using the Internet to its fullest potential.
One point I did not have enough room to really expand on is that we do not know what these two teams will look like in 2011. Who knows who the Knicks add between now and then. I am sure they will get at least one very good player this summer plus they are no longer giving their draft picks away.
On the flip side, Denver could look drastically different as well. Chauncey is playing very well this season, but it is unlikely that he will continue at this level as he ages. Kenyon is struggling with knee problems and who knows what happens to him. The Nuggets are going to be far enough past the luxury tax level next year they will need the Sword of Omens to see it. There is a legitimate chance they choose to make another salary dump trade this summer. All of those are within the realm of possibility and would damage the quality of the Nuggets and thus it is possible that in a little more than a year the Knicks could be the better location from a competitive standpoint.
I do not expect all of that to happen, but if the Nuggets are not going to spend money, that could be a big red flag to Carmelo.
I know what you are thinking, you do not want this post to end, but do not worry, we have as many as 15 months to two years depending on the coming labor strife of this kind of speculation to percolate.
As frustrating as it was watching the Denver Nuggets almost give up a 27 point lead against a team who had lost eight of nine and was playing their fourth game in five nights it was a heck of a lot better than the night Spurs fans experienced.
The Nuggets did indeed clinch a playoff berth in March for the first time in 21 seasons, but more importantly thanks to the Spurs 96-95 loss at home to Oklahoma City the Nuggets have moved into second place all by themselves in the Western Conference. As long as the Nuggets can win all four of their remaining easier games (home against the Clippers, Thunder and Kings and on the road versus Minnesota) and even just one of their three more difficult games (at home against Utah and on the road against the Lakers and Trail Blazers) they will post 54 wins. Should Denver reach the 54 win mark, tying the franchise record, they will force one of the team’s trailing them to play almost perfect basketball to catch them.
When you put the Nuggets’ near collapse into perspective with how other teams have been giving games away I am going to have a difficult time complaining, but I think I can still find it in me.
That was definitely not playoff caliber basketball. Even as the Nuggets built up their 27 point second quarter lead their defense was less than impressive. It consisted of switching screens and giving up second chance after second chance. If it were not for a plethora of unforced turnovers where the Knicks basically handed the ball to the Nuggets which lead to a hoard of easy fast break baskets, this game could have been much different.
On offense if the Nuggets were not cashing in on a mindless turnover they were usually jacking up a long jumper. For the first 18 minutes those jumpers were falling. After that it was a different story. When a miss by J.R. Smith 5:41 left in the second quarter announced the Nuggets hot shooting the Nuggets were dominating the scoring. Soon thereafter Denver had scored 64 points in roughly the first 20 minutes. Things quickly changed as Denver would only score 47 more points over the final 28 minutes. A big reason for that was the jump shot happy offense as they only tallied 18 points in the paint during the final 28 minutes.
As soft as I think the Nuggets played you have to give the Knicks credit for never giving up. Even on their fourth game in five nights, coming off a disappointing loss in Utah the night before where they fought back from a 24 point margin to actually take a one point lead before losing by eight and in the midst of a terrible streak that has ended any hope of their making the playoffs the Knicks played hard all night long. The biggest key for the Knicks comeback was they stopped making the silly passes that resulted in 30 first half fast break points. New York only turned the ball over three times between the 4:54 mark of the second quarter and the end of the third quarter.
In fact the Knicks actually made two strong comebacks. After closing the 27 point lead down to three at 80-77 the Nuggets rebuilt their lead back up to 17 in the fourth quarter only to watch the Knicks claw their way back to within six points over the next three minutes. Denver was not good on offense or defense for most of the second half and they almost let this one slip away.
Well, that is the negative stuff. As I pointed out earlier the Nuggets managed to pull out the kind of game that other Western Conference teams are losing. I thought Melo played another solid offensive game at least aside from his 2-6 performance at the free throw line. He was the only Nugget who attacked the rim even somewhat regularly and he was looking to feed the ball to cutters when he could which netted him four assists, but also four turnovers. Strangely enough in a seven point win Carmelo was the only starter with a positive plus minus (+10) while everyone on the bench posted a positive number.
Tomorrow night the Jazz come to Denver and I think they deserve a pretty good beat down.
Additional Game 75 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 102.7 – Back to back formula one style games.
Defensive Efficiency: 101.2 – Thank you 21 turnovers.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.0 – Worst showing since the loss to Houston 11 games ago. Where would they have been without all those 30 first half fast break points?
With a home win over the New York Knicks tonight the Denver Nuggets can clinch a playoff spot in March for the first time in 21 seasons. However, it will not mean an end to the suspense of the race for playoff positioning.
In order for the Nuggets to afford a slip up against either Utah, the Lakers or Portland in any of their three difficult contests on the schedule they need to sweep the five remaining games against lesser opponents. That means taking care of business tonight against the Knicks.
Looking at the big picture the Knicks have gone from a playoff contender at the end of December, sporting a 21-25 record, to a league also ran after losing 25 of their last 33 games and eight of their last nine. Narrowing the view a bit the Knicks did Denver a big favor by knocking off the New Orleans Hornets last Friday and last night showed some spunk in Utah. After falling behind by 24 early in the third quarter New York roared back to actually take a 94-93 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter before falling by eight, 112-104.
Aside from their undisputable edge in talent the Nuggets also should have an edge in energy. Denver has had two days off following their dismantling of the Warriors where the Knicks are wrapping up a three game road trip and playing their fourth game in five days.
Previous Matchups: Game 31 – Den 117 NYK 110
Take this with you: In Mike D’Antoni’s fist season with the Knicks New York is second in the league in pace while the Nuggets vacillate between sixth and seventh. However, the Nuggets play significantly faster at home than they do on the road. It will be interesting to see if the Knicks can keep pace with the Nuggets for 48 minutes in their fourth game in five nights.
The bad news could have been worse. Fortunately the initial diagnosis on Carmelo Anthony’s hand was accurate last night and surgery will not be required. Although even if you get a little excited that he will only miss three to four weeks you then you get hit with the realization that he is going to miss three to four weeks.
In my opinion this stretch becomes the make or break stretch of the Nuggets’ season. For now let’s assume that Melo can return for the Nuggets’ February third home game against the San Antonio Spurs which will go down exactly four weeks from today. If that is the case, he will miss the next 11 games, eight of which are against playoff quality opponents. However, eight of those games are at home.
Even without Melo the Nuggets have the talent to win every one of those 11 games. The additional scoring burden can be shared by Linas Kleiza, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups, Nene and Kenyon Martin.
Kleiza has been shooting lights out over his previous 13 appearances. He has made a three in every one of those games and has accumulated a shooting percentage of 51.0% by making 25 of his last 49 three point attempts. He has taken more than twice as many threes (49) as he has two point shots (24) during that time frame.
J.R. has been shooting well over those 13 games also having made 32 of his 79 three point attempts which equates to 40.5%.
Chauncey seemed to get himself out of a brief mental haze in the second half of last night’s game against the Pacers and Kenyon is capable of exploding for big scoring nights every now and then. Nene has picked up his efficiency once again since his 0-2 performance against the Cavs.
However, the most impressive Nugget from an offensive standpoint has been Nene. Nene has produced 162 points from his previous 84 shots. That is almost two points for every shot attempt over a stretch of nine games. That is absolutely astounding.
Denver seems to be more than capable of accounting for absence of Melo’s offense, at least over the short term. The issue over these next 11 games will not be talent or scoring, but how mentally tough they will be. In the past I have argued that this team, from the top down, has used injuries as an excuse. If they choose to lament playing without Melo and decide that the deck is stacked against them until he comes back they are going to play poorly and I could honestly see them losing as many as nine of those eleven games.
On the other hand, if they choose to meet the challenge and collectively demand nothing other than the best effort, mentally and physically, from each other I see no reason why they could not win eight or nine of those 11 games.
I expect them to rally to the challenge and in doing so there may be a silver lining here. Perhaps the Nuggets can use this opportunity to renew their defensive mindset and commitment that they began the season with. Despite the impressive improvement they have experienced offensively from last season, it is their defense that will determine how far they go come April and May. Over the previous three plus weeks their defense has faltered at best and shown signs of collapse at worst.
Regardless, there is never a good time to lose a player like Carmelo Anthony, but with plenty of home games on the schedule, despite the tough opponents, this is probably as good a time as any to go without him. Plus maybe his elbow will finally get back to being 100% and the Nuggets can come through with a successful stretch that will build their confidence and make them a better team.
Samb Trade Details
Chris Tomasson has the nitty gritty on the trade that sent Cheikh Samb to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets paid what appears to be the prorated portion of Samb’s contract in a cash amount totaling about $420,000. The second round pick was purely a ruse in order to fulfill the stipulations that both teams have to appear to give something up in order for there to be an actual trade. The second round pick is set to be transferred in the 2015 draft, but only if it is in the last five picks of the draft. In other words, the Clippers would have to finish with one of the five best records in the NBA in order for the Nuggets to get the pick.
You can say what you want about the mindset of the Nuggets in trading away a prospect for nothing (though they will get a $711,517 trade exception out of the deal), but I think this deal is more damning of the Clippers organizational mindset. Apparently they seriously doubt that they will be a top five team in 2015. Come on Clippers, plan for success!
Pacers’ Defense on Carmelo
One thing I forgot to add to my game recap from last night’s game was how rarely the pacers threw any hard double team’s at Carmelo. They almost exclusively settled for a soft double where a big man would come over to the block on the strong side when Melo had the ball. Even when Melo had the ball in the post he was basically covered man to man. The fact that Melo ended up with so many good assists without the benefit of a double team to open up more space on the floor is a credit to his passing and vision.
George Karl on Camera
Ryan McNeill over at Hoops Addict had the opportunity to roll video hard drive during George Karl’s pre game press conference before the New Year’s Eve game in Toronto. Thanks to Ryan for the superlative coverage.
Don’t Hold Me to This Standard
Gian over at the Knicks blog Seven Seconds or Mess puts together videos that put mine to shame. Check out his review of the Knicks/Nuggets game from a few days ago below.