As cryptically suggestive as he may have tried to be in a Twitter post last night — “Funny how people come up with their own analysis of a situation. I tell you boy … Unbelievable” — Carmelo Anthony can’t blame the public and the media for spinning our own theories on his future plans.
This much we all know: The Denver Nuggets have extended ‘Melo a three-year, $65 million contract extension offer, and ‘Melo has yet to sign it. If I had to bet on it, I’d say he’s at least leaning heavily toward leaving.
Given the facts, it’s easy to speculate where this is going. ‘Melo doesn’t want to commit to another three years in Denver when he doesn’t have to, and with his good friends LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh having formed a “super-team” in Miami this summer, ‘Melo is planning to move to New York to play with Amar’e Stoudemire and possibly Tony Parker or Chris Paul, another good friend of his.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ‘Melo doesn’t owe the Nuggets anything. He is fully within his rights not to sign an extension and leave his options open next summer. And for a player who has seen his journey end in the first round of the playoffs six times in his seven pro seasons, he’d be crazy NOT to at least explore the possibility of joining a Madison Square Garden juggernaut, which just happens to be close to his Brooklyn birthplace.
In the meantime, popular sentiment is growing that the Nuggets need to trade Carmelo ASAP. It would be a proactive move: Rather than lose ‘Melo in free agency (for nothing in return) next summer, trade him now (or during the season) and at least get something in return — be it draft picks, veterans, young talent or financial relief, or a combination of all three. And in theory, it’s the smartest move. The Nuggets doesn’t want to end up like the Raptors, who let Bosh walk away for nothing when it was pretty clear during the season that he wasn’t going to stay in Toronto. According to today’s Denver Post, the team has been “quietly gauging interest” from teams for the last few weeks about a ‘Melo trade.
But in this instance, Denver should not operate according to conventional wisdom. Will ‘Melo leave at the end of the season? Very likely. But the team shouldn’t trade him, because doing so would cancel out Denver’s best chance (perhaps ever) of winning an NBA championship.
Yes, the Nuggets can win a title in 2011. Their biggest competition in the West is vulnerable: Kobe Bryant‘s two-time defending champion Lakers are older, under more pressure to win, and at some point injuries will become a real problem for a team that has gone all the way to the Finals three years in a row. The Suns, who advanced to the conference finals this year, are weaker without Amar’e. The Jazz, who knocked Denver out in the first round this year, are weaker without Carlos Boozer and Wes Matthews.
The Nuggets may be stronger than ever this upcoming season, and at the same time, this might be their last good run as presently constructed. Chauncey Billups is still playing at an elite level at 33 years old, but he can’t keep it up forever. Kenyon Martin is still an impact starter at 32 years old, but coming off another surgery, his time is running out. Nene, Birdman Andersen, Al Harrington J.R. Smith are as good as they’re ever going to get. Head coach George Karl‘s health is an obvious factor. Looking at the Nuggets’ rotation outside of ‘Melo, the only players you could argue are going to get better than they are right now are Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson.
But this team goes nowhere without ‘Melo. He’s the superstar, the go-to guy, and as clutch as Chauncey is and as much of a leader as Chauncey is, ‘Melo is the guy who will bring a championship to Denver. Don’t get it mistaken: If the Nuggets trade ‘Melo, there’s no way they will get equal value back, especially if teams know Denver really wants to trade their best player. The post-’Melo roster will inevitably be worse than the with-’Melo roster, and guaranteed the Nuggets without ‘Melo won’t be in contention for a 2011 championship.
So if winning is really the most important thing here, the Nuggets should keep ‘Melo. Play it out, let him put up his 25-30 points per game this season, and who knows? A deep playoff run may be enough to convince ‘Melo to stay in town.
But even if it’s not, and ‘Melo is bent on leaving for New York (or wherever) no matter what, at least you took your shot when you had sufficient ammunition in the chamber. By giving The Franchise away now, you’re ensuring the franchise will go another year — at least another year — without claiming the ultimate prize.