Three different Melo plans...

In light of Carmelo Anthony's recent "I feel it's a time for change" comments and considering how good our Nuggets have looked out of the gate this season, Nate, Jeff and I share our opinions for how the Nuggets should handle the Melodrama unfolding before us.

Longtime Denver Stiffs reader "GoldenNugget" recently asked myself, Nate and Jeff to serve up our latest thoughts on how to handle Carmelo Anthony, who may not be demanding a trade but has made it abundantly clear he likely won't be in a Nuggets uniform should a 2011-12 season ever commence.  Nate and Jeff's thoughts can be found below and mine are as follows...

From my vantage point it seems as though Melo wants to play the year out, not be bothered by trade distractions throughout this season and look for new employment at season's end.  But what's best for Melo isn't what's best for our Nuggets, and thus Nuggets management is in the awkward position of having to scour the NBA landscape for deals, operating under the assumption that Melo is walking come next July.

Over the summer, and as soon as it started becoming obvious that Melo wanted out of Denver, I advocated for a trade believing that the Nuggets could maximize their leverage after so many NBA teams (namely the Knicks, Nets, Bulls and Clippers) had been left out in the cold by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the 2010 free agency frenzy.  My thinking was that those teams would overpay (or at least equally pay) for Melo's services now, rather than risk another summer going empty-handed.  The problem of course - thanks to having a 30-team NBA in which 25ish teams that are talent diluted already - is that the Nuggets asking price for a star of Melo's caliber forces the receiving team to become less desirable for Melo to sign an extension with...a prerequisite for any deal.  Maybe the NBA should contract a few franchises, after all.

And so the three-man poker game between the Nuggets, Melo and a possible trade partner dragged on into training camp with #15 on-board, whether he wanted to be here or not.  And oh so quietly, the Nuggets had a great training camp, a fine preseason and look pretty damn good through three games. All of this bodes well for the "ride out the season" camp in this Melo debate, hoping that the Nuggets will come to terms with Melo during a successful season just as Kobe Bryant came to terms with the Lakers during the 2007-08 campaign after demanding to be dealt elsewhere throughout the previous summer.

Before getting to how I'd like the Melo situation addressed going forward, I must debunk the Kobe comparison once and for all.  First off, Melo is no Kobe.  As much as I love what Melo has brought to Denver Nuggets basketball, I question if you can win a championship when your best player is a shoot-first small forward with limited production in other aspects of the game.  The last small forward to bring his team a championship was Larry Bird, and Carmelo Anthony is no Larry Bird.  Not even close.  And secondly, Denver isn't Los Angeles and the Nuggets aren't the Lakers.  It doesn't take much for the NBA's marquee franchise in the league's marquee location to convince a star player to stay there.  Denver - while it's certainly a better NBA city than about 15 others - will always be a distant backup option compared to the likes of Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Boston, Atlanta and a few others.

That said, while I don't believe there's any chance that Melo stays in Denver long-term, there IS a chance for the Nuggets to make some serious noise in the Western Conference this season.  Therefore, I'm switching from a we-have-to-trade-Melo-now strategy to a wait-and-see strategy.  At least through the end of the year.  This gives the Nuggets 30 games, or just over a third of their season, to ask themselves the following...

...are we buyers?

Through 30 games, if the Nuggets are something like 20-10 and on pace for 55ish wins, it's tough to justify trading Melo before the trade deadline.  In that scenario the Nuggets might become buyers rather than sellers. I could foresee a scenario in which the Nuggets poach a good player or two from a team conducting a fire sale, akin to what the Mavericks did last season when the Wizards were willing to part with Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood for pennies on the dollar.  In this scenario, you go for the gold - ideally without mortgaging your salary cap future - and let the chips fall where they may at season's end.  

This is what the Mavericks and Cavaliers did last season by adding ex-Wizards Butler/Haywood and Antawn Jamison, respectively, figuring they were one move away from winning an NBA championship.  These moves would ultimately backfire as the Mavs flamed out in the first round and the Cavs took a dive in the second round.  But the Mavs retained Butler and Haywood, while the Cavs famously lost LeBron James and are now stuck with Jamison's contract.  But you can't blame either team for going for it all, and in fairness to the Cavs, James never gave any indication of wanting out until he told them - and us - on national TV during the 2010 offseason.

...or are we sellers?

Conversely, should the Nuggets limp into their 31st game with a record like 16-14, what's the point of keeping Melo around?  In that scenario, the Nuggets should be actively looking to trade #15 and just get whatever they can for him, noting that a sign-and-trade the following summer will produce only two meaningless late first round picks.  

This is the trap that the Raptors stupidly fell into last season.  Like Melo, Chris Bosh gave no indications of wanting to stay in Toronto and making matters worse, the Raptors were in the midst of a mediocre, going-nowhere season and opted to keep Bosh when they could have dumped the all-star power forward for something before the 2010 trade deadline.

Additionally, even if the Nuggets become sellers around New Year's a very good deal for Melo could be had.  A contending team that may not be on Melo's long-term location list - such as Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Milwaukee, etc - might be willing to pay up for Melo's services for a two-month run into the playoffs without Melo signing an extension beforehand.

 

Regardless of where the Nuggets end up looking 27 games from now, management has to constantly source deals for Melo.  Two-team, three-team and four-team deals must be considered with all possible player combinations, coming or going, on the table.  Simply put, Melo can't be counted on to ever sign that contract extension and the Nuggets must begin preparing now for a post-Melo world in Denver, even if Melo survives the season in the Mile High City.

Just because a great deal for Melo may not seem available today, a good deal could be right around the corner.  It behooves the Nuggets to be patient - for now - but be prepared to pull the trigger before Melo walks out the door and nothing is returned in his wake.  

Let's give it 30 games and see where we are.

 

Nate's Take:

What to do with the superstar?
 
First, my gut feeling is that Carmelo Anthony is not going to be back with the Denver Nuggets if he's able to become a free agent after this season. That doesn't mean he won't be back in Denver as I don't know what the future holds, but it's just my gut feeling that he's gone after this season. So, that leaves the Nuggets front office with two options: trade Melo during the season or wait, deal with the drama, and try to focus on winning it all this season.
 
If the Nuggets decide to deal Melo at any point during the season ... any chance at winnng the title leaves with him. The second part of this is ... can Denver compete for the title this season? All roads to the Finals go through Los Angeles, the Lakers are the back-to-back champions and they might be head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the Western Conference. So, should Denver give up or should they press forward?
 
Next summer there is a race in Colorado put on by the organization Tough Mudder. From their website ToughMudder.com you can see it's a seven mile race, with 17 obstacles designed by the British Special Forces. Something you should know about me ... I'm not much of a runner, I consider a three-mile trek a marathon. Not only does the idea of the race itself seem daunting, like the Lakers, but I've also been dealing with back problems, that like Melo, are threatening to derail my training efforts to get to the race (Lakers). I'm lucky though, I can go see a doctor to help me out with my troubles. The Nuggets don't have the luxury of going to a quick fix in dealing with the Melo situation during the season (unless, like Tony Parker, Melo just signs an extension out of the blue ... which he keeps stating he won't.)
 
For me ... I'm pressing forward. I don't know how I'll do when I get to the Tough Mudder race, but I know what will happen if I give up. As a fan, I want the Nuggets to keep Melo this season, I want him to honor the contract he signed (after all, didn't he accept a longer deal than LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh for a reason?), and I want to see how far these Nuggets can go.
 
But as a smart fan, or at least as a guy thinking about the future of the team I root for, I'm also terrified of losing Melo for nothing. And as an organization, the Nuggets can't have their cake (keep Melo this season) and eat it, too (expect a good sign-and-trade after the season). It all boils down to whether or not the Nuggets can beat the Lakers as currently constructed, and even if they can do that they still would have to face the best in the Eastern Conference to win the title. Is it crazy to think the Nuggets would make the Western Conference Finals this season? I like Denver's chances as currently constructed against any team in the West not named the Lakers. Do I think Denver can beat the Lakers? Well, if things go perfect ... yes. But things would have to go absolutely perfectly for the Nuggets (and every other Western Conference team) to beat the Lakers.
 
I'd love to see Denver keep Melo this season, but I'll also understand if the team strikes a deal to trade him before the deadline as the Nuggets can't afford to lose their franchise player for nothing. So, while I'll continue hoping that the Nuggets will put all their chips on the table and go all in this season, I'll trust the front office's decision because they are "in the know" and will do what they think is best for the franchise. But wait, how can I trust the front office to do what is best? If I don't know what Melo is thinking, how can I trust that the front office is doing what is best for the franchise and not what is best for keeping their jobs and trying to save face? I can't.
 
All I can do is hope these Nuggets make a title run, see what happens with Melo, and react to it when it happens. If the Nuggets make a deal before the deadline, that means to me that they don't believe they can win the title this season. If the Nuggets keep Melo past the deadline then they are going all in and will face the large risk of losing Melo for next to nothing, but they will be trying to win the title and that's all I can ask.

Jeff's Take...

My feeling has not changed one bit. The Nuggets have a good, if not great, team with Carmelo Anthony. Why sabotage that for the sake of "getting something back"? You know what you get if you keep Melo this year? Another playoff run. I'll take that over "developing" 6'9" Derrick Favors any day in a position where we already have many proven players who are the same height. 

Seeing as how Melo is concerned about a team being "gutted" in a trade, that eliminates the Knicks. Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears' report says Melo doesn't want the Nets. So that leaves Chicago, and they can no longer trade Joakim Noah. So that pretty much leaves us with teams that don't mind a "rent a player" or we keep Melo this season. It makes no sense to settle for garbage in return for our best player, when we can keep him and be a potentially great team. 

What should the Nuggets do? Let the season play out. You only trade Melo after December 15th if the Nuggets are going nowhere. Otherwise we ride the season out with Melo in tow. If he still wants to leave after the season, do a sign-and-trade with the Knicks, take the cap space ($17 million), some draft picks and wish him the best.

No reason to dis Melo for eight seasons of playoff basketball.

***STIFFS NIGHT OUT***  THIS Saturday, November 6th at the new JAKE'S restaurant.  Event begins at 6:30.  Nuggets at Mavericks tips off at 7:00pm.  There will be food and drink specials!

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