Over the summer when it became apparent to anyone who follows the NBA that Carmelo Anthony wouldn't be signing a $65 million contract extension to remain a Denver Nugget, speculation about where he might end up led us all to two teams: the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Once we realized that the Knicks had nothing to offer in exchange for one of the NBA's best players, it didn't take a degree in rocket science to realize that the Nets were ideal trading partners. After all, Melo was born and raised briefly in Brooklyn, his wife is from Brooklyn and the Nets are moving to Brooklyn. After all, Jay-Z - supposedly one of Melo's close friends (note that Jay-Z is supposedly every NBA player's close friend) - is a minority owner. After all, the Nets new Russian oligarch owner - my hero/idol Mikhail Prokhorov - would be sparing no expense to upgrade the Nets from perennial loser to perennial contender. After all, the Nuggets could get a package of Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and rookie Derrick Favors for Melo. And after all, the Nets owed the Nuggets a decent deal after fleecing us for three first round draft picks in exchange for Kenyon Martin's atrocious contract.
A Nuggets/Nets deal for Melo seemed destined to be. And then reality set in.
First off, were the Nets to mortgage the farm to land Anthony, the star small forward would be stuck playing with a collection of also-rans for at least two seasons if not more. Not fun.
Secondly, yes the Nets are moving to Brooklyn...but not until 2012-13 when Melo will be 28 years old. Meaning, Melo would have to spend his two most formative basketball years (age 26 and 27) in Newark. Not fun.
Third, as a Net Melo would be playing for the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, defense-first Avery Johnson. While you and I might love the Little General, Melo would hate him. After a week with Johnson, Melo would demand to be traded back to Denver to reunite with George Karl. Not fun.
And thus, while the Nets and Nuggets were on the precipice of a deal on the eve of training camp - one that involved Utah's Andrei Kirilenko and Charlotte's Boris Diaw and D.J. Augustin - it ultimately fell apart. Whether this was due to Melo refusing to play in New Jersey for two years, the Nuggets getting cold feet or both, we'll never know for sure.
Now here we are, 12 games into a distraction-filled season thanks to Melo's reticence to sign the extension, the Nuggets front office leaving so many player contracts unsigned into the future (including Chauncey Billups'), Karl's health and contract questions, an assortment of injuries and J.R. Smith's latest bout of behavioral issues, and we have a 6-6 team that has played hard most of the time but isn't playing right.
Fortunately for the Nuggets, the Nets are playing hard but aren't playing right, either. They also have much less talent than Denver does and will be coming in from Sacramento (i.e. the Pacific Time Zone) on a back-to-back. So while I'm thrilled that the Nuggets are virtually guaranteed to win this game and get some confidence back as a team, I won't be getting any value for my tickets. Like every game I attended last season when the opposing team was coming on a back-to-back from the west coast, I suspect this Nets vs. Nuggets game is going to be a big snoozer in Denver's favor.
During my appearance on FM104.3's "Clough Talk" on Wednesday night, I said that all Nuggets fans should be rooting for four teams: for the Nuggets to win and simultaneously for the Knicks, Nets and Heat to lose. Every time the Knicks and Nets lay an egg, Melo's desire to play there - theoretically - goes down. And every time the Heat lose, you have to think Melo sees that playing with your hand-picked all-star friends doesn't guarantee a championship...or even a division championship for that matter. So when the Nets come to Pepsi Center for a Saturday night date with our Nuggets we get to root for a double outcome: a Nuggets victory and a Nets embarrassment.
The Nuggets record is an unimpressive 6-6 and, to quote Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. However - if I may play "optimist" momentarily - these Nuggets haven't lost a single game in which going into it you could say they were clear cut favorites. The only bad team the Nuggets have lost to - the Indiana Pacers - came at the tail end of a four-games-in-five-nights swing that included three straight road games. Their other five losses - to Dallas (without Nene in action for Denver), at New Orleans, at Chicago, at Phoenix and most recently at Portland - while disappointing in that the Nuggets were in every one, certainly aren't cream puff opponents.
Beginning Saturday night against the Nets, the Nuggets schedule loosens up considerably. Following the Nets we'll be at Golden State on Monday followed by a five-game home stand against Chicago, Phoenix, Milwaukee, the Clippers and Memphis. All very, very winnable contests. If the Nuggets are as good as we think they should be, we could be in for a long winning streak. If "they're just not that good" - as my Benedict Arnold Lakers fan of a little brother happily texted me this morning - and they drop half or even a third of these upcoming games, maybe it's time to revisit a Melo trade with the Nets after all.
SCOUTING THE NETS
-Devin Harris: Harris is back to performing at an all-star level, averaging 17.9 ppg on 49.6% shooting to go along with 6.9 apg and 85.3% free throw shooting. And he's remarkably stayed healthy for all 11 games thus far.
-Derrick Favors: The kid all Nuggets fans will be watching closely as he might end up playing here is Favors. Johnson is jerking around with his minutes, but Favors is playing ok for a youngster averaging 7.5 ppg on 53.3% shooting and 6.6 rpg. Of note is that Favors is averaging nearly as many offensive rebounds as defensive rebounds.
-Joe Smith: I'm not sure if playing for more than a third of all NBA teams - including two franchises twice which would make it 13 career stops - makes you a Stiff or a Non-Stiff, but I have to give this former Nugget credit for his longevity. At 35 years old and average 0.8 ppg, you have to believe this is Smith's final go-around in the NBA.
-Johan Petro: "You Don't Mess with the Johan" makes his first appearance at Pepsi Center since the Nuggets (smartly) balked at overpaying this big Stiff who somehow finagled $10 million out of the Nets over three years. I always liked Petro in Denver, but that was at $800,000 in salary vs. the $3 million-plus he "earns" now.
-Brook Lopez: Lopez normally isn't a Stiff at all, but his numbers are off in a bad way. His 17.9 ppg is fine, but 42.6% shooting and 5.8 rpg for a skilled seven-foot center are unacceptably low numbers.
-Troy Murphy: For the $12 million (read that again: $12 million) the Nets are paying Murphy this season, they're getting 4.4 ppg on 30% shooting and five missed games due to injury. And yet Murphy is averaging almost as many rebounds as Lopez at 5.2 rpg.
Before training camp kicked off, many fans had this game highlighted on their schedule thinking Melo might be in a Nets uniform by now. While it's unlikely that Melo will ever be in a Nets uniform, it remains within the realm of possibility. Knowing that, it will be interesting to see how the Nets play against Melo and vice versa.