Leverage...

I've seen a lot of arguments for why the Nuggets can't or shouldn't trade Carmelo Anthony now.  They're all wrong.

When you think of the word "Leverage" these days, you might be tempted to think of that stupid TNT show relentlessly crammed down the throats of NBA on TNT viewers.  As it turns out, the word "Leverage" may be more apt for the Nuggets in their dealings with Carmelo "will-he-or-won't-he-stay?" Anthony, because they have more of it than most fans realize.

Three weeks ago, my partner-in-crime here at Denver Stiffs - Nate Timmons - wrote a well thought out column on why trading Melo isn't an option.  And a number of readers here - as evident by the reactions from my Friday column on LaLa "Yoko" Vazquez - by and large seem to concur with that line of thinking.  While I respect my colleague's and fellow Stiffs' point-of-view on all things Nuggets, on this particular issue I vehemently disagree.

And thus, if you'll allow me, here's a breakdown of the main "don't trade Melo now" arguments and why (in my most humble opinion) anyone in that camp is dead wrong...

"The Nuggets have no leverage if they trade Melo now."

Wrong.  

The Nuggets have a lot of leverage if they act sooner than later.  First, and make no mistake about it, Melo wants his money and the guaranteed years sure to be wiped away in the new collective bargaining agreement...and only the Nuggets can max him out (dollars + years) under the current agreement, likely to change for the worse for players effective July 1, 2011.  Second, a team that could potentially secure Melo's services would rather do so now than risk ending up empty handed next summer.  And third, by acknowledging that a trade is possible ensures that Melo will go to the highest bidder.  

LeBron James' "The Decision" debacle was great for Denver in so many ways, but perhaps the best outcome of that fiasco was that teams angling to score a max-caliber player like LeBron or Melo don't want to be left out in the cold again.  What essentially happened in advance of "The Decision" were five NBA teams throwing away two seasons of competitive basketball for a 20% shot at signing the self-anointed King.  If you're an opposing team and know that you could score a player of LeBron or Melo's ability now rather than gamble on a 20% chance later, what would you give up for it?

If you're the Clippers, would you give up Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon (plus the requisite contracts to make the dollars match up) to secure Melo now?  Or at least Chris Kaman and Gordon?  If you're the Nets, would you ship away Brook LopezDevin Harris and throw in a first round pick today?  If you're the Lakers, would you part with Andrew Bynum plus anyone not named Kobe or Gasol (as Nate suggested a few weeks ago)?  If you're the Knicks...well, you're screwed in this scenario because you have nothing to offer other than Anthony Randolph and first round picks 20 years from now.    

Forget Luol Deng or Vince Carter's expiring contract.  The Nuggets can do better.  Way better.  And I suspect they will.

(It should be noted that any trade for Melo now would have to involve his, his wife's and his management team's participation and sign-off because he'd have to sign the Nuggets' extension first.  This likely limits the Nuggets options to Los Angeles or New York...LaLa's presumed desired locations.  But under no circumstances does a deal get done without Melo signing his contract upfront.) 

"Melo hasn't said anything yet and we're panicking for no reason."

Wrong.

Not only has Melo offered the standard "I have to do what's best for me and my family" lip service to the Denver media and Nuggets fans (which 90% of the time means an athlete or coach is leaving), but it's what he's not saying that should set off the alarm bells.  Anything short of firmly committing to sign that extension - worth almost $84 million as it would include Melo's 2011-12 salary of $18.5 million - and Melo's words are meaningless, just as LeBron and Chris Bosh's words were meaningless for the last two years.  Simply put, nothing Melo has said to date should give Nuggets fans any comfort whatsoever so don't try reading into them.

(On a side note, Nuggets.com's "article" with the headline of "Anthony open to long-term commitment with Nuggets" is just a puff piece to prevent season ticket holders like me from running out the door.)

"We should play out the season and see how it goes."

Wrong.

If Melo has no intention of staying in Denver (as I believe he doesn't), why wait until the season starts to trade him?  If Melo has indeed played his final game in a Nuggets uniform, the Nuggets are better off trading him now rather than dealing with the "will-he-or-won't-he-stay?" distraction that will envelope the entire 2010-11 campaign.  Moreover, Melo's trade value is at its highest right now before a potential injury could hurt his value during the season.

Additionally, the Nuggets would be better served basketball-wise to start training camp with a newly assembled roster rather than bring in new players during the season and attempt to integrate them on the fly (see the 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks for how well that works).  

The bottom line for me is that if Melo is destined to leave Denver, let him go sooner than later and let's move on with our lives.

"We shouldn't be spending so much time talking about this.  The season hasn't even started yet."

Wrong.

We can't talk about this enough.  

If you believe - as I do - that Melo doesn't intend on staying in Denver, then the collective voices of Nuggets fans everywhere should be heard early and often on this topic.  I doubt that Nuggets management cares as much about fan opinion as we do, but I know they're not deaf to it.  Remember, it was Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke who allegedly insisted on the Kenyon Martin acquisition in 2004 to reward Nuggets fans for supporting the team.  And in the summer of 2009, management was hell bent on re-signing Chris Andersen in large part for being a fan favorite.

By no means are the readers here obligated to agree with anything I say regarding trading Carmelo Anthony before we potentially get LeBron'd in Denver.  But those who do should speak up now and let the Nuggets organization know that we'd rather settle for two solid players in exchange for Melo than two meaningless, late first round picks as part of summer 2011 sign-and-trade like Cleveland and Toronto got for LeBron and Bosh, respectively, this past summer.

"Melo is much more loyal than LeBron James.  He would never do to Denver what LeBron did to Cleveland."

Wrong.

If LeBron was willing to bail on his own hometown for greener NBA pastures elsewhere, what makes anyone think for a second that Melo wouldn't do the same to a city that isn't even his own hometown?  I can give you a mountain of arguments for why Melo should stay in Denver (good organization, great sports town, loyal fans, opportunity to become the next John Elway, the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks are aging, etc), but none of them matter.  Melo and LaLa are selling their house in Littleton and just bought a house in Los Angeles for a reason...and it's because they probably don't love Denver.

I think Melo likes Denver.  I really do.  I just don't think he loves Denver and I'm pretty sure that his wife and his representation don't care much for the Mile High City.  I think Melo is a loyal guy at heart, but the outside influences around him will chip away and eventually cripple that instinct to be loyal.  Throw in the fact that the Nuggets aren't championship contenders this year and gambling until season's end that Melo might re-sign just because we think Denver is a swell place to live is foolhardy. 

"Andrew hates Melo and wants to run him out of Denver."

Wrong.

100% Wrong.

Patently absurd.

Even though this has nothing to do with Carmelo Anthony's future in Denver, this argument must be addressed here because I'm tiring of hearing about it.  As I've written countless other times, Melo has been fantastic for the Nuggets franchise: seven straight playoff appearances, exciting basketball, a conference finals appearance, NBA relevancy, and so on.  None of this happens without #15.  Additionally, Melo has played hard (at least on the offensive end of the floor), has made countless game-winning, game-tying and other clutch baskets.  How many players can be counted on to give you 28-plus points nightly?  Nightly!  Not many.  It should also be noted that Melo combined with any four serviceable NBA players almost guarantees you a playoff spot, and that can only be said of a handful of NBA players.  Moreover, Melo has been active in the Denver community, for which he should be commended, and seems to have put his propensity to get involved in off-the-court entanglements behind him. 

Have I been critical of Melo's performances in playoff elimination games in the past?  You bet.  Overly so?  Perhaps.  I've also hampered on his lack of enthusiasm on defense and have questioned why he doesn't take the ball inside more.  But that doesn't mean I don't like the guy and the player that is Carmelo Anthony.  And it certainly doesn't mean I hate him. 

But regardless of Melo's flaws as a player, if he were to stay in Denver for just a few more seasons he would earn a spot on the Nuggets' "Mount Rushmore" alongside English, Lever, David Thompson and Dan Issel and would have his jersey number hung in the Pepsi Center rafters.  If he leaves after seven or eight seasons, his Denver legacy gets cut short. 

I also want to go on record saying that I don't have any issues whatsoever with Melo choosing to leave Denver if that's what his intentions ultimately are and he handles it in a manner that's respectful to Nuggets fans.  If Melo feels what is best for his career and personal life is to take his talents elsewhere, he has earned that right.  All Melo owes the Nuggets organization and its fans is a straight answer about his future - sooner than later - so that we can plan accordingly for a post-Melo world should he depart.  LeBron James isn't an asshole for leaving Cleveland.  He's an asshole for the way he left Cleveland.

 

Look, this whole should-we-or-shouldn't-we-trade Carmelo Anthony is an ugly conversation to have all around.  It divides Nuggets fans, makes the organization look impotent and makes Melo look selfish.  Frankly, it sucks.  And I'm not so delusional to think that we'll get equal value for Melo, nor do I think we'll be better without him.  But that doesn't mean trading Melo now isn't the right thing to do for the Nuggets franchise.  Remember, we at Denver Stiffs are here to advocate for what's best for the Nuggets, not what's best for any one individual player.

Thanks to a confluence of bizarre circumstances (Melo signing for one more season than LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Bosh did years ago, the 2011 expiration of the CBA and LeBron's disastrous "The Decision"), the Nuggets are in a unique position to get a lot of value for Anthony.  The Nuggets can do better than the 76ers did when they traded Charles Barkley to the Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, Kenny Battle and a bag of potato chips.  And they can do better than the Raptors did when they traded Vince Carter to the Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Eric and Aaron Williams and a pair of picks.

Unlike the Raptors and Cavaliers before them - two dead franchises as of today - the Nuggets have the leverage necessary to get a decent deal done.  I just don't see any reason to wait.

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