Simply put. There is no way you replace a superstar of Melo's talent with other players and still expect to make the playoffs as presently constructed. We will probably drop to a 35-40 win team in the West for a few years.
The good news is if, as expected, the Nuggets also trade JR Smith and Kenyon Martin, we will be at only 40m for the 2011 season with a ton of cap space to rebuild quickly. Whether or not that rebuilding effort is successful depends largely on Kroenke Jr. and Uriji's talents to put together a squad around what appears to be the Nuggets new core: Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Lawson will be a PG in the vein of Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, a pass first speedster who can create anywhere on the court. Afflalo will be our wing slasher with a three point shot who can also play defense like Shane Battier. While not a core, per se, I think that if the Nuggets rebuild around these player's strengths - picking up a capable big in the draft or in free agency in the years ahead (Marc Gasol) we can quickly recoup our swagger.
Quickly, in this case, is a relative term. I would caution any Nuggets fans to not expect to be relevant in contender talks for at least the next 3-5 years after Melo leaves. You don't simply evacuate the core of your team (Melo, Kenyon, JR) and still expect a whole new group to be gel fast enough to be in the conversation, particularly when the tertiary core is also rotating out in the next 2-3 years (Billups, Nene, Harrington). George Karl is also likely to retire within the next 2 years given his struggles with cancer.
I love my Nuggets, and even when they're crap, I will still turn them on in the cold Denver nights and watch my blue and gold.
But the sobering fact of the matter is that even if we find suitors, our Nuggets are going into rebuilding mode once Carmelo is gone. This team is aging, its core is departing, and 2009 was our best shot at the title. Where we go from here is up to the front office.
It is important to keep perspective, though. We won't be saddled with Kenyon's onerous contract, the no-defense ways of Melo and JR will be a thing of the past, and we can restructure our perennially offense-oriented squad around defenders like Afflalo supplemented by a truly dominant big in the paint. We will have huge amounts of flexibility in the 2011-2012 seasons and more than likely have draft picks to go with it.
So take heart. We are in for some rough times in the near future but our long term outlook is bright.