Rumors abound today that there a number of elements holding up the proposed Carmelo Anthony-to-the-Nets trade. If Melo indeed wants out and the Nuggets are prepared to accommodate him, why not try an easier route?
I've heard a lot of stories today. I've heard that Carmelo Anthony hasn't yet signed off on inking that three-year, $65 million extension that makes a trade possible. I've heard that the Nets won't part with point guard Devin Harris without getting a point guard in return and their preference is Charlotte's D.J. Augustin. And I've heard that Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is stubbornly refusing to deal Augustin, even though he'd be getting Harris - a 2009 All-Star who's only 27 years old - in return.
With an incredibly awkward media day and training camp looming for our Denver Nuggets, the easiest - and perhaps better in the long run - deal for Melo doesn't need to involve four teams, but rather two: the Nuggets and the Nets.
Before putting some money aside for your Andrei Kirilenko Nuggets jersey, think about this proposed deal for a moment: Carmelo Anthony and Ty Lawson in exchange for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Terrence Williams and two of the Nets 50-something first round picks they have laying around (http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=2cem762).
Why Devin Harris to the Nuggets? Don't we have a point guard? Don't we have a great point guard? The answer is: sort of.
Yes, Billups is undoubtedly a great point guard. But greatness and age don't go together and as of today, Billups is officially on the wrong side of 34 years old. And while Billups was instrumental in leading Team USA to a gold medal in this year's FIBA World Championships, anyone who watched those games saw him routinely get beaten off the dribble by younger, quicker guards - most of whom aren't even close to being NBA-caliber players. Billups was effective nonetheless by moving to the shooting guard slot alongside younger, quicker point guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.
Happy birthday, Chauncey! Now move over to shooting guard.
The two most important players for an NBA team are the point guard and big man at power forward/center. I'd say center, but in the era of Tim Duncans, Kevin Garnetts, and Pau Gasols winning championships playing "power forward", the bottom line is you need a great big man. There's a reason why a small forward hasn't led his team to an NBA Championship since Larry Bird retired.
By bringing in Harris and Favors for Anthony, the Nuggets might have solved both player needs in one deal. Emphasis on the might, of course, I get it. Harris, when healthy, is an all-star point guard - in either conference - and Favors' ceiling is said by many to be in the Garnett-range.
Imagine for a moment a lineup of Harris and Billups in the backcourt with Al Harrington, Nene and Favors upfront backed up by Arron Afflalo, Chris Andersen, Williams, J.R. Smith (or whoever the Nuggets get for Smith in a future deal) and Kenyon Martin if he ever shows up this season.
On the plus side, this could secure the Nuggets future at point guard and power forward as noted above while reducing Billups' minutes when Afflalo, Smith (or his successor) step in at two-guard alongside Harris. Moreover, Williams - a former 11th overall pick from 2009 - has big upside and if he plays well could replace Smith if the mercurial shooting guard can be turned into a serviceable defensive and rebounding-oriented forward. And with K-Mart's poisonous contract coming off the books in 2011, the Nuggets can fill in the pieces to begin building a championship-caliber team around Harris, Billups, Nene and Favors.
On the negative side, the Nuggets lose an exceptional backup point guard in Lawson and lose 28 points per game plus clutch shooting from the small forward position, Harris is injury-prone, a Harris/Billups backcourt would be undersized and you're putting too much pressure on Favors too soon. But I have rebuttals for those (except the Harris is injury-prone issue).
I love Lawson as a backup but am not sold on him being a bona fide NBA starting point guard. As my Uncle Marty - aka the Nuggets Curmudgeon says - Lawson is probably the best player in the under-six feet league. Losing Melo's 28 ppg hurts big-time, but Harrington can give you 18 to 20 consistently and more on any given night. Yes, Billups and Harris would be undersized but so were John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek who played in back-to-back NBA Finals...and they were white and slow! And while throwing Favors to the wolves might be a detriment to the team on the court at first, we're better off giving him ample playing time than having his confidence shot by sitting on the bench too much.
I can't sit here and say for sure that a Harris/Favors/Williams/two first round picks for Melo/Lawson deal is better than the much talked about Kirilenko/Favors/two first round picks for Melo deal. The Nuggets are probably better in 2010-11 with the latter deal. But what I am saying is that while I love Billups and all that he has contributed to the Nuggets organization in a short time, we shouldn't let his past performance cloud our thinking going forward.
Opportunities to pick up young(ish) all-star point guards don't come along very often. And if Melo and the Nuggets are mutually desperate to part ways, a simpler deal might be the way to go.