Two questions have been raised in the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade. Will the Nuggets retire Carmelo Anthony's jersey? And where will this trade rank in the Nuggets history of big trades? It's premature to answer the second question, but not the first.
I wasn't the only amateur Nuggets historian to look at the Carmelo Anthony trade through the lens of Nuggets history. The Denver Post's Woody Paige likened the deal to when then-GM Vince Boryla boldly shipped All-Star scorer Kiki Vandeweghe to Portland for Fat Lever, Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper and a first round pick prior to the 1984-85 season, as did Irv Moss this morning. And last week legendary Nuggets player/former coach Dan Issel questioned where Melo - by prematurely cutting short his own Nuggets career - will rank among the great Nuggets of all time and whether or not Melo will have jersey retired in Denver.
In regards to where the trade will eventually rank, that all depends on how the Nuggets do in this and future postseasons. With the Nuggets winning five of seven "post-Melo" games while Melo's Knicks are playing just over .500 ball, it's easy to suggest that the Nuggets are better off without #15.
But not so fast.
I don't think there's any doubt that the Nuggets are better off without the disgruntled and distracted Melo that cost us about five winnable games before he got traded. But an engaged and enthusiastic Melo - along with Chauncey Billups - was a large part of why the Nuggets got within two games of the NBA Finals in 2009 and were within earshot of the Lakers last season before head coach George Karl was struck with cancer.
Moreover, the Nuggets are feeding off a post-trade euphoria that will eventually fade away. So while we should applaud them for impressively beating the Celtics in Denver and the Jazz in Salt Lake City en route to that 5-2 "post-Melo" record, let's talk about just how good this trade is after they play at Atlanta, at New Orleans, at Orlando and at Miami before month's end.
Additionally, the Melo trade has some stiff competition among the great trades in Nuggets history. Nearing the end of the Nuggets' magical 2008-09 season, I wrote about "The five best trades in Nuggets history", with first being the brilliant swap in 1980 of an aging George McGinnis for Alex English and a first round pick and second being the aforementioned Vandeweghe for Lever/Natt/Cooper/first rounder. Were these post-Melo Nuggets to win 50-plus games next season and ascend to the conference finals, we can talk about this deal getting into that territory. But until then, all bets and proclamations are off.
The retiring of Melo's jersey number is a different matter altogether. It's easy in the aftermath of a trade like this - especially one where the star player forced the trade - to say "good riddance!" and never welcome the player back. But that would be ignoring the seven-plus great seasons that we got out of Melo during his tenure in Denver, a span that produced the most regular season wins for any seven-and-a-half year stretch of the Nuggets' NBA history and saw Melo finish as the Nuggets' third all-time leading scorer, eighth all-time leading rebounder, sixth all-time steals leader and third all-time free throws made leader.
Do I like the way Melo handled his departure from Denver? Hell, no! He strung along Nuggets fans for more than a half season and became a colossal distraction in the Nuggets locker room while secretly conspiring to go to the Knicks. But at the very least, by hand-picking his next destination during the season as opposed to after it, Melo enabled the Nuggets to get the best deal possible for their lone superstar - i.e. he didn't "LeBron" us. And for that he deserves a morsel of credit.
So while I wouldn't race to hang Carmelo Anthony's #15 alongside English's #2, Issel's #44, David Thompson's #33, Byron Beck's #40 and Doug Moe's #432 anytime soon, it ultimately belongs up there. After all, if the Jazz and Bucks could come to peace with Adrian Dantley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, respectively, and eventually retire their jerseys despite undergoing ugly divorces, so should the Nuggets after Melo retires 12 or so years from now.
A more interesting debate would be whether or not Billups' #1 jersey should be retired for his 259 games of service as a Nugget. That honor will likely bestowed upon Billups being that he's the greatest basketball player ever to be born and raised in Denver. But if Billups belongs up there, so does Lever who played a lot more meaningful games than Billups - and just a few games less than Thompson - but has never been properly honored by the Nuggets franchise. The last time I saw Lever at Pepsi Center was during the 2005 All-Star Game and he wasn't even given a decent seat.
Regardless of the historical ramifications of the Melo trade, these new-look Nuggets sure are fun to watch and root for. As indicated by the deluge of emails and texts I continue to receive from longtime Nuggets fans who are amped up about this team, Denver clearly tired of Carmelo Anthony's act. Most of these fans say the same thing: "I can't remember the last time I so much enjoyed watching the Nuggets play!"
Well, I can.
It was two years ago when the Nuggets were marching towards the NBA Finals. And Carmelo Anthony was a big part of that run.
Recent Nuggets blockbuster trade recalls Kiki deal in 1984 - The Denver Post
Irv Moss catches up with Boryla about that brilliant 1984 trade that sent Vandeweghe to Portland for Lever, Natt, Cooper and two draft picks.
Issel finds peace after turmoil of NBA - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
Marc Spears catches up with Dan Issel who has gone from coach to church leader.
Denver Nuggets have gon 5-1 since Carmelo Anthony trade - NBA - SI.com
George Karl raves about his new-look Nuggets (while simultaneously insulting the Melo-led Nuggets). I'd prefer Karl to keep his mouth shut and let the final record speak for itself.
Frei: Carmelo Anthony is just not that good - The Denver Post
Terry Frei resurfaces to bash on what he calls the "Melo Myth."
Hochman: Favors big addition for rival Jazz - The Denver Post
While Karl raves about his Nuggets, the Jazz rave about the acquisition of Derrick Favors...the rookie big man the Nuggets were hoping to get from New Jersey.
Melo: Denver success 'takes pressure off me' - Knicks Blog - ESPN New York
"I watch the games. I see they're doing well," Anthony said. "That's good. That takes the pressure off of me man. Just this whole situation it worked out for both organizations."
Paige: Nuggets can only hope 1984 knocks on their door - The Denver Post
Woody Paige reminds Nuggets fans of the last time the franchise sent a star scorer for a collection of solid role players. Of course, two of those role players turned out to be All-Stars.
From the Archives...
Breaking down the Dan Issel Administration (Part 3 in a 5-Part Series)... - Denver Stiffs
But before feeling too sympathetic for Issel, I encourage Stiffs to re-read my breakdown of the Issel Administration. Issel may have been a great player and a great coach (during his first stint), but his reign as team president and coach in the late 1990s set us back for years to come.