My collegue here at Denver Stiffs, Andrew Feinstein, suggested in his latest piece that, "if Melo waffles on signing the extension ... the Nuggets may have to do one more right thing and trade Melo while they can." While I agree that Denver should do something if Melo doesn't re-sign, I don't think anyone will be happy with the options.
Before we start ... I'm totally getting ahead of myself with any kind of trade talk involving Carmelo Anthony, but Melo's contract status is a hot topic and I feel the need to weigh in.
Most Nuggets fans remember in the summer of 1996 when Dikembe Mutombo signed with the Atlanta Hawks. Not only was Mount Mutombo leaving the Nuggets, but even worse Denver received nothing in return for their All-Star center. But in today's NBA, teams almost always get at least something for their departing free agents because of the way the current collective bargaining agreement works. With the sign-and-trade tool, players like LeBron James and Chris Bosh can use the loophole where they "re-sign" with their former team for the more money and years than the team they are switching to is allowed to offer and then they are "traded." So, Cleveland and Toronto gave into their hard-stances that they wouldn't do sign-and-trades in order for their teams not to get Mutombo'd. (Stealing the LeBron'd type phrase from Feinstein.)
Now for some gruesome truth that might become reality ...
If Melo decides to leave the Nuggets in free agency (assuming Denver doesn't trade him before it reaches that point) it's almost a foregone conclusion that Denver wont get Mutombo'd again because Melo will certainly want the money attached that a sign-and-trade can bring him. Now, Miami didn't really pay a high price to Cleveland or Toronto as they didn't have to give up any players (probably good since they didn't have anyone to trade) in the deals, so it doesn't really bode well for the Nuggets to let things get to the same point Cleveland and Toronto did.
It's not really looking too good for Denver if they do decide to ship #15 out of town, if he doesn't re-sign with the team. A lot of you reading this might be thinking ... "Melo would bring back all sorts of talent in a trade!" Guess what ... I don't think that's the case and the reason is because Melo has a pretty good stranglehold on the situation.
The rage these past couple of days around the League has centered around Chris Paul aka CP3 aka Mr. Flop. Fans on this site, as well as on other sites, can't believe Paul has the audacity to leak a list of his preferred teams to the media. Well, unlike Melo, Paul doesn't have nearly the gripe on the Hornets that he needs at this point. New Orleans can pretty much trade him wherever they like because he's under contract for next season as well as for the 2011-12 season, with a player option season coming for the 2012-13 season (that's the one he will more than likely tear up if he's not on a team of his approval). So if you trade for Paul now, you'll get him for all of the upcoming season as well as however much of the 2011-12 season that is played (depending on how the lockout plays out). So the Hornets have some options and the first one is to try to convince Paul that the team is heading in the right direction with a new general manager and head coach.
The Nuggets are also in a similar boat with Melo as they are looking to improve the team for a championship run and let's face it, to make the team a competitive one that Melo wants to play for. Now, let's pretend the worst happens ... Melo wants out and he's doing enough behind the scenes to show the front office that he's serious. This situation would likely cause the team to start looking for trade partners while at the same time trying to keep it as quiet as possible, you know, like when you're in a crowded room and feel a little gassy and you know if you can keep it quiet people may smell it and look around to see who else notices, but they don't have that "WHOA!" reaction with an abrupt head turn. (I had to call my buddy for this reference because I've never been in that kind of situation myself and he eats a lot of fried foods.)
But let's face it, once the Nuggets fart they may as well grab a trumpet and announce to the league that Melo is on the trade block. Denver might be able to go to a few select teams that Melo approves and keep things pretty quiet, but he's too big of a star not to have some leaks. Are you thinking, "Teams that Melo approves?!?!...Denver can send him wherever they like!" I don't think that's true.
Melo is only under for the 2010-11 season as he has a Player Option season for the 2011-12 season (no duh Nate!). What does this mean? It means that if Denver is pushed to look for a trade during the season then the team that wants to trade for him will want some assurance that they are not just renting Melo for the remainder of the 2010-11 season, they will likely want Melo to sign an extension with them before completing any trade with Denver. What does that mean? It means Denver's list of trade partners now looks like I would after going one-round with UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. About the only hope Denver has is it that a general manager crazy enough to think he can convince Melo to stick around after a trade - comes knocking on the door. What's that ... Billy King is back in the NBA and running the New Jersey Nets?!?!
Now, a couple other hurdles the Nuggets have to overcome.
1.) Teams will not want to gut their roster to get Melo because we'll presume he will want to go somewhere that he can win or to a team that has a star in place to play alongside of ... so he wont be inking an extension with the like of the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies.
2.) Teams will not want to give up a King's Ransom for Melo if they think they can sign him in the offseason. Again the Heat only had to part with draft picks and trade exceptions to land James and Bosh as they already had the two committed to sign with the team.
And let's toss in a third part to this equation ...
3.) Since we deal in conspiracy theories on Denver Stiffs (right Laker fans?) we'll have to assume there could be a hint of truth to the did he or didn't he Chris Paul wedding toast rumor that Paul, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Melo could form their own StarTrio in New York ... if this is the case then the Hornets could strike a deal with the Knicks first and take all their assets, leaving the Knicks waiting on Melo in free agency, thus leaving the Nuggets getting Mutombo'd or something close to it.
Okay, now the Nuggets have to find a trade partner ... the list as I see it includes the following teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic.
Not the most extensive list and not one with the jewels you would hope for. Melo is due $17.1 million this season so let's run through some Melo for trade possibilities just so you get a sense of what the Nuggets are facing. I'm not combining Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, or any other players in the deal from the Nuggets perspective and I'm not making a list of players I want, but players I think teams would be willing to part with in order to land Melo somewhat on the cheap because let's face it, if Denver is forced to trade Melo they wont get back equal value.
Los Angeles Lakers:
Andrew Bynum $13.8 million + 2 more years and roughly $31.5 million
Sasha Vujacic $5.4 million expiring contract
Any 1st Round draft picks as they own all their future picks
Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Kaman $11.3 million + 1 more year at $12.2 million
Al Farouq-Aminu $2.5 million + 3 more years of roughly $9.3 million and a qualifying offer of $5 million
Randy Foye $4.2 million + 1 more season of $4.2 million
Any 1st Round draft picks as they own all their future picks
Minnesota's 1st Round pick in 2011 (protected Top 10), unprotected in 2012.
Luol Deng $11.3 million + 3 more years of roughly $39 million (BARF!)
Kyle Korver $5 million
Any 1st Round picks
2012 Charlotte Bobcats 1st Round pick (heavily protected)
Kevin Martin $11.1 million + 2 more years of roughly $24.9 million
Patrick Patterson $1.8 million
Jared Jeffries $6.8 million expiring
Trevor Ariza $6.3 million + 3 more years of roughly $21.6 million
Any 1st Round picks
2011 New York Knicks 1st Round pick (right to swap, 1st Overall protected) VALUE!
2012 New York Knicks 1st Round pick (heavily protected)
New Jersey Nets
Travis Outlaw $7 million + 3 more years of roughly $21 million
Derrick Favors $4.1 million + 3 more years of roughly $15.1 million and Qualifying Offer of $7.8 million
Kris Humphries $3.2 million expiring
Courtney Lee $1.3 million + 1 more year of $2.2 million and Qualifying Offer of $3.2 million
Any 1st Round Picks
2012 Golden State Warriors 1st Round pick (heavily protected)
New York Knicks
Eddy Curry $11.2 million expiring
Kelenna Azubuike $3.3 million expiring
Danilo Gallinari $3.3 million + 1 year roughly $4.9 million and Qualifying Offer of $5.5 million
No 1st Round picks until 2013 as they owe the Rockets their 2011 and 2012 picks
Vince Carter $17.3 million expiring
Any 1st Round picks (will be low since they are a playoff team)
Not a very pretty list above, but I don't see Melo assuring any other teams that he'd sign an extension with them before a trade and the Clippers are REALLY pushing it to be on the list. I'm sure there will be arguments with the list above and with the players that could be had for Melo, but again ... he really does have the Nuggets by the throat in a sense because of his impending free agency. A team making a playoff push could be talked out of some young talent if they think they are in the title hunt and want to rent Melo to increase their chances and hey, John Salmons re-signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in that scenario last season as he was traded near the deadline from the Bulls to the Bucks.
What do the Nugget have going in their favor? Quite a bit actually. For all the hype we hear that Melo wants to head back to the East Coast ... it's just that - H.Y.P.E. I'm a bit more stressed that he bought a house in Los Angeles, but stressed is too strong of a word. Also, all the public backlash towards James could help Melo realize that that doing something for one team could cement his legacy and set him apart from his 2004 draft class buddies. Having Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson come out and say they would not have formed a SuperFriends team could also play a role in Melo's decision as there is no doubt he respects both NBA legends.
I'm also not totally sold on the fact that Melo would want another Lakers situation on his hands ... meaning why go play for the Eastern Conference and chance having to get past the Miami Heat every year just to get to the Finals when you could stay out West and beat SuperFriends for the title.
There is no doubt that small market fans are in a frenzy right now. The Raptors got burned, the Cavaliers got burned, and now it appears that Hornet fans might get burned as well. The Melo situation will have a magnifying glass on it because it could prove to be a final dagger in small market fans' hearts. People will look around and say for every Kevin Durant there is a Dwyane Wade (the orchestrator), a LeBron James, a Chris Bosh, a Chris Paul, and perhaps a Carmelo Anthony that tore out their fanbases' soul. Fans in small markets wont want the Superstars because of the fear they will leave.
What would happen if fans started rooting for team play over Superstars? Could the era of the Superstar be over? Have fans been giving too much credit to individual players all this time without realizing that great teams always prevail over great players?
It's always been about finding the right mix of players to create the best team. The Nuggets have been trying to find that winning combination since they moved from the ABA to the NBA and whether Melo is here or not, the team will keep looking for that right mix.
It's funny to have to talk about Melo leaving now, but there is no time like the present right? I guess the surefire way to figure out if Melo is leaving town would be to place spies around tattoo parlors in the Denver area and if he's adding the words "LOYALTY" to his torso, the Nuggets better start working the phones ... whether we like what we get or not.
**NBA Traded Player Exception: If a team trades away a player with a higher salary than the player they acquire in return (we'll call this initial deal "Trade #1"), they receive what is called a Traded Player Exception, also known colloquially as a "Trade Exception". Teams with a trade exception have up to a year in which they can acquire more salary in other trades (Trade #2, #3, etc) than they send away, as long as the gulf in salaries for Trade #2, #3, etc are less than or equal to the difference in salary for Trade #1. This exception is particularly useful when teams trade draft picks straight-up for a player; since draft picks have no salary value, often the only way to get salaries to match is to use a trade exception, which allows trades to be made despite unbalanced salaries. It is also useful to compensate teams for losing free agents as they can do a sign and trade of that free agent to acquire a trade exception that can be used later. Note this exception is for single player trades only, though additional cash and draft picks can be part of the trade.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos Louis Lanzano