The will-or-won't-Melo-stay-in-Denver story has divided Nuggets fans, made a mockery of the national media and brought thousands of new readers to Denver Stiffs. It's been an interesting week to say the least...
A month ago, I introduced a new verb into our basketball-laden lexicon: LeBron'd. In my column at that time, I openly stated that I wasn't confident Carmelo Anthony would re-sign Denver's generous $65 million contract extension (which is really $83.5 million if you include his player option 2011-12 season) and suggested that a Melo waffle could/should lead to preparations for a post-Melo world in Denver. That angle received little attention beyond this site as Melo was on his honeymoon and hadn't publicly commented on the extension offer.
That all changed this past Monday.
On Monday, the Denver Post's Chris Dempsey and Nuggets.com's Aaron Lopez caught up with Melo at his Highlands Ranch-based basketball camp and finally got #15 on the record regarding his future in Denver. As if he was taking line reads from the LeBron James' playbook, Melo said: "...at this point in time, I have to do what's best for me and my family. I'm just taking my time, figuring out if I want to take that extension or not."
For the skeptics like Dempsey and myself, the dots could finally be connected pointing to a likely Melo departure: the house for sale in Littleton, the purchase of a home in Los Angeles, the marriage to a Brookyln-born, Hollywood-loving celebrity (just look at this picture of Melo's wife with Clippers owner Donald Sterling) and, finally, the publicly ambiguous, anything-but-reassuring comments about staying in Denver. It was starting to feel very Cleveland-esque around town and Melo was clearly cognizant of this, Tweeting late Monday: "Funny how people come up with there [sic] own analysis of a situation. I tell you boy....... Unbelievable."
But as it turns out, we were just getting started.
Early Tuesday, CBS Sports' Ken Berger already had Melo leaving Denver and by Tuesday afternoon Berger's colleague (and my Blogs with Balls conference buddy) Matt Moore had Melo wearing a Knicks jersey. Not wanting to be left out in all the fun, ESPN's Ric Bucher - who confidently boasted that "Kobe Bryant has played his last game in a Lakers uniform" prior to the 2007-08 season - regurgitated what everyone else already knew, and had already reported, when citing Chris Paul's infamous toast at Melo's wedding as "proof" that Melo and the Nuggets will be parting ways.
Then on Wednesday, things got really bizarre. The legendarily incompetent con-artist Isiah Thomas guaranteed that Melo would become a Knick. SI.com's Chris Mannix "reported" that multiple sources told SI that Melo is open to a long-term deal with the Nets or Rockets. (The Rockets? Really?) And not to be outdone, the New York Post's Lenn Robbins "reported" that, according to a Melo confidant, #15 has his heart set on playing in New York and believes he'd be a better fit for the Knicks than LeBron would have been. If I wanted "reporting" like this, I'd read the Weekly World News.
To top things off, Melo himself - or whomever controls his Twitter account - re-tweeted my open letter to the Nuggets' best player since Alex English in which I served up my case for why Denver might be the best fit after all. A few hours later, the re-tweet in question was deleted, presumably because Melo or whomever re-tweeted it finally bothered to read the whole letter...a heartfelt yet admittedly sarcastic case for why Melo's hunt for championships should take place in Denver.
And then on Thursday, the Post's Benjamin Hochman finally got some current Nuggets to go on the record regarding the ordeal. As reported by Hochman, head coach George Karl said he hopes this Melo stuff is just "summer talk", while Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin made a startling statement by saying: "Personally, my thinking is — I can't see where we got better this summer. Al (Harrington) is cool...but I can't see how we got better. You know, I'm going to be out and (Andersen) is going to be out...so did we get better? I can't say that we did." Gee, thanks for the confidence boost, K-Mart - it's a good thing you're not in charge of Nuggets season ticket sales.
It should also be noted that the Knicks allegedly offered a "package" of Eddy Curry's expiring contract, Danilo Galinari and a future first rounder to the Nuggets which was rightfully rejected here in Denver.
Meanwhile, throughout the week each of the Post's three columnists offered three separate opinions. Mark Kiszla reported that Nuggets management won't get "LeBron'd" as Cleveland did in early July. Dave Krieger suggested that it's Melo himself who holds all the cards here (which I respectfully disagree with). And Woody Paige advised the Nuggets to stand pat and see how the season plays out, considering that this team is just two years removed from almost making the NBA Finals.
Boy, what a week.
So where do we go from here?
As I see it, the Nuggets essentially have three options:
1) Treat Melo like the Lakers treated Kobe Bryant in the summer of 2007. This means that the Nuggets would essentially entertain trade offers while secretly refusing to budge on any deal whatsoever while hoping that the team gets off to a good start, hoping that a Pau Gasol-esque miracle deal becomes available in exchange for K-Mart's expiring contract before the trade deadline, hoping that the team has a deep playoff run and hoping Melo ultimately stays in town because of all the good things happening here. The problem, of course, is that that's a lot of hope and the franchise would be saddled with the salaries stemming from any possible K-Mart deal whether Melo stays or not. In other words, a huge gamble.
2) Trade Melo to the highest bidder. If it's in fact true that Melo and his management team have served up four to five possible cities/franchises to Nuggets management for relocation, the Nuggets actually find themselves in an advantageous position. Simply put, in this scenario the Nuggets can take whatever the best deal is for their lone superstar player and start rebuilding for the future.
3) Trade Melo regardless of how many teams are bidding. This might sound insane on the face of it, but the Nuggets could elect to avoid the looming distraction and trade Melo for whatever they can get however paltry the return value might be.
After giving this much thought and allowing the dust to settle a bit, I'm standing by what I said on Monday which is consistent with the second scenario above: IF Melo indeed has no intention of staying in Denver (which, to be clear, no one knows for certain yet), it behooves the Nuggets to trade him now while they actually have some leverage. But, it doesn't mean they have to trade Melo no matter what. As has been reported by the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, the Knicks probably don't have enough to coax the Nuggets into a deal, meaning the Nuggets are better off waiting things out than panicking with a Knicks deal. I agree with this strategy wholeheartedly.
If Carmelo Anthony truly wants to play elsewhere and do so while getting the maximum amount of dollars and guaranteed years that could come to him with the offered extension, he and his team are going to have to play ball with Denver. Eddy Curry's expiring contract, Danilo Galinari and/or Wilson Chandler and a meaningless future first round pick aren't worth trading Melo now. Sorry, New York. Conversely, getting Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and a first round pick for Melo would be a great deal considering the circumstances. As would be any Clippers package possibly including Blake Griffin.
Neither the Denver Nuggets nor Carmelo Anthony nor a possible recipient team of Melo's talents are going to have their cake and eat it too. IF Melo is ultimately traded, the Nuggets won't get fair market value but could at least come close. IF Melo is insistent on leaving Denver with his max money, he'll have to settle for losing good players from the receiving team and pass on being a Knick altogether. And IF Melo is traded, whomever acquires him will have to deal with building around #15 sans a few good players now wearing Nuggets uniforms. For some reason, the national (not local) media doesn't seem to grasp all this as they start picking out Melo's locker inside Madison Square Garden for the 2010-11 campaign. And it certainly doesn't help that most of them have an unhealthy East Coast, and specifically New York, bias.
I guess the bottom line for me is that if Carmelo Anthony really wants to be a Knick, he'll have to wait until the 2011-12 season (if it ever happens) and play for about $30 million less in a city with obnoxiously high tax rates and living expenses. In the meantime, in a wait-and-see scenario Nuggets fans would get their eighth-straight playoff appearance and hope for the best thereafter.
After digesting all this nonsense all week long, the Nuggets' position seems pretty clear me. It's Melo's position that remains up in the air.