Whether or not the Carmelo Anthony Era in Denver is actually over, it should be.
LeBron James ended his Cleveland career by looking disinterested while taking a dive when his Cavaliers teammates needed him most.
Carmelo Anthony will end his Denver career by looking disinterested while chucking as many shots as possible on his way off the Nuggets roster.
I've used the "senioritis" analogy many times as the never-ending Melodrama continues to unfold, but if ever Melo looked like a high school senior just going through the academic motions after knowing where he's going to college, it was his Wednesday performance against the Bucks. With a blank stare on his face as he took a season-high 30 shots - many of which were the "tough two's" that head coach George Karl hates - Melo looked as distant from his coaching staff and teammates as ever. Save for a great late-game block (that was wrongly credited to Kenyon Martin), Melo's defense was non-existent, he routinely posted up in spots designated for his teammates and he dished out a mere two assists.
As reported Tuesday by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Melo has become an island unto himself among his teammates, both in the locker room and on the floor. To me, Melo's performance against the Bucks was as surreal to watch as LeBron's final appearance in a Cavaliers uniform against the Celtics in last year's playoffs. And the Nuggets organization, the current cast of players and coaches, and us fans shouldn't have to put up with this nauseating side show any longer.
It's time for Melo to go.
And it's time for the Nuggets to get reinvented soon after the structure of the NBA itself is reinvented.
I'm not going to kick Carmelo Anthony (too much) on his way out the door in Denver. He gave us seven-and-a-half great seasons (even by the Nuggets low standards for success) while spearheading the Nuggets to their second Golden Era since the franchise joined the NBA in 1976 as one of four ABA holdovers. Say what you want about Melo's lack of defensive prowess or inability to get teammates involved, but during Melo's tenure the Nuggets have won games...a lot of games. Furthermore, whenever Melo was on the court the Nuggets were a threat to win...something we couldn't say for 10 years before Melo joined the team. Were Melo not to be hijacking the 2010-11 season with his (alleged) trade demand to New York, the Nuggets would be in the midst of their fourth-straight 50-win season right now. To put that success in perspective, prior to Melo's arrival in 2003 the Nuggets had only won at least 50 games just twice since joining the NBA, and never consecutively.
So let's thank Melo for his time in Denver and wish him the best in New York, or wherever he ends up.
In the meantime, let's root for Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke to get a reasonable deal done that's favorable to Denver considering the limited deck with which they have to play. As crazy as it sounds, Ujiri's and Kroenke's patience (regardless if their patience was strategic or forced upon them for not getting a deal done sooner) just might pay off. The Knicks are fooling themselves if they think a single player on their roster not named Amar'e Stoudemire is untouchable in a possible Melo deal. And the Nets are fooling themselves if they don't think a few first-round picks aren't worth becoming a relevant team in the Eastern Conference overnight. For both New York market teams to be desperate and at the bargaining table willing to deal can only be good for Denver.
Now it's time to get a deal done.
Save for taking back an insultingly stupid package like Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer and a meaningless first-round pick from the Knicks, the Nuggets should do whatever it takes to move Melo before Thursday's trade deadline expires. No deal will come with satisfactory compensation for the best Nugget since Alex English played here, but Melo's shoot-first and ask-no-questions-later approach to games lately will do the Nuggets no good in the short or long run, will continue to divide the locker room and will land the Nuggets in the Western Conference playoff cellar with no upside on the other end of the pending lockout. And Melo's astonishing self congratulatory attitude throughout all this will only turn off the Denver fan-base, his teammates and head coach more than it already has. In case you weren't already aware, Melo can be a pretty selfish and self-centered dude.
To preserve our memory of the good times we had with #15 in a Nuggets jersey and get back to the (enter sarcasm) good old days when the NBA Draft Lottery was the biggest annual event to take place in Nuggets Nation, Melo must be traded soon after All-Star weekend. And I believe he will. Just like when Jason Kidd entered the 2008 All-Star weekend as a Net even though the entire basketball world knew he'd be a Maverick within days after the All-Star Game, I suspect Melo will follow a similar pattern and be a Knick - or a Net - by Thursday.
The life of a Nuggets fan is a most torturous one. Just two seasons ago, we were teased within two games of appearing in the NBA Finals. And now, with virtually the same roster in-tact (plus improvements like Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo on board) we're heading for a roster overhaul guaranteed to make the team worse for the foreseeable future. But this fan is ready to watch the Nuggets take a few steps back in order to leap many steps forward down the road.
Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has been crucified among many of the readers here for not doing more last summer to keep Chauncey Billups, Nene, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Afflalo for next season. Those on that side of the argument claim that Melo is deathly afraid of the Nuggets going the way of the financial austere Avalanche, as if had Kroenke taken care of Melo's teammates over the summer, Melo would be more apt to stay in Denver. But I've never bought that argument.
I have news for you, Nuggets fans: Melo doesn't want to be a Nugget any longer and it has nothing to do with the uncertainty surrounding the roster, just as LeBron (who was from the Cleveland area for Chrissakes!) didn't want to be a Cavalier any longer, and it had nothing to do with who the Cavs had at head coach or in the front office. And look at Cleveland today. They fired a damn good coach and a decent general manager just to appease their now departed star. The result? A 26-game losing streak and the role as NBA laughingstock (although they did beat the Lakers...something anyone can do these days apparently).
And thus, from a business perspective I don't blame Kroenke for not re-signing Melo's teammates under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) because it wouldn't have made a difference to Melo anyway. Moreover, a new "rate card" for player salaries is coming on the other side of the NBA's pending lockout which behooves Kroenke to hold onto his wallet until those rates are established.
Anyone who follows the NBA closely knows that the league's current - and very broken - revenue system and flawed CBA with its players penalizes small-market teams like the Nuggets the most. Why should Kroenke double down on a roster going nowhere within a system that has to be remade? If anything, by trading Melo (something the Nuggets are being forced to do, make no mistake about it) and hording cap space, the Nuggets could be quite competitive on the other side of the lockout when a hard cap, a 30%-40% salary reduction and a franchise tag could all be in place. If Ujiri and the younger Kroenke can't keep the Nuggets in the playoff hunt under the NBA's next CBA, we can - and should - criticize them all we want. But the system as-is is rigged in the favor of the Lakers, Bulls, Mavericks and Knicks who can outspend the Nuggets for an eternity. Let's see how the Nuggets' brass does when it's a fair fight among all 30 NBA teams. Nevermind the fact that both Kroenkes are basketball-obsessed (unfortunately for Avs fans, they're certainly not hockey-obsessed).
A lot of eras will be ending soon in Denver. First, the Melo Era will come to an end...probably by next Thursday. Following Melo's departure, the era of Stan Kroenke spending whatever it takes to keep the Nuggets competitive (lest we forget that the Nuggets currently have the NBA's fifth-highest payroll) goes, too. Then, the NBA's era of poisonous guaranteed contracts, soft caps and players dictating their destinations will end, too.
Like his pal LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony is exerting his right to do whatever he wants within a system that is very player-friendly...even if it screws the fans. As a fan of a small market team, I look forward to the day when the LeBrons and Carmelos of the basketball world are more appreciative of the organizations and fans who pay their exorbitant salaries, rather than forcing owners, coaches and fans to kiss their coddled asses while begging them to take those richer-than-god salaries.
The NBA's era of financial austerity is coming soon. The Melodrama is just another step in the storyline of how we'll ultimately get there. On the other side of all this, I hope we'll have a roster that Denver fans can really support while ownership isn't hemorrhaging millions of dollars just to hold it together. And while we're almost guaranteed to lose an entire year of NBA basketball in order to get there, at least we won't have to go through anything like the Melodrama again.
Carmelo Anthony won't be the last player to hijack his small market franchise by politicking to play in a sexier market, just as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn't the first when he jettisoned the Bucks for the Lakers in 1975. But with a new system in place, the NBA should be able to mitigate these circumstances and get us back to a time when a player was happy just to be making enough money to live wherever he wanted...in the offseason.