Andrew Feinstein, Nate Timmons and myself (or yours-truly, depending on your grammatical point of view) have the unique and very absurd experience of being the sole writers at Denver Stiffs during what became known as the Melodrama. When star player Carmelo Anthony made it known to the Denver Nuggets front office that he would like to be traded, and refused to sign an extension that was presented to him (3 years $66 million).
Rather than go over the many mistakes and would’ve/could’ve of Melo’s tenure here in Denver, it’s probably best to talk about the aftermath of the trade. And how it set-back the perception of NBA basketball in the Mile High City. A city which already had 90% of it’s attention devoted to the local football team.
Pre-Melodrama, the closest the city of Denver came to feeling "rejected" by a player was the 1996 Dikembe Mutombo/Bernie Bickerstaff dust up (which played out all season). When Mutombo left for the Atlanta Hawks, in free agency ... for nothing in return, people in the city felt a bit rejected. Yet, the Nuggets were on the downhill slide. Many of Bickerstaff’s bizarre offseason decisions reinforced that he was no longer a competent General Manager and the blame (correctly, in my view) went to the erstwhile GM who resigned months later.
However, the "we can’t lose a player for nothing again" element remained. The lessons of the disastrous 1996 offseason permeated the air in the summer of 2010. It was hard to escape the shades of Mutombo when, in June of 2010 Mark Kiszla (through a leak from the Nuggets then-front office) said that Carmelo Anthony can be traded. And thus began eight months of excruciating pain. Leaks. False leaks. Misdirection. Management change (out was Mark Warkentein and Rex Chapman, in was Masai Ujiri) team ownership in flux (Josh Kroenke took operational control over the Nuggets from his father Stan Kroenke) and finally a successful trade to the New York Knicks in February 2011.
It was an extremely fascinating and equally troublesome time. Here at Stiffs Timmons, Feinstein and myself filtered through rumor after rumor. Heard some that were more substantial than others and generally just lived through the agony and blatant reality that Melo was (figuratively) flipping the bird at the city of Denver after nearly eight seasons to go to a sub par New York Knicks team. While there were mitigating circumstances and things weren’t as black and white as they appeared, to the average fan Melo was telling people to go eff themselves on the way out the door.
What has been worse is Melo’s revisionist history of his time in Denver. Not-so-subtle suggestions that the Nuggets held him back from being a great player. How his time in Denver was just "growing up" and of no more significance than his one year at Syracuse. It’s rather insulting to people who paid good money to watch Melo for eight years. Apparently that Western Conference Finals appearance in 2009 wasn’t worth as much as that one second round appearance in 2013 with the Knicks for Melo.
It’s affect on the city has been far reaching. A community that was already semi-distrustful of anything NBA after 1996 felt burned once again. Only in a very publicly humiliating way. For those that don’t remember the process to trade Melo drug out for months and months. The fact that the Nuggets managed to scrape together 50 wins that season was a remarkable feat. The traffic here on Denver Stiffs was at (and still remains) an all-time high during the trade drama because we were inunndated with people from New York/New Jersey almost daily. Imagine having to answer about every dumb rumor that came out of the NY/NJ market?
The Nuggets came away with an impressive haul in fleecing the Knicks but only Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are still here plus the pick swap in 2014, and Knicks pick in 2016 (Jamal Murray). Meanwhile, despite a one-year peak in 2012-13 with the fabled 57 win team (aided by another player who seemed like he didn’t really want to be here, Andre Iguodala, aka "The Mole") the teams actual attention from fans has been on the downhill run since Melo hightailed it out of town for greater exposure and less success.
If we are talking psychology, or at least psychoanalysis, the city of Denver has remained extremely scarred by their flawed star who said they weren’t good enough for him. In that way, I don’t really "blame" Denver for feeling the way they do. While I will be critical of the city’s undying obsession with the Denver Broncos when there are 4 major professional sports teams in town, it’s hard to blame people for feeling jilted.
Getting spectacularly rejected in the manner the Nuggets/city of Denver did is hard to let go.
I must be blunt, however. It’s very diminishing and a self-fulfilling prophesy to hang on to long-term resentment for going-on six seasons. There comes a point in time where you need to move on and really, that time is now. Not everyone is looking to the east coast like Melo, and that kind of below-the-surface resentment at professional athletes for making business choices when a team will trade/cut someone in the same ruthless manner a player can leave a team. Business is business and while hard feelings will no doubt happen ... it’s time to move on.
The same feeling that fueled this lingering resentment to Carmelo is the same that flared up when George Karl was fired. I’ve always felt Karl was a remnant of that Melo-era feeling for Nuggets fans. Regardless of the merits of what happened when Karl was fired (a case can be made both ways) there was a feeling that once Karl was gone, the last of the Melo-era fans in Denver drifted away like sand in the wind. Now people retreated back to the comfort of non-stop Broncos coverage and during the Nuggets struggles pretend they don’t exist.
What will happen if the Nuggets attain another star (cough, Jamal Murray, cough), will people take forever to come back? Who knows. From 1996-2003 the Nuggets were starless (aside from almost-star Antonio McDyess) and people drifted away. This feels different. This feels bitter. 2011-2016 feels angry and desolate.
Don’t waste your time anger at Carmelo Anthony and what he did to destroy a good thing, and keep in mind that good things can be built again. It just takes faith.