Not long after the Denver Nuggets traded perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks on February 22, 2011 the trade appeared to be a win-win for both franchises. The Nuggets finished out that season by winning 17 of their final 24 games and finished with 50 wins, while the Knicks - with Anthony on board - squeaked into the playoffs after a six-year absence after winning seven straight towards the end of the season. After a lockout-shortened 2011-12 season that returned both teams to the playoffs, the Knicks and Nuggets each had historically great regular seasons in 2012-13. Anthony led the Knicks to 54 wins, the franchise's highest win total in 16 seasons. Meanwhile, the "Anthony-less" Nuggets won an NBA franchise record 57 wins, boosted by an astounding 39-3 home record.
The conclusion of both teams' 2012-13 campaigns were met with playoff disappointment. Anthony's Knicks squandered home court advantage and lost to the 49-win Indiana Pacers in the second round while our Nuggets, placing third in the Western Conference, lost in the first round to the sixth-seeded, 47-win Golden State Warriors.
Little has gone right for either team since then.
The following season - 2013-14 - saw the Nuggets plummet from 57 wins to 36 while the Knicks won just 37. Last season was even uglier, with the Nuggets mustering a mere 30 wins and the Knicks "winning" a franchise record low 17 games. This season, the Nuggets are on pace to match last season's 30 wins while the Knicks should get to about 33 victories. Adding insult to injury for the Knicks, the Nuggets get the better of the two teams' lottery selections this summer (the final piece from the Anthony trade) and the Knicks pick goes to Toronto, thanks to their failed acquisition of Andrea Bargnani.
Both teams have gone through four coaches since Anthony's departure from Denver, with the Nuggets churning through George Karl, Brian Shaw, Melvin Hunt and Michael Malone while the Knicks have had Mike D'Antoni, Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis manning their roster. From a record perspective, since "the trade" the Knicks have gone 184-220 (.455) while the Nuggets have gone 203-196 (barely break even at .508). And while the Knicks continue to sellout every game, the Nuggets have sunk to be among the bottom in the NBA for home attendance.
Why these two franchises have struggled so much since "the trade" is too long a story to reprint here. But looking forward, unless great fortune smiles upon each team soon NBA irrelevancy appears to be in the cards for another few seasons in both New York and Denver.
Certainly, both teams lucked out in the 2015 NBA Draft when the Knicks and Nuggets astutely drafted future NBA stars in Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay, respectively. And with the Nuggets getting the better of the two franchise's lottery selections in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Nuggets could potentially luck out again - either with a top-three selection or by nailing another pick in the seven to nine range where Mudiay was drafted last summer. The Knicks have no such luck on the near horizon, but they do have an attractive market and could be among the biggest beneficiaries of the out-sized salary cap space coming to NBA teams this summer thanks to the new television contract with ABC/ESPN and Turner kicking in.
That said, even though I'm a big fan of Porzingis and Mudiay I'm not optimistic about either team's immediate future, which makes Tuesday's matchup between the Knicks and Nuggets on the Pepsi Center floor so interesting. Yes, it has been five years since Anthony last donned a Nuggets uniform, but the two teams will be connected for as long as Anthony (now in his 13th NBA season - egads!) plays. And even though I openly warned Anthony back in 2010 about what a disaster the Knicks situation would be for him, it has taken until now for Anthony to get introspective about the franchise's struggles on his watch. Denver might not be as sexy as New York, but Anthony had a better basketball situation here and, down deep, the nine-time All-Star must now know that.
So when Anthony steps onto the Pepsi Center floor this Tuesday evening representing a 26-win New York Knicks team that's about to play against a 25-win Denver Nuggets team, I wonder what he'll be thinking. Will he be thinking about the seven consecutive playoff appearances (including one conference finals appearance) that he made in the tough Western Conference while playing for the Nuggets, the team that drafted and developed him? Will he be thinking about what could have been in Denver, had he just been patient and built upon the playoff success that found him during the latter part of his Denver tenure? Or will he be thinking about his remaining few productive NBA seasons, and whether or not New York is the place where he can actually win a playoff series again?
As a die-hard Nuggets fan who credits Anthony for three things - putting the Nuggets back on the NBA map upon his arrival in 2003, guiding the Nuggets to seven-straight playoff appearances and giving the Nuggets ample time to trade him in 2011 (unlike his peers LeBron James and Chris Bosh who bailed on their franchises without giving them time to make a deal) - it's always fun to watch him return to Denver. Anthony represents some of the best seasons in Nuggets franchise history and seeing him in an opposing jersey also represents our future which, like New York's, is still a long way away from being bright.