73456_nuggets_trail_blazers_basketball_medium_mediumIt may only be a ceremonial gesture, but the Nuggets should do the right thing and offer Carmelo Anthony a max contract extension this summer.

LeBron James may have “suckered” Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony into attending Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, but by showing up at Staples Center our friends Chris Tomasson and Benjamin Hochman were able to get Melo on record about an assortment of topics.

Reporting for Fanhouse and the Denver Post, respectively, Tomasson and Hochman wrote Monday that Melo has not yet been offered a contract extension by the Nuggets and even if offered one, he may not be inclined to sign it. In other words, Melo’s 2010-11 campaign could be very similar to LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh‘s 2009-10 “will they stay or will they go?” season. Which will be very, very annoying for Nuggets fans.

As reported by Tomasson, Melo is being coy and non-committal about his future in Denver, saying: "Of course, if somebody's offering you an extension and I've been most loyal to Denver since I've gotten there.  But right now I've got to think about my family and me.  It's open for me right now.  It's up in the air. I haven't made any decisions as far as an extension or anything else.''  And really, I don't blame him.

But even though Melo will likely want to test the free agency waters in 2011 as his draft class peers are going to do after July 1st this summer, the Nuggets should offer him a max contract extension now anyway.  Melo may have his fair share of critics in Denver – me first and foremost – but his stamp on Nuggets basketball and the NBA is undeniable and doesn't go unnoticed among the fans here at Denver Stiffs.  Since arriving in 2003, the Nuggets are one of only three NBA teams to make the playoffs every year, and Melo deserves a lot of the credit for this era of consistency.  It's especially impressive considering that the Nuggets play in the always-loaded Western Conference.  Moreover, Melo possesses top-10 – and maybe top-five – playing ability, even if he doesn't tap into it as much as we'd like (notably in playoff closeout games, but we've belabored that argument around here enough for the time being).

As a general statement, max or near-max contracts scare the crap out of me. We only need to be reminded of the ghastly, financially crippling deals signed by the likes of Kenyon Martin, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Antoine Walker and so on to send any rational general manager running for the hills when it comes to free agency. Melo, however, is an exception because, quite frankly, he’s an exceptional player. In my opinion, only a handful of NBA players are worth “max money” at this stage of their careers: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, (soon to be) Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony. And no, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Danny Granger, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash don’t make the list (to be fair, due mostly to age in the cases of Duncan, Nowitzki and Nash).

And whether Melo re-signs with Denver this summer, this season, next summer or jumps ship altogether next summer, he's getting max money.  But, as pointed out by Tomasson, the definition of "max money" could be quite different next summer and Melo risks leaving money on the table by waiting too long.  With the NBA's collective bargaining agreement presumed to be renegotiated next summer while the owners lockout the players, it's likely that the max money available to star players like Melo could be less than it is today.  Thus, the looming lockout could be beneficial to the Nuggets when it comes to re-signing Carmelo Anthony.

Regardless of the technical logistics of re-signing Melo and the money possibly available to do so, the Nuggets should offer a max contract extension now for psychological reasons. For starters, it would show that the organization stands by it’s best player for the long term, a gesture Melo and his agent should appreciate. Secondly – and perhaps of equal importance – it would show Nuggets Nation that owner Stan Kroenke and his management team aren’t going to go cheap on the fans who fill their coffers, a la what Bernie Bickerstaff did in 1996 when he refused to give Dikembe Mutombo all-star caliber money. And thirdly, if Melo does indeed leave town in 2011, the organization can’t be faulted for doing what it took to retain their star player’s services when they had the chance to do so. Melo would be the bad guy in that latter scenario, not the organization.

Melo will inevitably play a wait-and-see game with the Nuggets this summer and this upcoming season to see if they're serious about winning a championship in Denver.  That's his right and I don't have a problem with him exercising that right.  But if the Nuggets want to demonstrate such seriousness, step one begins with a max contract extension offer to their best player.

Photo courtesy of AP: Don Ryan