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Kelly Dwyer

The Denver Nuggets appear to be in trouble

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Carmelo Anthony(notes) never made a public trade demand last summer because he knew it would cost him. The NBA has taken to fining players who make trade demands through the media, and because the fee would run around the price tag of a nice German sedan, Anthony wisely did everything but ask to be traded.

We know what's up, though. And Anthony has discussed his plans, hopes and wishes with members of the Denver front office. Anthony has been candid to the media, admirably, in discussing everything but wanting to be traded. And his cadre of advisers, agents and unofficial representatives have time and time again leaked Carmelo's hopes for the future. New York or Chicago, and with a contract extension to sign this season, and not next season.

And the Denver Nuggets, for the most part, ran with the news. They attempted to work things out with Chicago, but were rebuffed in their attempts to land Joakim Noah(notes) (not sure why their salary cap analysts had them try, his poison pill status means Denver's incoming salary in any deal would be too much to handle legally). They tried with New York, but determined the Knicks just didn't have anything interesting to swing. But the Nets intrigued.

Payroll relief and enough spare parts to aid Denver in the second act of its rebuilding process -- the dealing of Chauncey Billups(notes). In return, the Nuggets would also get rookie Derrick Favors(notes), several draft picks and a head start on a rebuilding process that the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers (two teams that lost their franchise players last summer) still haven't fired up yet.

It was a good deal. The New Jersey Nets were giving up way too much, but they didn't mind because Anthony was the sort of marquee star you could build a following (if not a championship team) around. It wouldn't have been Denver's big Herschel Walker move, as none of those picks were going to bring a franchise-saving talent, but it was a start.

And, for whatever reason, it wasn't enough for the Nuggets.

They whined about the leaks. They wanted some other team to take on Al Harrington's(notes) contract when nobody asked the Nuggets to needlessly sign another jump-shooting, no-rebounding hybrid forward when they already had two (Anthony and Kenyon Martin(notes)) on the roster. And they never convinced Carmelo that New Jersey could be the place for him because the Nets won't be taking place in New Jersey for long.

The Nets' GM had a job to do, and that was to provide his superficial owner with a star he'd heard of at all costs. At some point, Billy King would have rolled the dice on trading for Anthony without the promise of a contract extension. This is the guy who traded for a one-legged Chris Webber. This is the guy who made a millionaire out of Willie Green(notes) several times over. This is a man who, while he might own the gravitas needed to make deals happen as a boss above all in this league, has a checkered past when it comes to actual basketball analytics.

But the Nuggets never took advantage. They whined. And the seat wouldn't go back far enough, and the connection is too slow, and I don't know why it's making me re-install Java, and I asked for no salt on my margarita, and you brought me salt ...

And now Denver's kind of stuck because the Knicks could find a first-round pick by trading Anthony Randolph(notes) and then ship picks, plus one of their talented wings (Danilo Gallinari(notes) or Wilson Chandler(notes)), plus Eddy Curry's(notes) expiring contract to Denver. But with Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov's very public dismissal of Anthony, leverage in this league is at an all-time low. Everyone knows what the Knicks are after with Randolph, a project whose game has rusted over since entering the NBA in 2008, and teams should be in no hurry to help the Knicks get their man.

If the Knicks get their man, what do the Nuggets get? Gallo? Chandler? Nice talents, sure, but the third- or fourth-best players on a playoff team. Nobody to build around. Nobody to add to a team that already has a cat to build around. Chicago is out, save for a desperate move involving a third or even fourth team brought in to make everyone happy, and Anthony has made it clear that he has no interest in signing anywhere else. This isn't about money, to him. Though he would like as much as you could possibly give him between now and the end of the season, if you wouldn't mind.

Perhaps the Nuggets can pull it off. Perhaps this isn't over, between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Perhaps this team could have more up its sleeve once the lockout ends and Anthony is still technically on Denver's payroll. I've been wrong many times before, and Denver still has chances to make this right.

But as it stands on Jan. 20, with the Nets taking their ball and going home? Denver looks like it screwed up.

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