September 03, 2010
The trick behind Carmelo Anthony(notes) is that, while so many of his faults and failings or sterling attributes and game-changing work can be looked at in a black and white way, they don't often extend to black and white results.
For instance, Carmelo has long been one of the NBA's more potent scorers, but he's also refused to take advantages of his gifts (a post-up game closer to the basket, a triple-threat position workout that doesn't result in a fadeaway 20-footer) for huge chunks of time, keeping him from consistently threatening to lead the league at the thing he's best at.
But, under George Karl at least, that's never really been the reason Denver falls short in games. Anthony has, for half a decade now, been one of the NBA's top clutch performers, one of its most potent and efficient scorers down the stretch. So he might tick you off by hitting front rim in the third quarter, but he'll win the game for you a half-hour later.
Carmelo Anthony has been a maxed-out player since the 2006 offseason, making huge gobs of money to fall short of coming through with the all-around sort of game you usually get from a LeBron James(notes), Kobe Bryant(notes) or Dwyane Wade(notes).
And yet, despite the somewhat-disproportional rate of money handed to Anthony in return for what he gives the Nuggets, he isn't the reason this team's payroll has been a mess for years. No, that would be the insane max contract handed to Kenyon Martin(notes) from a few years ago, and the draft picks that went with it. Or the years of paying Allen Iverson(notes) over $20 million to play for the Nuggets, something that led to owner Stan Kroenke backing off of the luxury tax over the last few years.
Carmelo? At the very least, he can be accused of terrible judgment. From the "Stop Snitching" appearance to his little slapfest in New York, to driving (quickly) under the influence, to the needless Twitter war with some groupie (geez, if a small potatoes like me can ignore jerks on my TweetDeck, what does it say about the guy with skills, an eight-figure deal and some pretty happenin' old V8s?), Anthony has consistently made poor and public off-court choices.
But they haven't affected his game, or his team's performance, in the slightest. Possibly for two games, when he was suspended to start 2008-09, when the Nuggets lost to the Jazz and beat the Clippers. But that's about it.
Because Carmelo Anthony isn't an all-around player like James, Bryant or Wade, he really hasn't been able to take a playoff team on his shoulders and lead them to a postseason round that they probably don't deserve. You're not going to see Melo grab the defensive rebound, drive coast-to-coast, and then pick up an and-one on the opposing team's big that puts the big on the bench and the Nuggies in the driver's seat, in some pivotal in-game run.
Still, Denver's iffy playoff record was a team accomplishment. They weren't better than the Timberwolves in 2004, the Spurs from 2005 to 2007, and the Lakers in 2008 and 2009. Those Nuggets teams didn't deserve to win, and the fault behind that goes throughout Denver's entire rotation. 2010? Yeah, they might have been better than the Utah Jazz. Probably were. But replacing George Karl with Adrian Dantley was a major step back for the Nuggets, and coaching issues are part of the "team accomplishment," both good and bad.
Carmelo might only score, but 28 points per game is 28 points per game. It's not put together in the most efficient manner, but all those points and the potency behind Carmelo and Chauncey Billups'(notes) late-game attack put Denver in a position to win, consistently. The Nuggets need Carmelo Anthony, as his gifts are worth desperately trying to acquire.
But, in a trade to Houston, New York or New Jersey? I'm not so sure.
Even if the deals are more or less one-sided -- Houston sends Kevin Martin(notes), Jordan Hill(notes), and Shane Battier(notes); New York sends Eddy Curry(notes) and Danilo Gallinari(notes), New Jersey sends Troy Murphy(notes) and Terrence Williams(notes) -- do these deals really put the Rockets, Nets or Knicks over the top?
Sure, the Rockets would get better with Luis Scola(notes) in his prime and Aaron Brooks(notes) working it and Yao Ming(notes) coming around. The Knicks fans would swear up and down that this is the next step toward securing Chris Paul(notes) (who, mind you, is under contract until 2012). And the Nets would have a pretty fearsome troika with Anthony, Brook Lopez(notes) and Devin Harris(notes) (and, if he pans out, Derrick Favors(notes)). But those teams don't scare me. Maybe New Jersey, if Favors turns into a borderline All-Star. But that's about it.
And, the scary thing for those teams? Anthony could hang around for merely a year.
I don't think he will. Carmelo wants to have his cake and eat it too; meaning he wants to play for a team that isn't in Denver, but he'd like the financial security of a major contract extension that only Denver (or a team Denver could trade Anthony to) could provide. And, as he did in 2006, he'll go for the most money possible. So even if he's traded to another "pretty good" situation like Houston, the Knicks or New Jersey, he'll sign for as long as he possibly can, even if it's with a team that could max out at 55 wins.
Denver, mind you, is under no obligation to make it anyone else's day beyond the Denver Nuggets' day. They could send him to Minnesota, Indiana, or any other team with a far more enticing stable of expiring contracts and young prospects than Houston, New York, New Jersey or (especially) the Los Angeles Clippers could provide.
Whatever the release, wherever the destination, however long his stay with a new team or with the Denver Nuggets, it's still just hard to see Carmelo Anthony being a significant part of a championship contender. A contender to be a contender, sure, because anything can happen in the spring and a team featuring Anthony could surprise its way into the final four or even the finals.
But a team to expect great things from? Hardly. Unless, somehow, Anthony manages a holding plan and we do see Paul somehow skeeve his way to the Knicks. That would be in 2012-13, mind you, because New York would have no other assets to send New Orleans' way that would come near trumping the deals other teams could offer the Hornets.
Because of Anthony's limitations, and because of the team he'd be traded to, this won't be an over-the-top move for either side. Same as it's been in Denver, for so long.
Same as it ever was, with Carmelo. Pretty good, but just not good enough.