February 22, 2011
For a team that appears to have made a steal of a deal, the Denver Nuggets aren't looking too happy with their ill-gotten loot.
Six months worth of trade machinations has done nothing but overrate Carmelo Anthony's(notes) value around the league, but the Nuggets would still happily welcome even an unhappy Anthony back in an instant. He's not the most efficient or most potent of scorers, but Carmelo Anthony can put the ball in the hole, and he's been an underrated late-game mainstay for the Nugs for eight seasons. They're going to miss the guy.
And even if the Knicks overpaid for a player they could have had for a fraction of the cost once the 2011 offseason starts up, there's nothing in the deal for Denver that will turn this franchise around. Raymond Felton(notes) could be moved onto another team by Thursday night. Danilo Gallinari(notes) could jet as well. Wilson Chandler(notes) might leave as a free agent this summer. Timofey Mozgov(notes) is, at best, a work in progress. The Nuggets received real talent in return for Anthony, and they did well despite a trade market that should have left the team with absolutely no leverage. But rebuilding starts now. Without any franchise-saving parts to build around.
Denver will take in New York's 2014 first-round pick, but that's not much to look forward to, even if Isiah Thomas puppets his way toward a squad that makes the Stephon Marbury(notes)/Steve Francis/Jalen Rose/Eddy Curry(notes) Knicks look like a pass-five-times-and-set-shoot squad from your grandfather's time. At its core, New York will still have Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and Anthony to rely on, and no team featuring those two is going to fall into the high lottery.
The Nuggies will have cap space -- as much as the Knicks would have had before they decided to splurge on and extend Carmelo Anthony -- but nothing is guaranteed, and the squad won't have max money to toss around. If the Nuggets do find a way to dump each of the Knicks they brought in via the Carmelo deal, and lose Al Harrington(notes) along the way? Then the team could have a couple of max slots to toss out, next to a core featuring Nene and Ty Lawson(notes), which isn't a bad way to rebuild. But leverage is slim in the wake of this deal, and Denver will have to rely on teams that talk themselves into dealing for easily-overrate-o-ble cats like Gallo and Ray Felton.
Playoffs? This team can still make it. Clearly Gallo and Felton will bring the Nugs about 80 percent of what Carmelo and Chauncey brought, but this is still a talented group. And with Rudy Gay(notes) sitting out a month for the Memphis Grizzlies (a game behind Denver as it stands now) and Utah reeling, George Karl can pull the postseason off. Should you put money on Denver making it to the postseason, even after learning that the former Knicks will stay with the team following this week? I wouldn't. The West is that deep.
This is how life is when you deal an All-Star. Carmelo Anthony should never be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James(notes) or Dwight Howard(notes), and Chauncey Billups(notes) is not the same player in 2011 that helped turn Denver's fortunes around two years ago, but this is still a major setback for a team that wasn't exactly rocketing up the charts in the first place. Minnesota got Al Jefferson(notes) back when he was a game-changer, for Kevin Garnett(notes). The Lakers were lucky enough to turn Shaquille O'Neal(notes) into cap space which turned into Kwame Brown(notes) that somehow turned into Pau Gasol(notes). The Cavs and Raptors have trade exceptions that they could do big things with this week. The Nuggets have Danilo Gallinari, who is playing through a knee injury and not even hitting at the league average on 3-pointers this season.
Denver could swing big, though. Teams will call, thinking that Denver might be undervaluing Danilo and Felton, end up overvaluing those two assets as a result, and make this a winning week for the Nuggets' front office. A contract extension for Nene, working in his prime, won't change the team's cap situation much. Al Harrington is overpaid -- the team doesn't need him -- but he isn't a millstone, either. This could still work.
There's a lot of work to be done before it can work, though. You get the feeling that Denver knows this, and that's a good place to start. Even if you are starting over.