The Nuggets announced Monday that they would not be trading the face of the franchise—the one and only Carmelo Anthony.
A high-ranking Denver official told ESPN's Chris Broussard Monday, “There is no way we are trading Carmelo Anthony. We’re 100 percent certain of that.”
For any Nuggets fan, whether it be a Denver diehard, or a Melo-era baby blue backer—this is settling news after the rumors that started to swirl that Anthony would be traded away if he didn’t sign the three-year $65 Million contract extension.
ESPN broke the news as if it were from an official of the Nuggets, but it was merely the opinion of the Denver Post’s Mark Kizla. (1)
Now that it’s definite that he will be in Denver through at least 2011 (when he can opt out of his current deal), Melo needs some pieces to be placed around him.
Melo said Monday that he is very serious about accepting the team’s contract extension, but he is still waiting to hear about the Nuggets’ attempt to improve the frontcourt, according to a league source. (2)
And including that most glaring weakness, the Nuggets have a lot to do as a franchise to not only ensure he decides to stay with the franchise, but to also build around the star and towards Denver’s first NBA title in a history that dates back nearly 35 years.
Most of the moves on this list are common sense and some are arguable. But there’s no doubting that the Nuggets must work to make Anthony satisfied and work toward that ultimate goal.
Warkentien pulled one of the great moves in Nuggets history, at least within the last decade. He successfully traded an aged and still selfish Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups, the hometown hero out of George Washington High School.
Warkentien also acquired J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen and was able to get Anthony to sign a contract extension once before. And while Smith is a matter for later in this piece, his work landed Warkentien the NBA Executive of the Year Award in 2008-09.
Mark Warkentien isn’t currently signed on with the Nuggets to continue as his role as the team’s GM, although it would benefit them to get his John Hancock on a contract extension of his own.
He’s shown in the past that he can swing a blockbuster deal, and Denver will need his dealing skills if they want to build a competitor around Melo.
Once Warkentien is inked, the Nuggets have to do the same with Chauncey Billups.
Billups’ contract only continues through 2011 currently, the same year Carmelo Anthony and Nene can exercise their player option to opt out, and it’s when Kenyon Martin’s deal is done as well.
Basically, this could be the final year of the current group that made it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago will be together.
But beyond the present and despite his 34-year old age, Billups showed this past season that he can still play.
He was the only player in NBA history to score a career-high in his 13th season, and even though he folded under the immense pressure to lead the team sans George Karl in the playoffs, Billups is the proven leader on the court.
Melo is learning and continues to improve, but Billups unquestionably leads by example and by instruction.
It may seem like a lot to pay a 35-year old point guard $14 million in 2011-12, but even if the season is played and not locked out, Billups will continue to prove his worth.
On top of it all, Billups and Anthony have a wonderful chemistry and Billups won a title in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons—a place Melo wants to be himself.
J.R. Smith left a sour taste in any Nuggets fan’s mouth when as he pouted and shoulder shrugged off the biggest game of Denver’s season, and the eventual last as they lost to the Utah Jazz 4-2.
Smith is one of the most physically gifted players in the NBA, but his play is so frustrating it will make a viewer want to turn the TV off. Smith hoists three-pointers from 30-plus feet away as if he doesn’t realize they count the same from one inch behind the line as from 10 feet beyond it.
J.R. often reaches in for steals he has no chance of swiping, fouls dumbly on break always to the hoop, ball-hogs too much when the second team is on the floor and has proven he’s a liability when passing or handling the ball.
For all the times that Smith, the Nuggets’ all-time leader in threes, has brought Denver back off the bench with explosive shooting performances, there are two times he’s failed to make the simple play.
What the Nuggets can get for him is the question, and he may be best as an add-on of another deal the franchise tries to swing during this offseason.
With Smith gone, and Arron Afflalo on the Pepsi Center hardwood as the starter at shooting guard, the Nuggets will need a new backup at the position.
While it may seem somewhat unlikely, adding Ray Allen would be a prime piece to the Nuggets championship puzzle. While he wouldn’t push them over the top, Allen could start at the two, meaning Afflalo could come off the bench to provide energy, and Allen would be Denver’s main outside threat.
If not him, there was news recently that Linas Kleiza, whose NBA rights are still owned by the Nuggets, has interest in rejoining the Association.
Although, Denver put out a $2.6 Million tender, and Kleiza earned $6.0 Million overseas with Greece’s Olympiakos, and the small forward that could play two as well wants big money again.
If not him, Roger Mason J.R. could be a nice addition to the Nuggets.
It’s unclear who they would go get, but Denver would have to add someone to fill that role.
Malik Allen was an experiment that didn’t work out for the Nuggets.
No knock on the guy personally, he gave good effort and played with heart at times, but Allen is not working for the Nuggets and they would be better off just cutting him loose and looking for someone younger and bigger to fill his shoes.
Anthony Carter was the Nuggets’ best perimeter defender, around three years ago.
George Karl defended the older point guard as still holding that role last season, and although it’s hard to argue that there’s a standout perimeter defender for Denver right now, Carter is not it.
Carter was never a special player in the NBA, a lunch-pail fighter if you will, and he’s older and slower now. Carter’s place as the backup point was taken by rookie Ty Lawson last year, so instead of keeping him around for another season, the Nuggets need to look for someone younger to fill his sneakers.
Kenyon Martin is the defensive backbone for the Denver Nuggets. Without him, at times Denver looked unable to stop a high school team from scoring in transition in 2009-10.
But once again, K-Mart was injured down the stretch—when the team was without George Karl and needed him the most.
And the injury is lingering longer than many hoped, as Martin will not be ready for training camp and will likely miss some of the upcoming season.
Martin is stellar on defense, but questionable when it comes to rebounding. Despite averaging 9.4 boards per game last season, K-Mart only grabbed 6.0 and 6.5 per in the two prior years.
Martin’s contract ends in 2011, and the Nuggets need to move him for a big man to a team that wants to free up cap space for next year. After a year in which the NBA reported league-wide losses of $400 Million, there’s bound to be some team out there willing to trade for him.
It was rumored that the Nuggets were interested in Andris Biedrins and Dan Gadzuric from the Golden State Warriors for K-Mart, but it looks as if that deal will not go through—which is good for Denver. Neither player has done anything worthwhile in the NBA as of yet, and the Nuggets have to find more for Martin somewhere.
Where he goes and for what player are the questions that will hopefully be answered in the near future.
George Karl is courageously battling back from life-threatening cancer—the feel-good story of the NBA in 2010.
And while the Nuggets showed just how important he is to the team down the stretch and into the playoffs when they struggled, the NBA is a business of winning.
Denver’s professional basketball team has gone to the playoffs in each of Carmelo Anthony’s seven seasons in the Mile High City, but only in 2009 did they escape the first round.
George Karl has been the head man for the Nuggets in six of those years, and in six appearances, Melo and Denver have only won 16 playoff games, 10 of which came in 2009.
Karl is a great coach, who has led teams to the postseason in 17 straight years—but he’s never won a crown.
George Karl deserves one more season, a fully healthy one, to take the Nuggets as far as they can go. Plus, without the headache of managing the two volatile personalities of Smith and Martin, Karl should have an easier time delivering his winning message, connecting with players and coaching winning basketball.
But if they don’t make it past the first round for 6-7 years under him, Karl should be shown the door and the Nuggets must look to a new coach of the future.
Since drafting Melo in 2003, the Nuggets have taken Jameer Nelson, who was traded away that night in ’04, Julius Hodge and Axel Hervelle (who?), Leon Powe, who was traded that night in ’06 and no players in ‘07 or ’08.
Denver did get Ty Lawson in 2009 in a draft night trade with the Timberwolves, for their pick in 2010.
So, once again, the Nuggets didn’t have a pick in 2010.
When Denver moves Smith, Carter, Allen and Martin, they must be sure to get at least one draft pick for June, 2011.
The Nuggets are showing now that constantly picking up aging players doesn’t work, they need to build for the future with young players as well as going after a championship now.
This seems to be a simple solution to the Nuggets’ lack of size, strength and durability in the front court—however Denver has yet to make any noise in the biggest free agency market of all time.
Other than the K-Mart for Biedrins rumors, Denver was also said to be interested in Tyrus Thomas, three-year forward and restricted free agent of the Charlotte Bobcats. Other teams that are finding Thomas’ 6’10” 225 pound frame appealing are the Timberwolves, Nets and Knicks. Plus, it’s been reported that the Bobcats want badly to keep Thomas and they will have the opportunity to match any offer made to him.
Brendan Haywood is a young and strong center that spent the second half of last season with Dallas and is now looking for a new place to land. His enthusiastic rebounding and size would benefit the Nuggets greatly to be sure.
In reality, the Nuggets will need three big men if they give a pink slip to Allen and ship out Martin for someone else, one will come in the K-Mart trade, the other two are as up in the air as a tip-ball.
Those decisions will have to be made by GM Mark Warkentien and the rest of the Nuggets Front Office, including Rex Chapman and Brett Bearup. Which brings us back to the beginning of this list.
Denver has much to do, and after Carmelo Anthony signs his three-year extension that will keep him in town through 2014 surely and possibly 2015, they will be able to build around the superstar entering the prime of his career.
Nuggets fans have been waiting on a title for over three decades in the NBA, as greats like Dan Issel, Alex English and Dikembe Mutombo came through the doors and left Denver without a title. For the Nuggets to go without a championship—while the best player in franchise history in Carmelo Anthony is on the roster—it will be nothing short of a travesty.
Rich Kurtzman is a Colorado State University Alumnus and freelance journalist. Along with being the Denver Nuggets FC for bleacherreport.com, Kurtzman is the Denver Broncos FC for NFLTouchdown.com, the CSU Rams and Fort Collins Beer Bars Examiner for examiner.com and the Colorado/Utah Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com.
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