Carmelo Anthony, currently (and temporarily it would seem) with the Denver Nuggets, has some work to do if he wants to join a select group of colleagues.
LeBron James. Kobe Bryant. Dwyane Wade. Kevin Durant.
It is widely accepted that these four players have separated themselves from the pack when it comes to the NBA's best wing players.
Two of them have championship rings and Finals MVPs to show for their talents, while one is the league's reigning two-time MVP, and the other won last year's scoring title and is considered the best young player in the world. Each of them possesses the requisite combination of talent, drive, and competitiveness to be the best player on a championship team.
Though these four players have clearly cemented their spots amongst the game's true elite, there is constant debate on whether or not another belongs in the hierarchy: Melo.
Mired in controversy since his public trade request in August, Anthony has put the Denver organization in a bind. If the Nuggets don't deal him prior to February's trade deadline, they risk losing out on Anthony to free agency in the summer of 2011. However, trading players like Anthony should always be a last resort. For a player of his rare talent, in return all the Nuggets would receive is pennies on the dollar.
The Nuggets have to do everything in their power to hold onto Anthony. They can appease their superstar by overhauling a roster that has clearly topped out as a competitive team without championship capabilities.
Although he is not LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade or KD, Anthony is absolutely capable of being the go-to-guy on a title team. There is a small handful of players in the league who can claim that distinction, and Carmelo is one of them. However, like the rest, he'll need the right pieces around him to get there, and Denver currently doesn't have them.
James and Wade teamed up with Bosh to form Miami Thrice, Bryant's loaded squad is the favorite to three-peat in 2010, and Durant's Thunder have assembled the league's best collection of young talent. Additionally, teams like the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls have adjusted their rosters and made moves to put themselves in a position to be competitive for many years.
In 2007, the Boston Celtics gutted their team and acquired stars through trades, subsequently winning a championship, and nearly another.
The Nuggets need a fresh start, with Anthony as their centerpiece, and they need to look to the organizations previously mentioned as a model for their new team.
Other than Carmelo, no player on the roster should be deemed "untouchable." Second-year pro, Ty Lawson, is a nice player, but has a limited ceiling and is one of Denver's best trade chips. Big men Nene Hilario, Al Harrington, and Kenyon Martin are certainly useful, but all have reached their potential.
Same goes for the uber-talented, but frustrating head-case, JR Smith.
The Nuggets overhaul needs to begin with unloading declining and perennially overrated PG Chauncey Billups. The so-called "Mr. Big Shot's" value will only decrease as the season goes on. Denver needs to act as soon as possible in unloading him for prospects, draft considerations, or ideally both.
Though Denver's purge of the roster will cost the club this season and perhaps more depending on what it can acquire, it certainly won't hurt more than unloading Anthony would. Such a move would set the Nuggets back for several years, at the very least. Carmelo is just beginning the prime of his career.
Players of his caliber don't come around often.
For all his off-court issues, Anthony is, without a doubt, a top 10 NBA player. If Denver follows the model of teams like Miami, Los Angeles or Boston and makes aggressive moves through trades and free agency, it could have a championship contender within a season or two.
Surround Carmelo Anthony with the necessary combination of talented and dedicated players, and he is one of the few players in the world right now who could lead a team to a title. Trade him, and the Nuggets will not only mortgage their present and future, they may risk watching Anthony win one with someone else.