As the offseason winds down, it seems that the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors have been slowly losing their steam, as it appears he will likely be starting the 2010-11 NBA season as a member of the Denver Nuggets.
However, his name has still been in the headlines, due largely to his strong preseason play.
Most recently, he came up one assist shy of a triple-double, posting a stat line of 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists in a five-point victory.
Therefore, to this point, it seems that Anthony has been effectively living up to all of the hype and proving his worth (even though his NBA career has largely done that already).
Nevertheless, the potential trade is still looming over the Nuggets organization.
Prior to Thursday's game Melo said, "Anything can happen." He followed that up with the politically correct, "As of right now, I'm here."
He went on to declare that he is continuing to keep his options open, and he was vague about any questions regarding his future in Denver.
Consequently, it appears that he definitely wants out, and he clearly has no intention of signing the three-year, $64 million offered to him earlier in the summer.
Furthermore, the Denver Post has reported that Anthony and his camp are going increasingly frustrated by the Nuggets' lack of progress in working out a deal to send the three-time All Star to an East Coast team—likely the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, or Chicago Bulls.
So, assuming that Melo is dealt to one of these Eastern Conference teams for a combination of young players, expiring contracts, and draft picks, the Nuggets will then look to begin a rebuilding process.
They already have been vocal about trying to move J.R. Smith, and with Kenyon Martin and Arron Afflalo becoming free agents after the season, and Chauncey Billups (34 years old) entering the twilight of his career, Denver will undoubtedly drop out of contention.
Therefore, the Nuggets, who have earned seven consecutive playoff appearances and three straight 50-plus-win seasons, will no longer hold spot as a Western Conference power.
Moreover, the West won't just be losing a playoff team, but a 2008-09 Western Conference Finalist and a team which, if not for the sudden, temporary loss of coach George Karl to throat cancer at the end of the season and in the playoffs, could have contended for a title in 2009-10.
Consequently, a rebuilding Nuggets team will cause the landscape of the Western Conference will be drastically altered.
First of all, this would mean that the intact contenders—2009-10's playoff teams, barring any unlikely drastic drops in production—would then have an easier road to the Championship (although one could argue that less competition would make these teams weaker).
Furthermore, a new slot would open in the West for a playoff contender like the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Hornets, or maybe even the Los Angeles Clippers or Sacramento Kings.
However, Melo's departure won't be all good for the Western Conference, as it would continue the trend of Eastward migration by NBA stars such as Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer.
Additionally, Anthony could potentially influence others, like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Tony Parker, to follow him to the East.
In such a scenario, the balance of power could concretely shift from the West—who have won nine of the last 12 NBA Championships—to the East, especially if the Los Angeles Lakers ever begin to fade.
So, whenever Melo eventually leaves Denver, whether it be through a trade or free agency, the Western Conference will likely no longer be the stacked, deep, and dominant conference it has been since the beginning of the NBA's post-Jordan era.
Yet, due to some talented young teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, the future of the West may still have some promise.
But with Eastern Conference superteams like the Miami Heat, and the possibility of an Anthony-and-star-point-guard squad, the West will certainly have their work cut out for them going forward.