Carmelo Anthony and the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade in the Nuggets rout of the Heat on January 13th.
At this point, we can all assume with complete confidence that come this Fall and the start of the 2011-2012 season, Carmelo Anthony will no longer be a Denver Nugget.
Whether his departure comes in the proposed three-team trade involving the New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons, through a free agency signing with the Knicks after this season, or in an unprecedented 12-player deal that gives the Miami Heat the greatest four-man basketball team the world has ever known, one thing's for certain: a new chapter in Melo's career is imminent.
Obviously, the loss of a marquee player like Carmelo Anthony is significant to a team, but I see no reason to fear a Cleveland Cavaliers-style implosion of the Denver Nuggets.
In all honesty, once the distraction of Anthony's impending announcement is firmly behind them, I believe the Nuggets will proceed barely deterred by the departure of their former franchise player.
Is there any bench player in the NBA more electrifying than J.R. Swish? While his numbers by themselves may not seem hugely impressive, 11.9 points per game and 38% three-point shooting on the season, Smith is a huge asset to the Nuggets.
Take last Tuesday's game against Phoenix, the lethargic early play of the Nuggets starters resulted in a 12-point deficit at the end of the first quarter, but Smith and back-up point guard Ty Lawson stepped onto the court and injected their team with some much-needed life.
Against a shorthanded Miami Heat team, Smith ignited, scoring 28 points with staggering efficiency; 10-for-17 on field goals and 8-for-14 on three-pointers to go with seven rebounds.
The 25 year old guard has been a Nugget since 2006 and though his performance can be erratic at times, Smith is a player you can never count out to shake up a game.
Billups shooting over the Trail Blazers' Wesley Matthews
Despite reportedly being a part of the mammoth three-team deal that could send Carmelo to New Jersey, Billups, a Denver native, has made it clear he has no desire to join the revamped Nets roster.
In fact, Billups' agent has stated that "Chauncey wants to remain a Nugget for the duration of his career."
The five-time All-Star and 2004 NBA Finals MVP has been the epitome of consistency throughout his 13-year career.
Averaging 16 PPG along with 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals, players like Billups and power forward Kenyon Martin provide the kind of veteran leadership essential for transitioning this team into its next iteration.
Though his numbers are down slightly from previous years, Billups still has great value as a back court player for the Nuggets.
Karl during the Nuggets-Suns game on January 13th
This December, George Karl, the Nuggets' Head Coach since 2005, officially recorded his 1,000th career win, cementing himself as a member of the NBA coach upper echelon.
Karl is a revered and beloved fixture of the league, and in the five years since becoming the Nuggets' coach, the team has never missed the playoffs.
In an era of basketball dominated by superstar players and their egos, George Karl is a man with enough clout to reach past all the bravado and truly be in tune with his team.
He doesn't have a single system, the way Mike D'Antoni sticks to up-tempo offense and quick possessions or the way Stan Van Gundy preaches rock solid defense.
Karl's coaching method is one of true understanding and observation, making adjustments to his team whenever necessary. He's not the type to let the loss of a big player affect the competitive nature of his team.
The Nets' Devin Harris would come to the Nuggets if the deal with New Jersey goes through
While there is no single player of Melo's caliber possibly joining the Nuggets in his stead,a trade deal for Anthony is flush with benefits for Denver.
Take the now botched New Jersey/Detroit deal. The Nuggets would've gained depth with players like Nets point guard Devin Harris and third overall draft pick Derrick Favors, in addition to two Nets first-round draft picks and a slew of decent role players.
In the event of a trade to the Knicks, which is looking pretty likely, the Nuggets could receive forward Danilo Gallinari, who averages 15.2 PPG and is a phenomenal free throw shooter, averaging 88% on the season. Other likely trade candidates in a Denver-New York deal include Wilson Chandler, who averages 17.4 points and helps make the tandem of Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and Chandler one of the highest scoring in the league. Talented rookie Landry Fields and 54% three-point shooter Shawne Williams are possibilities as well.
Though this may not yield a great initial run, once the players get acclimated and familiarize themselves with George Karl's style of coaching, they will provide second-unit reinforcement for an already stellar Denver bench.
(from left) Nenê, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Carmelo Anthony
Though Anthony's impending move and/or free agency have garnered some comparisons to the LeBron James saga of last season, there is one key difference.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a team completely built around a single player, though guys like Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejão were decent role players, it was clear that the success of the Cavs hinged on James' presence.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, have a myriad of players capable of filling the void left by Melo's departure.
Nene, with a 64% field goal percentage, is one of the most accurate shooters in the game. Capable of snatching rebounds as well, Nene's presence in the post and his familiarity with the Nuggets after eight years on the team put him in a good position to further the franchise.
Arron Afflalo is just beginning to percolate as a part of the Denver offense. A 43% three-point shooter on the season, Afflalo has shown he has the ability to step up and carry the team, scoring a career and team high 31 points on 11-of-14 field goal shooting in the team's comeback win against Phoenix.
Role players like Al Harrington and Chris "Birdman" Andersen have the potential to step up and carry some of the front-court offensive burden created by Melo's departure.
I'm not trying to diminish Carmelo's abilities or his importance to the Nuggets, I'm merely stating that in my mind, they have the potential to be a strong team without him.