In the newest development in the trade deadline saga, Carmelo Anthony made waves on Wednesday, admitting that he would "take a real hard look" at signing the extension the Denver Nuggets offered him in the summer if he is not traded by the February 24 deadline.
To this point, Carmelo had done his best to burn all bridges leading to Denver with fans and management by making it known that he would not re-sign with the team when his contract runs out this summer and that he'd like to play for the New York Knicks.
So after all the rumors, near deals and denied reports, Carmelo is now on record as saying that something that was not an option before is now a possibility to him. He's gone back on something that he was consistently adamant about from Day One.
Great. So we didn't get rid of Brett Favre, he just donned a new uniform and changed his sport.
Now that Anthony has flip-flopped and opened up the possibility of staying in Denver, there is a new discussion which is needed.
Has Carmelo damaged his relationship with Nuggets fans beyond repair?
Has he slighted the fan base so badly that they wouldn't welcome him back with open arms if he returned?
Who knows how individual Nuggets fans feel exactly about Carmelo. What matters most, in terms of team relations and publicity, is how the fan base at large has reacted to Carmelo in recent months.
Has Carmelo Anthony burned his last bridges in Denver?
Even that is a hard conclusion to nail down, but some observations give us clues as to what the Nugget faithful are feeling at this juncture.
Let's look at what we know.
1. Nuggets fans have booed Carmelo intermittently this season. Not consistently, not rarely, but on and off. This shows that the fan base is less vitriolic by nature than some of the rabid fans (New York Yankees/Mets/Jets/Knicks, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, etc.). So it follows that if Carmelo had done this same exact routine for one of those teams, he'd be much more vilified by the fans and in the media. Denver loves its Nuggets, but it's not nearly as personal of a slight to them as it would be to Knicks or Boston Celtic fans.
2. Carmelo was drafted by the Nuggets and has spent his entire eight-year career with the team. He has led the Nuggets to the postseason in each of the seven full seasons, and was the main reason for a 26 win improvement during his rookie year. He's been the best player on a team that has averaged 48 wins in the rugged Western Conference during his tenure. The seven seasons before Melo? The Nuggets averaged just 23 wins a year. Clearly, Carmelo Anthony has had a sustained positive impact on the performance of the fan base's basketball team.
3. Carmelo has never done anything to upset or rile up the fans. On one occasion he had a run-in with the law but has never demanded a trade or bad mouthed his teammates or coach. Even after his arrest and admission of driving under the influence in 2008, the fans, as evidenced by the picture above, forgave and supported him through and through. He isn't a prototypical model citizen, but, for the most part, he's been one in his time in the Rockies.
4. His current situation is not adversely affecting his team's performance—the Nuggets are 30-23, which is good for 7th in the West at present.
5. His current situation is not adversely affecting his personal performance. His season numbers are indistinguishable from his career standards. He's not pouting or benching himself, but instead is going out for 35.2 minutes per game to do the best he can for the team he plays for right now.
From the perspective of an outside observer, there is lot more positive than negative on the table regarding Carmelo. Admittedly, a close following Nuggets fan might tell me differently, but there isn't a whole lot on the surface that suggests Melo's resistance to staying with Denver has destroyed his relationship with the fans.
Yes, the fans have showed displeasure with the situation, and rightfully so. They have endured the same speculation about Anthony in the newspapers and on talk radio for months now, and they have a right to let their frustration boil over into boos every once in a while.
However, this fan base hasn't responded to "betrayal" in nearly as violent a fashion as the Cleveland Cavalier fans reacted to LeBron James' departure. LeBron's situation was obviously a bigger deal than Carmelo's, but there are a lot of similarities between two mid-twenties superstars who entered the league in the same draft and played their first seven seasons with one team that loved each of them. I understand that LeBron's decision was a not-so-subtle humiliation of the Cavaliers and that Anthony's action hasn't approached LeBron's in that way, but it is in the same vein.
Such a stark difference in reaction by the fans leads me to believe that these Denver fans just don't have it in them to disown Carmelo.
If he gets traded, he'll never be as hated in Denver as LeBron will forever be in Cleveland.
If he leaves via free agency in the summer, he'll part amicably with the organization and the fans.
If he signs that three year, $65 million extension, he'll once again be the most beloved son in the Mile High City.