After a summer and first half of the season rife with incessant supposition, analysis and media attention concerning the status of Carmelo Anthony, last week the Denver Nuggets finally made the decision to trade the unhappy superstar to his preferred destination, the New York Knicks.
The opinion of Denver's haul in return for Anthony, veteran Chauncey Billups and spare parts (young wings Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, cost-effective lead man Ray Felton, seven-footer Timofey Mozgov and draft picks, plus added financial flexibility) varied depending on what NBA expert or fan you talked to.
After four games with this new crew of Nuggets, though, views on the trade from Denver's perspective have taken an upward trajectory toward positive.
Why? Despite the team's gaudy 3-1 record Post-Melo (hereafter referred to as P.M.), its the collective attitude, energy and youthful exuberance of the new-look Nuggets that has Denver and its fans smiling.
Gone with the trade are awkward cheers for an unhappy Anthony, stern but polite media posturing from players and the feeling that wins are irrelevant in the long run.
Denver is playing an exciting new brand of basketball, players are happy to be a part of it and the Nuggets, though left for dead P.M. this season by prognosticators, look poised to challenge for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.
How is this group of ragtag players excelling? It begins with the most most surprising aspect of the new Nuggs: they've been stellar on defense in three games P.M. with their new acquisitions in tow.
First, the Nuggets held perennial power and championship favorite Boston to a mere 75 points and 39 percent shooting while out-rebounding the Celtics by 14.
A day later on the road in Portland, Denver lost an overtime heart-breaker by one, but kept the Blazers to just 97 points in regulation, a commendable feat considering the home team's prowess at the raucous Rose Garden.
Finally, last night the Nuggets dominated the playoff-bound Hawks, forcing them to 40 percent shooting and just 90 points.
Clearly, P.M. Denver has early returns of being vastly superior on defense to the team that ranked in the league's bottom third of defensive efficiency.
Coach George Karl has a litany of quick, long and bouncy athletes at his disposal in his deep new rotation, and he is using it to the Nuggets' great advantage on that end of the floor.
Offensively, Denver's barely missed a beat despite losing the awesome talent and production of the Anthony/Billups tandem.
The Nuggets have averaged 104 points per game and shot 46.3 percent from the field P.M., both numbers just shy of their season-long average, but still among the league's leaders.
Denver need not worry about the smallest slippage on offense, though, because their increased defensive acumen (if maintained, of course) makes the margin for error on the other end greater.
In other words, the Nuggets' immediate improvement in stopping their opponents gives them more time to integrate new and important pieces Gallinari, Wilson and Felton into their offensive schemes and sets.
Simply, this Nuggets team is much better P.M. than anyone anticipated.
They have one of the deepest and most athletic rosters in the entire league, with two talented young PGs (Ty Lawson is the other, a potential star), a bevy of wing scorers, an imposing and physical front-court (led by Nene) and solid defenders at every position.
Plus, the team's most talented and valuable members of their nine-man rotation are 28 or younger.
Denver, despite their impressive P.M. beginnings, will likely serve as nothing more than a playoff road-bump for one of the West's best this spring.
However, the collective youth, talent and attitude of these Nuggets, combined with stable finances going into the summer, make Denver's future undeniably bright P.M., a far cry from where most thought they'd be just a few weeks ago.
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