In Denver, the MeloDrama is over; in New York, it’s just beginning…

After months and months of wrangling, speculation, posing, posturing, misdirection and strategery, wheeling and dealing, and fear and loathing, the Carmelo Anthony circus has finally departed the 5280 bound for the Big Apple. Praise Jebus, and may we never have to hear the term “MeloDrama” again.

So, who got the better of the deal? We’ll know for sure in two or three years, but that’s no reason not to pontificate a bit now. There are all kinds of opinions, as you’d imagine. Many people think New York gave up way too much, especially since they believe that the Knicks could have waited and signed him as a free agent this summer. There are problems with this view, though – mainly, waiting could have cost Anthony $40-50 million, depending on the new collective bargaining agreement. Also, the way they’re constructed right now the Knicks wouldn’t have had room to make him a max offer, so they’d have had to offload salary, anyway.

Others don’t think NY gave up anything crucial, and they think tat when you get a crack at an alpha-scorer like Melo, you do whatever you have to do, period.

Here’s how I see it.

  • I’m desperately happy I’m not a Knicks fan. Yeah, they just got a top-tier scorer, but I’ve been watching Melo for years, and top-tier scorer isn’t the same as top-tier player. I’ll allow that he may be one of the top five scorers in the league, but I’d have no problem coming up with 10-15 players I’d take ahead of him.
  • He doesn’t make those around him better (he’s even less impressive in this category than Kobe was for most of his career), and when you look at the Nuggets’ greatest success during the Carmelo years (the conference finals run two years ago), it’s easy to argue that it resulted not from Anthony’s efforts, but from the over-performing members of the supporting cast. Specifically, you take away Chauncey Billups and that team doesn’t get out of the first round alive.
  • Melo isn’t Batman. In many ways, he’s Robin. Although, unfortunately, he has a Robin temperament with a Joker-sized ego. Amare ain’t Batman, either, although he thinks he is. So who’s going to lead this team? Well, Billups is the guy with the game, the personality and the experience, but nobody who’s watched Amare or Carmelo lately can possibly expect them to do a lot of deferring.
  • Neither Amare nor Melo plays a lot of D or rebounds with much fervor, and Ronny Turiaf can’t guard everybody.
  • The Knicks just shipped out a lot of important supporting cast-type pieces. The starting five better make a habit of outscoring the opponent two-to-one, because you can’t hope for a lot of domination out of the bench.

Of course, this is all short-term thinking. Analysts like Jeff van Gundy and Tim Legler agree that the Knicks didn’t offload anything that they can’t replace easily enough. If you want to win a title, lock in the core stars and build from there, goes that line of thinking. If you’re New York, especially, you have cash, you have the center-of-the-universe mystique of Madison Square Garden and you have two superstars. Those are serious magnets that allow you to solve any problems that this trade created in due course, right?

Maybe. But this is an argument that makes a lot of assumptions. For instance:

  • Melo says he wants to go to New York to win a title, which is kind of like majoring in Engineering for the chicks. Put directly, way too much is made of that Knicks mystique I mentioned earlier. The franchise has managed precisely two titles since 1946 and the last time they won anything Richard Nixon was still President.
  • Isiah Thomas is on the way back. May already be back, depending on who you believe. Want to scare the shizzizzle out of New York sports fans? Next Halloween dress up like Zeke and go door-to-door. Panic and screaming and crowds running for their lives? Bitch, it’ll be like the return of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. So that whole process of putting the right pieces in place around the core of stars won’t be in the hands of probable NBA Exec of the Year Donnie Walsh, it’ll be in the hands of James Dolan (worst owner this side of Donald Sterling) and Isiah Thomas (worst GM this side of the Crab Nebula).
  • There’s the nagging issue of the new collective bargaining agreement to be considered. Or maybe I should says issues, plural. For starters, that salary cap is coming down dramatically. If the numbers being tossed around at this point are valid, we’re looking at a cap reduction of maybe 40% – or something like $22.4 million per team from this year’s max. Now, the extension Melo is signing will pay him an average of $21.6M and Amare will make $18.2M next year and that keeps climbing to $23.4 in 2014-15, which I think is also the final year of Melo’s deal. So that’s a commitment to two players for $45 million or so that year – when the cap may well be in the $35 million range. Hypothetically.
  • In addition, the owners seem to want a hard cap – which means no Larry Bird rule, no luxury tax, nothing. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that it might be tricky putting that supporting cast in place.
  • Of course, whatever the CBA does, it will have to make some allowances for existing contracts, but…
  • …no way in hell Amare and Carmelo win without a lot of help. And there has been much speculation (well justified speculation, at that) over Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who will be free agents after next season. If you put a legit superstar point guard in the mix, all of a sudden the Knicks do get a lot scarier. But those are both max contract guys, period. And given how the owners are talking right now, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Knicks, at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, have anything like the room to pay their current stars and that critical third piece.
  • Even if you could make the money work, how damned dumb would CP3 or Williams have to be to put their career hopes and dreams in the hands of the guy who … oh hell, just read it for yourself.
  • And even if you did get one of the two into one of those godawful ugly-ass NY uniforms, how do they stack up in the East? Is Amare as good as Bosh? (I don’t think so.) Is Melo as good as LeBron? (Can I get a hell no?) Paul/Williams vs. Wade? Not really an apples-to-apples comparison, but let’s call it a push for the sake of argument. Assuming that nobody else in the East gets any better, I don’t see Amare + Melo + anybody matching the Heat for talent, and I don’t see them building a superior team-first chemistry around those two personalities, either.
  • The second issue is that the owners are feeling like they’ve been clowned a couple times in a row. Last summer’s LeBron debacle had to be absolutely humiliating for them – these are by god billionaires and they got taken to school by three spoiled kids. Now it has happened again, and with Paul, Williams and Dwight Howard entering the last year of their deals next season, there’s every reason to think that the curtain will be rising on Act III as soon as the Finals are over. Even if there weren’t valid questions about competitive balance (and there are), you can just about guarantee that the owners are going to be adamant about structuring a CBA that allows them to retake control of their league. Whether that’s through mechanisms like a hard cap, or something like the NFL’s franchise tag, or even something more complex and innovative (and entirely unworkable) like a player-focused anti-collusion clause, expect something to happen that’s going to get in the way of the Knicks’ master plan. (Which might be a shame, because few things in all of sports are more entertaining than watching Isiah Thomas execute a master plan.)

Van Gundy and Legler are probably right on paper and if the new CBA looks more or less like the current one. But there’s a lot of if in that equation, and you have to dumber than James Dolan to bet on it going down that way. Oh, wait – Dolan already did bet on it, didn’t he?

Prediction: The Melo/Amare incarnation of the New York will win precisely as many NBA titles as every other version of the franchise has won since Willis Reed was around.

None of this makes my Nuggets any better, sadly, although if they’re smart and get lucky maybe one of those picks turns into something. And it sounds as if they may not be through dealing. There’s talk that they may move Gallinari and/or Felton and if they can’t sign Nene to an extension you have to figure he’ll be gone over the summer, too. They’re going to have scads of cap room, but can they find talent willing to take it? Or will it be like the ’90s all over again, when Dan Motherfucking Issel (the original Isiah Thomas) overpaid for the likes of Tariq Abdul-Wahad, James Posey, Raef LaFrentz, Antonio McDyess and Nick Van Exel, apparently on the theory that the team had money and they had to spend it on somebody.

So again, we have an equation with more variables than constants.

Sadly, Denver isn’t regarded as a destination – it’s an awesome place to live, but where A-list hoopsters are concerned it’s regarded as a cow town, far far away from the bright lights and nightlife of New York, LA and South Beach. And there’s nothing about our management to inspire awe, either. So whereas the Knicks have all those attractors – cash, star players, the city – Denver has a set of advantages more likely to attract world-class cyclists or freestyle skiers. Which is great, but it’s not going to get you a lot of NBA titles.

So I’m honestly not sure that there is a winner in this deal, aside from Carmelo. He gets the big-money extension, he gets to play in MSG, and let’s be honest, that’s all that mattered. If he really cared about winning he’d have shoehorned his way into Chicago instead of New York.

Update: The four newest Nuggets were in the building for tonight’s game vs. Les Grizz and received a warm welcome from the fans. High point of the evening: sideline reporter Maya Starks attempting to interview Capt. Ivan Drago Timofey Mozgov, who was wholly unprepared to comment on the altitude, his initial impressions of Denver, or anything else involving the English language.

Update 2: The nine remaining members of the Denver Nuggets (none of the players involved in the trade were available) tonight stomped an absolute mudhole in a Memphis team that has been very hot lately. I know it’s just one game, but Denver looked better without Carmelo than they did with him in at least a couple of months. 28 assists in 41 made baskets – are you kidding me?

You got the impression that guys like Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo and JR Smith in particular were, for the first time, playing without shackles. There’s talent coming in the door and while I don’t expect the Nugs to win the title, this is a playoff-caliber team. Not only that, it may well be a team that nobody wants any part of in the post-season. The team as it was constituted before the trade wasn’t going anywhere, anyway…

Like I said above, time will tell. For the moment, though, I don’t see any reason for despair.

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  1. Posted February 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Love the Robin analogy. I’m sorry the most about Chauncey’s departure… he was the Nuggets’ true leader. The other guy is in the game for himself.

  2. Posted February 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I hate it for Chauncey. I keep hoping he’ll get bought out or traded – I’d love to see him go to a team with a shot at the title. Then he can come back to Denver and work in the front office.

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