Commentary

Carmelo-Denver divorce inevitable?

Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets do not seem to be headed in the same direction

Originally Published: September 27, 2010
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

DENVER -- After the Denver Nuggets hosted media day Monday, we can draw one of two conclusions: Either the Nuggets are the most existential team in the NBA or, more likely, Carmelo Anthony is outta here.

The focus was on the tangible facts available at the present moment, rather than the possibility of a contract extension that hasn't been signed or trade proposals that haven't come to fruition. Carmelo was in the Pepsi Center, wearing a Nuggets jersey, and as the Nuggets addressed reporters in the noon hour, that was pretty much the extent of it.

"Melo is a Nugget now, and we're excited about that," Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said.

"I'm here today," Anthony said. "Whatever the future holds, it holds."

They didn't disclose details of their morning meeting, and they didn't comment on a potential trade. More significantly, neither side proclaimed that Anthony wasn't going anywhere, and Anthony didn't utter anything remotely close to Chauncey Billups' statement that, "I'm under contract right now with the Nuggets, and hopefully that's for the rest of my career."

The only indication that Carmelo would even consider playing out the final season of his contract in Denver came when he said, "Right now I'm leaving my options open. At the end of the season, I'll sit down with my team, sit down with the Nuggets and go from there."

That was probably out of habit more than anything else, after seven years of starting and ending the NBA calendar with the Nuggets. And any linking of his future to the Nuggets' was likely mere courtesy. After all, he was in their building, with their logo on the backdrop, their back-from-cancer coach in the room and with Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Bret Bearup lingering in the press room and the hallway outside.

"I'm here, of course I have to be committed, 100 percent," Anthony said. "This is going to be a great year for me, a great year for the Nuggets, a great year for the NBA as a whole."

Notice that he listed himself and the Nuggets as separate entities, not "us."

The only thing Anthony wanted to clarify was, "I never said I wanted to be traded."

Then again, he never said he didn't.

He wants to be gone by whatever means, the sooner the better for all involved except the Nuggets, who hold out hope that being back in Denver surrounded by his teammates and coaching staff will weigh on Carmelo's sentimental side and cause him to reconsider.

Then again, how effective can that be when the franchise is in flux on multiple levels? Ujiri is in after the Nuggets dismissed Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman over the summer. George Karl's trusted assistant coach, Tim Grgurich, left last week. There could be major roster turnover after the season, including Billups, the ballast.

Karl couldn't guarantee he will be in Denver beyond this season, but he did say he feels well enough to coach all 82 games after debilitating cancer-fighting treatments caused him to miss the end of last season and the playoffs. He called Denver the best city in the country, and said he hopes to retire here.

"My thing is, I don't know why [Anthony] wants to leave or if he does want to leave," Karl said. "My thing is to try to keep him here."

He kept citing the Lakers' scenario from 2007, when they started training camp with Kobe Bryant wanting out, rode through it, then added Pau Gasol and have booked trips to the NBA Finals ever since.

"Maybe I'll give Phil [Jackson] a call and see if he'll tell me what he did," Karl said.

The Lakers did their due diligence to find a trade of Bryant that wouldn't devastate them, and never heard the right responses, so they didn't make a panic move. In addition, veteran Derek Fisher kept his mouth close to Kobe's ear, constantly reminding him to stay focused on the task at hand, with the only franchise he'd ever played for.

Billups would be the logical choice to play that role in Denver, except he doesn't want to audition for the part.

"I'm not selling anything," Billups said. "I could see that if he was a free agent I'd sell it and try to recruit him. But he's not. He's been a Nugget longer than I have. He knows better than I do about the organization and things. He knows that the city loves him; I don't have to tell him that. He knows that we love playing with him; I don't have to tell him that. He knows everything. So I really don't have to recruit Melo. It's pretty much a decision between him and his circle."

If the Nuggets even have to consider recruiting him, is he really worth keeping? If the franchise centerpiece wants out, how could that be appealing to free agents?

The Nuggets would be more hampered than helped if Anthony signed the three-year, $65 million extension that's on the table and ate up their salary cap without yielding postseason success.

For all of the highlights and regular-season victories racked up during Carmelo's tenure in Denver, the Nuggets have won exactly two playoff series -- both in 2008 -- in his six seasons.

He wants to be placed on the same line as 2003 draft classmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, yet they've won eight and seven series, respectively.

If Carmelo truly warranted franchise-player status, the Nuggets would not have needed Billups to show up and provide the leadership they needed to finally escape the first round. But Billups never felt comfortable enough to grab complete control, out of deference to Carmelo's status.

That's the Carmelo Conundrum: He warrants special treatment, but he hasn't produced commensurate results. For an organization that doesn't spend indiscriminately, why not shed its biggest expense?

The Nuggets wouldn't be declared winners in any of the trade possibilities floating around. That doesn't mean procuring some talent, draft picks and salary cap relief couldn't be considered a victory.