Nugget fans still bitter toward Carmelo Anthony long after he departed
For as far back as the NBA has been around, there have always been players that fans love to hate. Whether that’s fans burning LeBron James jerseys after “The Decision,” or Magic fans disbelief over Shaq leaving for the Lakers. The easiest player to hate is often one who spurred your favorite team.
Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder came to the Mile High City for a primetime match up against the Denver Nuggets on February 1st and a reign of boos awaited Anthony with every possession of the basketball. Such has been the case ever since Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks in February of 2011. The Prince of Mile High Basketball resurgence went from toast of the town to lead heel. How did a fan base so hungry for success become so entitled to shun the player that led the Nuggets out of the darkest time in franchise history?
The Nuggets made the playoffs in all of the eight seasons Anthony started with the team. A feat only bested when the franchise made the playoffs in nine straight season (1981-82/1989-90). The Nuggets missed the post season in the eight seasons prior to Anthony’s arrival, posting a .318 winning percentage. With the selection of Carmelo and new uniforms unveiled, the Nuggets had a rebirth of sorts for the franchise.
Trouble In Paradise
After seven winning seasons, rumors began to swirl in the summer of 2010 that Anthony wanted out of Denver. The Nuggets offered a three-year extension worth $65 million, which would be turned down by Anthony. Then talk came that Carmelo wanted to wait and see what Denver would build around him. At Anthony’s televised summer nuptials, Anthony, Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire could be seen toasting to becoming the next “Big Three”. Further igniting the flames was Anthony’s wife, Lala Vasquez and her well documented dislike for the City of Denver. The Denver Stiffs gave Lala the nickname “Yoko Ono” in an 2010 article speculating she could be to the Nuggets what Yoko was to the Beatles. The Nuggets feeling pressure that they would lose Anthony at season’s end for no return, traded him to the Knicks in February of 2010.
Much was made about Anthony “forcing” the Nuggets hand to make a trade. This is where the picture becomes muddy. Did Anthony demand a trade? Did he simply turn down the contact extension signaling to the Nuggets his time in Denver would be over at season’s end? I believe there’s no doubt Anthony wanted to be on the east coast to appease his wife and her career. However he didn’t publicly demand a trade or hold the team for ransom like former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard did.
The Nuggets played this game before when GM Bernie Bickerstaff balked at All-Star center, Dikembe Mutombo‘s modest contract demands of $55 million over five years. The Nuggets lost Mutombo in the off-season to the Atlanta Hawks. Not about to watch their prized player walk away again the Nuggets engaged in talks with multiple teams, leveraging the best deal.
Life After Carmelo
The Nuggets were able reinvent themselves after the Anthony trade. Another reason I feel Carmelo did the Nuggets a huge service in letting his intentions about a long-term deal in Denver be known. Not often does trading your franchise corner-stone lead to immediate success. The Nuggets went on to make the playoffs the following two years after trade, including a franchise best 57-25 regular season record.
Not only were the Nuggets able to spin Timofey Mozgov for two first round picks. They selected Jamal Murray with the protected pick they received from the Knicks in the Anthony trade. While Anthony helped create what could be argued as the golden era of Nuggets basketball, his leaving helped shape what is an even brighter future.
If Anthony doesn’t leave it’s likely Masai Ujiri stays on as Nuggets GM. While he’s highly regarded as the architect behind those successful Nugget teams. I believe he simply bared the fruit of Kiki Vandeweghe‘s labor. With Ujiri staying, Tim Connelly never becomes GM. Connelly has done a wonderful job drafting and spinning trades into future picks.
With Anthony in Denver it’s doubtful we ever see of Nikola Jokic and Co’s half court offense. It’s well-known the style of play from the Anthony days didn’t translate in the playoffs. Whether that’s on Former coach George Karl or movement killer Anthony, their playoff failure could be pinned on the isolation style of play Anthony is accustomed to. Also with Anthony staying, it’s a possibility George Karl stays on as Nuggets coach throughout Anthony’s extension. However the much-needed reset toward sustainable playoff basketball was much-needed. Playoff appearances are great for fan morale and the franchise bottom line. However a five game exit year in year out shouldn’t be the expectation.
During Anthony’s tenure the Nuggets drafted no earlier than the 20th pick in the first round. Drafting the likes of Julius Hodge, Leon Powe and Axel Hervelle, the Nuggets were stuck in a purgatory where being good enough to firmly make the playoffs yet not bad enough to obtain worthwhile talent in the draft. Connelly has done a remarkable job with later round talent but we likely never land a Jamal Murray.
Another team that @carmeloanthony leaves in the Knicks that are doing better without him. Denver was same way when he left.
— Madison Lott (@Madcity30) November 6, 2017
The Ripples of the Anthony trade spurred an unprecedented hate from Nuggets fans. With the seeming endless return on the trade, maybe Nuggets fans are focusing on the wrong ripples. Next time Carmelo Anthony comes to the 5280, lets not boo him but let us cheer on this new era of Nugget basketball his departure helped bring in.