Denver Nuggets: Regrading the Carmelo Anthony trade, 10 years on

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks in action Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets on 21 Jan. 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks in action against Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets on 21 Jan. 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony stepped onto a familiar floor in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

He was ten years removed from calling the arena home, but Melo played like he owned the joint, dropping an efficient 18 points en route to a 1-0 lead against the Nuggets.

The point total is relatively low for the tenth all-time NBA scorer and future Hall of Fame inductee, but it was a significant contribution to Portland’s win and Carmelo’s first win against the Denver Nuggets in his entire career.

If you’re shocked to read that, fear not, so was Carmelo himself when speaking with Casey Holdahl of

“I didn’t even know that this was first win since I was gone, since I got traded. Not even something that I ever even though about to be honest with y’all. Somebody told me that when I was in the locker room after the game. But I’ll take it. I’ll take my first win being Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs.”

And even though it was one of the first games where fans were allowed into Ball Arena, the team didn’t wait to serenade the former Nugget with boos every time he touched the ball.

When speaking about the hostile welcome Melo received from fans, he hinted that it was unwarranted:

“What else can they do? I don’t know what it is. I gave my all here for 7.5 years. I’ve never said anything bad about Denver, about fans, the organization, players. I never complained. I took everything on the chin even when it wasn’t my fault.”

I’ll stay away from the blame game and the ‘Melo-drama’ in his final days in Denver, but it has been over ten years since Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks in a three-team, 12-player trade. It’s time to regrade.

Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets takes a free throw against the Miami Heat at the Pepsi Center on 13 Jan. 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets takes a free throw against the Miami Heat at the Pepsi Center on 13 Jan. 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Denver Nuggets: Regrading the Carmelo Anthony trade from Denver’s perspective

Some say that the team giving up the superstar always loses the trade. This might not be the case in retrospect for the Denver Nuggets but it took us a long time to get here.

The trade happened before the 2010-11 trade deadline and it was half a season before Melo was set to become a free agent.

At the end of the trade, Denver ended up with Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks 2014 first-round draft pick, swap rights for the Knicks 2016 first-round pick, the Warriors’ 2012 second-round pick (obtained from previous trade), the Warriors’ 2013 second-round pick (obtained from previous trade), and $3 million in cash.

Those picks, from lowest to highest, ended up being Romero Osby (51 in 2013), Quincy Miller (38 in 2012), Dario Saric (12 in 2014), and Jamal Murray (7 in 2016).

To get that collection of assets, Denver had to part with Carmelo and a number of players, some of which were salary dumped as the Nuggets didn’t want to pay the tax for a team that wasn’t trying to compete for a title.

Denver ended up making the playoffs that season, totaling a 38-28 record in the lockout-shortened season. Head coach George Karl was working with a roster built up of sophomore Ty Lawson, a rookie Kenneth Faried, Arron Afflalo, and Gallinari. The team lost in seven games to the LA Lakers.

The following season, this same core added Andre Igoudala to the mix and won an outstanding 57 wins. It lost in the first round to an up-and-coming Golden State Warriors team in Stephen Curry’s first playoff appearance.

From there, the team parted ways with George Karl, let Igoudala walk in free agency, and started the rebuild for the team we know today.

Usually, moving on from a superstar player renders a team useless. Just look at the Cleveland Cavaliers without LeBron James, OKC Thunder without Paul George/Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets without James Harden, and so on.

It’s a great opportunity to refresh the team’s young talent and get a head-start on a rebuild that might be on the horizon anyway.

Kudos to Karl and trying to see how far a fun team could go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t far at all.

The best part about the Melo trade was that some of the assets were so far in the future, it didn’t matter if Denver hung around for a few seasons. By the time 2016 rolled around (and New York were bad enough to be giving up the seventh pick – more on that later), the Nuggets added Murray to a young core that was seeing what it had.

This gave Denver a bit of a cushion to developing its talent. At the time, we all thought Emmanuel Mudiay was the point guard of the future (and Jusuf Nurkic was the center of the future) but when Mudiay flamed out, there was Murray, right behind him.

Fast-forward to the present day and with a healthy Jamal, this team is in the title picture, and maybe we’re talking about how the Nuggets match up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

This is likely why we’re seeing many teams who are trading stars focus on draft picks further out in the future. While Melo helped bring the Knicks to the playoffs early on, by the time 2016 rolled around, the team wasn’t anything special at all. Speaking of:

Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks on 30 Nov. 2014 in New York City.(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks on 30 Nov. 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Denver Nuggets: Regrading the Carmelo Anthony trade from New York’s perspective

After reminding myself of how insane New York fans get when they make the playoffs, I can see why the Knicks front office wanted Carmelo Anthony at the deadline instead of waiting until free agency.

Yes, free agency has its own issues and concerns, but the chance of locking up a star in their prime, squeezing in one more playoff run must have been so enticing. What did it cost them? Well, losing Jamal Murray for nothing after an incredibly sub-par season stings.

The Knicks made the playoffs in three straight seasons after acquiring Melo but with little-to-no future assets combined with some horrible decision making (see Bargnani, Andrea), the team failed to get considerably better. This was compounded by aging players like Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler having their injuries catch up to them.

If the goal for New York was to win a title, then they failed. If the goal was to make the playoffs, sell some tickets, and hear people talk about basketball on the radio, they suceeded.

But hindsight is 20-20 and if you can trade for a superstar in their prime, you do it and figure the rest out later. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, trading for their star instead of signing him mere months later took away a lot of their ammunition to improve.

As Mike Cortez of The Knicks Wall put it in his regrade, it was the front office’s fault:

The Knicks traded a starting-caliber player and role players for a top-ten player at the peak of his powers. Anthony’s presence immediately restored buzz to the NBA’s sleeping giant and could have put New York back among the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference if they—they, being the front office—followed through on building around their newly acquired star.

It is this qualifier that has resulted in a large minority of fans pettifogging the true problem with the Anthony trade: its follow-through. On its face the Anthony deal was, at worst, paying market price for a top-ten player.

That “price” for a superstar has only gone up in today’s NBA. Yes, the Harden’s, PG’s and Anthony Davis’ of the world will get the headlines, but even a player like Jrue Holiday was traded to Milwaukee in exchange for three future first-round picks.

Denver played their cards well in trading their disgruntled superstar before he could leave for nothing. If the Knicks go on to win a championship before slowly disappearing into the sunset, the Nuggets probably don’t get Jamal Murray for nothing.

The Carmelo Anthony trade might not be a disaster for the Knicks, but the following moves only made things better for the Nuggets.

If there are any lessons to learn over a decade after the trade, it’s to trade with front offices you think are bad. Put your future in the hands of someone who will clumsily give you the seventh pick when they need it most.