When younger fans think of the Denver Nuggets, the first name that comes to mind is probably Nikola Jokic. While older heads might consider this blasphemy and look to names like Dikembe Mutumbo, Dan Issel or Alex English to carry the torch instead. However, somewhere in between all of this is another legend synonymous with Denver basketball, Carmelo Anthony.
When Melo was with the Nuggets, he was one of the best players in basketball. Leading Denver to their first Conference Finals since 1985 at just 24 years old and setting countless franchise records in the progress.
To this day, he’s still third on the franchise’s all-time scoring list (13,970), third in career field goals (4,989) and third in minutes played (20,521). As well as top ten in games (564), free throws (3,582), steals (634), offensive win shares (33.9), and total win shares (53.5). He also has the highest career usage percentage in Nuggets history (31.2).
Simply put, you can’t speak on the Denver Nuggets without mentioning Carmelo Anthony.
So, with Melo set to hit free agency yet again this upcoming offseason. This begs the question if it’s finally time to bring him back to the Mile High City.
Can he still play?
Following Melo’s stellar years in New York, his career came to a bit of a halt. Bouncing around between Oklahoma City, Houston and Portland between 2017-2020 and never averaging more than 16 points per game.
Even though he played a solid supporting role alongside the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Damian Lillard, there was no doubt that he was on the decline of his NBA career.
Then last season, Melo decided to take his talents to Southern California to team up with LeBron, AD and the Los Angeles Lakers. Where he played in 69 games, averaging a respectable 26 minutes and 13.3 points per contest. As well as an impressive true shooting percentage of 57.9 and a effective field goal percentage of 54.4. All in his 19th NBA season and at the age of 37, nevertheless.
While his decision to play alongside his longtime friend, LeBron James, didn’t exactly result in a championship (as many had predicted). He still proved to be a reliable role player that can provide valuable scoring off the bench. Which is something every title contender can find value in.
How would he fit in Denver’s rotation?
He’s obviously in the latter half of his professional career and is nowhere near the player he was when he left Denver.
But, to be fair, neither are the Nuggets.
Now, Denver has the reigning MVP of the league, Nikola Jokic, one of the best shooting guards in basketball, Jamal Murray, and one of the most exciting young talents in the NBA, Michael Porter Jr. So, he wouldn’t need to be the Melo of old, but rather a reliable scorer that can give them solid minutes alongside their current big three. Or (at the very least) provide a steady veteran presence that can help lead the team’s second unit.
Above all else, the Denver Nuggets need more shooters and depth along the wing. At the time of writing, the team only has MPJ, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, and Zeke Nnaji under contract for next season. Both JaMychal Green and Jeff Green have player options, which I expect they will sign. But the Nuggets could still use more offensive firepower to surround Jokic with.
Not only would bringing Carmelo back provide the Nuggets with immediate scoring help but it would also give fans a familiar face they can easily get behind.
Is it possible?
The elephant in the room is that the Denver Nuggets are one of the most cap strapped teams in the NBA. With $158.68 million in guaranteed salaries set up for next season, and the team already $9.7 million over the projected luxury tax, per Spotrac.
Which means that the Nuggets’ front office is in unfamiliar territory. As a franchise with little to no cap space and perceived to be just one or two pieces away from an NBA championship.
The good news is that Denver still has the taxpayer mid-level exception worth up to $6.4 million. Even if they choose to re-sign some of their role players like Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes and DeMarcus Cousins. Which might just be enough to entice Melo to come back for one last run with the Nuggets.
To give you an idea, Patty Mills (Brooklyn Nets), George Hill (Milwaukee Bucks), and Rudy Gay (Utah Jazz) were all players signed to mid-level deals last offseason. And Carmelo Anthony is coming off a down year statistically in which he was paid just $2.6 million.
Let’s face it, Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have too many years left in him. He’s about to turn 38 years old, and his numbers have been slowly digressing since his days with the Knicks. At this point, the only thing he has left to do is win an NBA Championship.
Sure, he could sign with another contender like Golden State, Miami, Boston, or Brooklyn. But when the Nuggets have Jokic, Murray, and MPJ on the floor at once, they’re easily one of the deadliest teams in basketball. Adding Melo to the mix might just be enough to put them over the top.
Most importantly, there’s arguably no player more synonymous with Nuggets basketball in the last two decades than Carmelo Anthony. So, if I’m the Denver Nuggets and Melo shows any interest whatsoever. I’m pulling the trigger.