Well, it’s been fun to follow, at least.
From what appeared to be a sure thing Friday night, to seeing him a mile high in powder blue on Monday morning – fielding questions from the hoards of reporters at Media Day – the window of acquiring Carmelo Anthony has closed rapidly over the past few days. It appears to be, to paraphrase the words of head coach Avery Johnson, the opposite of alive.
That’s right, folks. The dust has settled, and Carmelo Anthony is still a Nugget. Rumors of Anthony’s displeasure with Denver have been swirling for a year now, and almost came to a breaking point in these past two weeks. Denver hoped to get Anthony at least in for training camp. They wanted him around Chauncey Billups and the rest of the roster – who by all accounts still like him – to perhaps convince him to stick around. Although Billups has publicly stated “I’m not selling anything,” Denver surely wants Carmelo to be buying: that maybe they’ve still got a fighting chance, maybe they can still compete with the best of the NBA, maybe they’d finally make it over the hump. The wait-and-see approach worked. He stays in Denver another day.
Before Monday, I would have sworn to you that this deal was going down. Mikhail Prokhorov wanted a bright star to build a solar system around, and Carmelo happened to be the one on the market. Need to deal a proven commodity? Here, Charlotte, take Devin Harris. You want exciting young talent? Here, take the #3 pick in the draft, Derrick Favors. Do salaries need to match somewhere? Who wants Quinton Ross? Are you satisfied yet? Nope, you need some picks. Hey, we’ve got picks! Here, take two of our most valuable ones. Wait, Carmelo doesn’t want to sign an extension? No problem, let’s convince him his friend Chris Paul will show up in two years!
But in the end, somewhere between the Mile High City and Cory Booker’s playground, somebody – Denver, Melo, Charlotte, Billy, somebody – balked.
While I’m glad the wheels have stalled on this deal, it’s hard to deny that the NBA has become a star-driven league in the post-Jordan era. Getting a star like Carmelo Anthony would certainly have helped in that department. He would have, at the very least, been Vince Carter 2.0: a dynamic, exciting, legitimate superstar that the Nets hadn’t had since they dumped VC 14 months ago (for three players that have since left the team). He’d score 30 points a game, show off his gorgeous offensive versatility, sell enough jerseys to fill the Prudential Center twice-over, and give Mikhail Prokhorov a clubbing buddy. Having a marketable superstar like Anthony would have put butts in the seats, kept casual fans watching games, and in the end helped the rich get richer. For all their talents, Devin Harris hasn’t been able to do that consistently, and Derrick Favors – as skyscraping as his upside may be – doesn’t have that same charismatic pull. He’s a great kid and a phenomenal talent, but he’s just a ballplayer, not an actor.
Anthony’s a great player – no denying that. His levels of greatness are debatable (top 5? top 20? top 10?), but it’s a foregone conclusion that his net impact (but not his Net impact) is a positive one. But here’s where my skepticism sets in: at what cost? The Nets would have lost two players who actually wanted to be here; a former all-star reunited with his old coach and what would have been one of the highest draft picks ever to be dealt against his will post-draft and pre-season. They would also have lost (depending on the source) some combination of Kris Humphries, Quinton Ross, cash, and two first-round draft picks. That may be fair value for a player of Anthony’s caliber, but when a player is demanding a trade, fair value should not be an option. Just look at Vince Carter – twice. Anthony’s preferred suitors – New York and Chicago – didn’t have nearly enough to offer and refused to offer real talent, respectively. That left New Jersey as a last-ditch destination. It would have been akin to selling the farm to get a cow that looks perfect – until you realize that it actually wanted to graze at The Garden.
Truth be told, this deal may end up going down – maybe on December 15th, maybe right before the trade deadline, hell, maybe tomorrow. It’s one of those situations where ‘Melo isn’t going to get traded… until he gets traded. Billy King himself said these things sometimes take as long as two years until you get the player you want. Oddly enough, that line of logic could also apply to the centerpiece of the deal – the 19-year-old Favors, of course – but I doubt that’s the development he was referring to. Regardless, I do hope we get to see Favors’s next two years in New Jersey. That looks more and more likely with each passing day.
Between the complete overhaul of the roster, the gutting of the front office and staff, and the impending move to Brooklyn, It’s All New! has never rung more loudly. While adding a star like Carmelo Anthony would have boosted the campaign, I’m ecstatic about what the Nets have now – a talented, balanced lineup from 1 to 5, depth at every position, a youthful base, and veteran leadership. We may not be a playoff lock, but the narrative will certainly be fun to watch unfold. Meanwhile, I’m just counting down the days until the first alley-oop from Devin Harris to Derrick Favors. I sure hope you’re counting with me.