Carmelo Anthony’s fate seems sealed. He’s playing one more year in New York and then he’s gone. Could a return to Denver be in the cards for his free agency next summer?
After working towards a trade with the Houston Rockets, it seems Anthony will play for the Knicks for one more season.
When that’s over, however, Anthony will be faced with the first real free agency of his career. At age 33, he’s ready to assist a contender in the pursuit of a championship.
Would he deem the team that birthed his career the right fit?
The Denver Nuggets selected Carmelo Anthony with the third-overall pick of the completely stacked 2003 NBA Draft.
That includes an appearance in the 2009 Western Conference Finals, where they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With Anthony, the Nuggets never finished below 43 wins and maxed out at 54 in that same Western Conference Finals run.
Denver has fallen out of postseason play since trading Anthony away, despite the unusually large haul they received in return.
In the six seasons they’ve played without the star forward, the Nuggets made the playoffs just twice. Falling to a ninth-place conference finish last year made it four straight years without the chance to dance.
Including a season-low 30 wins in their 2014-15 season, Denver has won an average of 39 games per year without Anthony—seven below their 46-win average with him.
Now, no one’s doubting the slow-but-successful results yielded in the Nuggets’ rebuild. They’ve collected a serious excess of talent without big trades or free agent deals.
Power forward Nikola Jokic is their most recent success nearly leading them to the playoffs last season. The Nuggets finished just one game behind the eighth and final seed.
Both the Nuggets and Anthony are at a crossroads. Denver landed All-Star Paul Millsap this summer on a three-year, $30-million deal. He and Jokic will make for quite the challenging frontcourt. But will it be enough to propel this team into the postseason?
Carmelo is in a contract year and will need to continue his usual high-level of scoring to land the deal he desires. Above all else, he needs to catch the eyes of contenders.
For the first time in years, that may be a term we’ll soon use for the Denver Nuggets.
What Does Anthony Bring to Denver?
A couple incentives lie behind the Nuggets signing Carmelo.
First, he’s a familiar face for the older and newer fans alike. The fan base would likely love to have the new, more mature Anthony take the court again wearing a Nuggets uniform.
Second, and perhaps most important, he brings that reliable sense of scoring that you can’t get anywhere else. He’s an absolute beast in isolation which helps to atone for his questionable defensive effort. More than anything, Anthony is the extra piece that helps pave the way toward playoff success.
For a team as young as the Nuggets (average age 24-and-a-half), his veteran experience in competitive play would be more than an asset. Alongside Jokic and Millsap, Anthony would make the Nuggets an absolute nightmare for the opposing team’s defenders.
Will the Nuggets Be Able to Afford Carmelo?
Denver is in a structurally sound place financially and has less than $90 million on the books for the 2017-18 season.
Jokic will be a free agent after next season. Re-signing him will be at the top of the Nuggets’ to-do list. Should he have another season like last year and remain healthy, he’s potentially looking at max-contract money.
Beyond that, there’s no reason why Carmelo wouldn’t take a lower contract, say $10-to-$15 million. He’s ring-chasing and has seen more money than a lot of the guys in the league today.
So yes, even after maxing out Jokic, the Nuggets will have the room to sign Anthony.
Can the Nuggets Really Be Considered Contenders?
I’ll be the first to admit that calling Denver a contender in the powerhouse Western Conference is a little far fetched. However, after seeing the development of Jokic in just one year, and the addition of Millsap, a method becomes apparent to the madness.
The biggest issue for Denver, and ironically their biggest strength, is the lack of a facilitator. In Millsap and Jokic, they have great passing big men.
That doesn’t change the fact that every team needs a point guard.
Former lottery pick Emmanual Mudiay has been the subject of trade talks since failing to live up to expectations. Without a real floor general, the Nuggets will never surpass the first round of the playoffs.
Should the Nuggets find themselves reaching that eighth seed this year, they’ll become potential suitors for those big free agent point guards headlining the 2018 market.
Chris Paul had a meeting with Denver this summer and is a close friend of Anthony’s. Signing one almost ensures the ability to sign the other.
Throw Carmelo on top of all that and you have a team that’s poised to make real noise.
Last season, Carmelo Anthony averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Those are the kinds of numbers that can elevate Denver to the next tier of NBA success. The Nuggets are the kind of team that can elevate Anthony to NBA Champion.
If both are willing to play ball, Anthony might just find himself back where it all started.