There aren’t many days in Colorado sports history that broke my heart like the day Carmelo Anthony officially got traded to the New York Knicks.
I grew up as a basketball fan while Carmelo Anthony grew up as a NBA player, and seeing him force a trade away from the Denver Nuggets will always be a top three worst sports moment in my life.
Carmelo Anthony made basketball in Denver more than just ‘that game they play when the Broncos are in the offseason.’ Melo made the Pepsi Center “The Can.” He made the Denver Nuggets a lock for the playoffs, instead of a lock for the lottery.
Then there was me, a skinny 12-year-old who had dreams of playing in the NBA but couldn’t even jump high enough to touch the net. I found a superstar to model my game after, I could read about my team in national media now, I had signature shoes to buy, I had starstruck eyes even in the nosebleeds at Pepsi Center, I had dreams of experiencing Denver’s first professional basketball championship.
And then it was all gone. Skinny 19-old-year-old me watched helplessly on February 22, 2011 when Denver’s rookie GM Masai Uijiri hadn’t convinced Melo that Denver was the best place for him to play basketball. Uijiri proceeded to trade him to New York to get something out of his best asset.
No more buzzer beating “and-one” three pointers over Dallas to win a playoff game. No more fast break slams, or nights watching my favorite player set the record for most points scored in a quarter. No more ESPN analysts saying the Nuggets have a shot to win it all because of Carmelo Anthony.
Tonight, the Denver Nuggets face Melo’s Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Almost THREE years to the day of the trade, the Nuggets still feel the loss of Carmelo Anthony on the court.
Yes, the Nuggets have continued their playoff steak in the two full seasons without Melo. Yes, the Nuggets continue to put talent on the floor. Yes, they had a 57-win regular season last year.
As much as I was a bitter 19-year-old who argued that the trade put the Nuggets closer to a championship, I would be lying if I said I was expecting Denver’s success these past two seasons.
But there is no question the intangibles of not having a marquee star haunt the current Nuggets. Walking around downtown Denver, the last names of Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, or Danilo Gallinari appear randomly on the backs of powder blue jerseys. A far cry from “15 Anthony” everywhere.
Down one with five seconds left, it’s also a complete toss up on who takes the shot to win it all. The Nuggets are still built around the key assets they got from the trade, including Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, so in a sense they are still built around Melo himself.
Now the Nuggets are a .500 team. The Knicks are below .500.
Both teams are looking from the outside in on the playoff picture, and barring a major trade neither team has a true shot at the title.
Now, the anger I directed at Melo has turned into vast curiosity of what could have been.
Masai Ujiri has blossomed into a top three NBA general manager and with Melo in Denver, he would’ve had his superstar and cap space to play with. Chauncey Billups could have retired in his hometown like he wanted to. Aaron Afflalo could be putting his potential to great use as Melo’s sidekick instead of wasting it in Orlando. Melo could finally play on a team without having to suffer through JR Smith hosting threes.
It’s not true to say all of the Nuggets’ 2014 problems stem from the Melo trade. It’s also not fair to blame the Knicks’ record on Carmelo’s game. He’s been the high scoring superstar he always was.
However, both parties involved remain championshipless. Both are farther away from a championship than they were right before they shattered a 19-year-old’s Nuggets championship dream.
What could have been?