Carmelo Anthony has made it out of the first round of the playoffs once in his career. Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels, Flickr.com
Carmelo Anthony saved the Denver Nuggets when he was drafted third overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.
The Nuggets were dreadful to say the least. In the eight seasons prior to Anthony being drafted, the Nuggets did not sniff the playoffs. They won 11, 14 and 17 games in seasons during the stretch. They tied for the worst record in the league during the 2002-03 season.
The culture of the team changed when Anthony came to town. The team started winning and made the playoffs in all of the seven full seasons he played there. Denver only got out of the first round once during this tenure, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2009. Despite all the winning, Anthony wanted out of the Denver.
Since the Nuggets traded Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011, Denver has flourished. The culture has changed again and this time it may lead to even more winning. Anthony visits Denver for the first time since the trade on Wednesday, March 13.
Ty Lawson’s emergence
Without the Anthony trade, the Nuggets may have never known how great Ty Lawson was. Chauncey Billups was also sent to the Knicks in blockbuster trade. Billups is a Colorado basketball legend. He was amazing at George Washington High School, he led the Colorado Buffaloes to the NCAA tournament and was a key part of the Nuggets team that went to the Western Conference Finals. Billups could do no wrong in the eyes of most Denver fans. But to make the trade work with the Knicks, Billups had to be moved as well.
Lawson became the starter as soon as Billups was traded. The speedy point guard has only gotten better each year. His points have gone up every year from 11.7 points a game the year of the trade to 17 points a game during the current season. His assists per game are also at an career-high at 7.7 this season.
Lawson is becoming a star and the leader of the Nuggets. He also signed a contract extension last summer, so he wants to be a part of the Nuggets. Lawson will have to become better in the playoffs. He looks great at times including a 32-point performance in Game 6 against Lakers last season, but he also had games of nine and 11 in the series.
While the Nuggets are pushing for as high as the No. 3 seed in the conference, Lawson is playing his best basketball. He averaged 23.1 points a game in February and is at 21.1 in March. The Nuggets are 14-4 since Feb. 1, with a win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday, March 11.
Lawson may have stayed on the bench if Anthony never demanded the trade.
A happier George Karl
Did Nuggets head coach George Karl ever look happy during the the Anthony era in Denver? He had a frustrated look on his face most of the time on the bench. Anthony stopped the ball. He held it and then he shot it. All of the other Nuggets stood around and watched Anthony work his game. This is not what Karl wanted as a coach.
The Nuggets scored a lot of points during Anthony’s time in Denver. Every year that Karl coached, the Nuggets were in the top five in scoring. The Nuggets did not fast break like they do now. Denver averages 19.8 fast-break points a game, the best of Karl’s tenure. This team is built to run. Anthony would run when he wanted to. He didn’t fit the system as well as it seemed. Anthony is a half-court player, which is great when you need a basket down the stretch. That is not the way Karl wants to play.
Karl has never mixed with superstars. He didn’t get along with Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and eventually Anthony. He wants to build and grow superstars, which is what he is getting to do now. A happy Karl can only lead to success in Denver.
How good are the Knicks?
Are the Knicks better than the Nuggets? This season it is close. The Knicks are 38-22 and the Nuggets 43-22. The Knicks are in trouble in the Eastern Conference this season, though. Anthony and four other former Nuggets (J.R. Smith, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Raymond Felton) are battling for the No. 2 seed in the conference with the Indiana Pacers. But does it matter? The Miami Heat are clearly the best team in the conference and the league. The Knicks probably have no chance against the Heat in the playoffs.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, play in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. The top five teams have established themselves, with the Nuggets sitting seven games ahead of the Golden State Warriors for the fifth seed. The Nuggets can play with any team in the playoffs and have good chance to make a run in the playoffs.
Who has a better chance at a title? It is tough to tell this season. The Knicks could have home-court advantage for two series, which could help them, but they have the Heat to deal with. The Nuggets may not even get home-court advantage in the playoffs but is a dangerous team that teams may not want to face. This season it is a draw.
The Nuggets’ future is bright and fans have a lot to look forward to. The Nuggets have won the past two blockbusters they have been a part of–the Anthony trade and the Dwight Howard trade that netted them Andre Iguodala last summer have both been winners for Denver. When fans see Anthony take the floor at Pepsi Center, they shouldn’t boo him. He did force his way out of Denver, but in the long run the Nuggets and their fans will end up the winners.
Follow Chris Schmaedeke on Twitter: @ChrisSchmaedeke