When Carmelo Anthony is mentioned as one of the best Denver Nuggets in franchise history there’s quite the dividing line between those that saw him as the best and simply put, those that didn’t. A good portion of Nuggets fans will tell you he’s more of a top 5 guy rather than a franchise best. Is it because he left for the big city lights of New York, or that he hated playing defense? Either way you slice it, Anthony is certainly one of the more controversial players to have sported the baby blue. Had he stayed in Denver would those that oppose his “Nuggets greats” status sing a different tune?
The guy never missed the playoffs while playing for Denver and he was a major part in the Nuggets quick turnaround from the laughing stock in the NBA to a playoff team in the span of a year. After being drafted by the Nuggets at #3 in the 2003 draft, Denver took a 17-65 record to 43-39 in Mello’s first year, clinching an 8th seed in the 2004 NBA playoffs. Not getting out of the first round more than once is a burden he most certainly shares with former Nuggets head coach, George Karl but there’s no doubt Anthony (and Karl) helped the Nuggets get out of the leagues basement for more than a decade. From 04 to 2010, Mello and the Nuggets secured a playoff spot, a distant memory compared to the 4 year playoff drought currently plaguing Denver. His ppg average never went below 20 while playing in the mile high city and his playoff scoring numbers climbed every year, reaching 30 ppg in his final series with the Nuggets.
Even his departure benefitted Denver for a few seasons. Unlike Lebron James before him, Anthony wanted to be traded even though he would soon be a free agent. He could have simply waited out the second half of the 2010/11 season and signed with the Knicks in the offseason but the fact he requested a trade allowed the Nuggets to acquire guys like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov. Gallo and Chandler were huge parts in the Nuggets continued success post Melo and Chandler is still considered a crucial part of the Nuggets “back to the playoffs” plan.
Carmelo Anthony made his own bed, no doubt. He chose to go back home to New York and play for the Knicks but if he would have stayed in the Mile High City, would he not only have cemented himself as the greatest Nugget of all time but perhaps be considered a top 5 Denver sports professional athlete? No other player in Denver took a team from the bottom and made them relevant like Mello did. Sure, basketball is a sport that lends itself to one or two superstars improving teams virtually over night but the aid he provided to a broken franchise is nearly comparable to what Lebron did for Cleveland. Von Miller is considered to be the best player for the Denver Broncos and he certainly had those games where he single handedly won games for the blue and orange but even his rookie season only helped Denver achieve an 8-8 season (yes their division was bad to they won the west that year too). Nolan Arenado is sensational but last year was only his first playoff season since becoming a pro.
Now Carmelo Anthony plays third wheel to the mess of a team in OKC. Before that, Melo hadn’t made the playoffs since 2013 while in New York. Say what you will about the Kroenke’s and how they run things for the Nuggets, but it’s nothing compared to Melo’s final years as a Knick. If he would have stayed in Denver then perhaps in this world of superstar recruiting he could have attracted more stars to play alongside he and George Karl. And yes, maybe the former coach of the year would still be employed.
I’m not saying I wish things would have been different. I love the direction Denver is heading. But now that Melo’s career is fading, I can’t help but wonder how things would have been if he decided to stay in Denver? After reading George Karl’s book, Furious George, Karl was convinced that if Melo stayed, the Nuggets would have built a true contender. I’m not sure how it would have went down if Carmelo Anthony would have signed another long term deal with Denver but I can say with certain confidence that they would have continued to make the playoffs and perhaps saw more first round victories.
How will he be remembered in Denver? Well his jersey will certainly be hung in the rafters of the Pepsi Center (it doesn’t take much in Nuggets land to earn that honor) but will he every truly get the credit he deserves or will he always be known as the guy that left his team behind?