For months, two things have been clear about the Denver Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony: he wanted to sign an extension for maximum money and he wanted to play for the New York Knicks. Only Denver could offer him maximum money, so he wanted to be traded so New York would have the right to pay him more. New York gave up some key players last week to get Anthony, and now he has the opportunity to get everything he wanted.
Because the numbers are so big here, I do not completely understand Anthony’s perspective. Obviously, if you have the opportunity to make a huge salary, you would rather not settle for a lower salary. But even at the lower rate he would sign as a free agent, he would still make tens of millions and be set for life. Were I in that situation, it seems logical to leave millions on the table to go to the city and team where I really want to play. Even at the lower amount, I will still make more than enough to never have to worry about my finances again.
The Knicks are dramatically improved over last year, and Anthony could still make several million per year by signing with them as a free agent. Then, the Knicks could keep the good players they traded for him. Anthony would be where he wants to be and have a better chance of contending for a championship than before. Anthony decided he would rather have a weaker team around him so he could make significantly more money. He is fully within his rights to do that, but it does not make him look like a team player.
Unfortunately, the way this was handled reflects badly on the NBA. The very public discussion of trading Anthony was a distraction for Denver all season, and it appeared the future of three franchises (including the New Jersey Nets, who were also trying to trade for Anthony) were being held hostage to the demands of one star player. It reinforces the perspective that many have that the NBA is filled with spoiled stars who demand to get their way.
While I keep tabs on the NBA, I do not follow it closely enough to really predict how the new players will impact the future prospects of the Knicks and Nuggets. The biggest problem the Knicks have now is having enough money to put enough pieces around Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire so they can be championship contenders. It is almost certain that the new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated this summer will lower or more strictly enforce the salary cap, so being able to afford good players will be more difficult.
Michael Rosenberg raised a legitimate point that this episode has “made a mockery of the Nuggets’ season” and reinforces “the perception that the league selectively enforces its rules.” This has hurt the reputation of the league, and it has come at a very bad time because of the potential for a lockout if negotiations stall on the collective bargaining agreement. There may not be an NBA season at all for 2011-2012, or it may be shortened.
The NBA, arguably more than any other professional sports league, is dominated by the top players in the game. Much of this is simply due to the nature of the game, and the NBA has marketed itself as a league of stars for decades. But when stars take such a big role to the point of determining the rosters of three NBA teams, it hurts the league’s reputation. The NBA needs to look very carefully at this and how to prevent further damage.