OPINION: Nuggets not pushing button on demolition project

In these times of uncertainty, it’s understandable for Nuggets fans to be concerned about the future of the franchise.

Their worries undoubtedly stem from the pain of multiple rebuilding projects of the 1990s and early 2000s.

But to tweak a familiar phrase from the business world, past experiences are not an indication of future results.

With a new management team led by president Josh Kroenke and executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets are not looking to blow up their roster and start from scratch.

Their first priority remains the same as it was when training camp opened in late-September: convince All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony that Denver is the best place for him to continue his career and win an NBA championship.

Based on all the offseason speculation, Anthony was supposed to be gone by now, serving as someone else’s new luxury sedan while the Nuggets took inventory of their spare parts.

According to the ever-popular “unnamed sources,” he was headed to New Jersey in October. When that didn’t happen, the talk turned to Dec. 15, the first day that players who signed free-agent contracts during summer were eligible to be traded.

With January fast approaching, Anthony is still wearing a Denver uniform. In the fluid world of NBA transactions, no one knows how things will turn out, but the Nuggets continue to stand behind the reported three-year, $65 million contract extension they offered Anthony back in August.

It is rare for teams to sign players to long-term extensions during the season, yet the Nuggets remain willing to give Anthony the maximum length and dollar amount allowed under NBA rules.

While they hope Anthony will eventually sign the extension, the Nuggets must also have alternative plans to avoid losing him for nothing if he opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent on July 1. That’s essentially what happened in 1996 when center Dikembe Mutombo signed a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Hawks.

Denver Post columnist Dave Krieger covered the Nuggets for the Rocky Mountain News when Mutombo departed, leaving the team with few pieces other than Antonio McDyess to build around moving forward.

Krieger, a former colleague of mine at the Rocky, brought up Denver’s painful rebuilding projects of the past this week, but there are a few things that should be put in context as they relate to the Nuggets’ current situation.

If the Nuggets decide that trading Anthony is the only course of action, they would gain the financial flexibility necessary to add free agents who would complement a talented core that is almost certain to remain in a Post-Melo Era.

Second-year point guard Ty Lawson is the real deal, as evidenced by his play of late. Lawson is averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 assists in the past 11 games and he continues to emerge as the eventual heir to veteran Chauncey Billups.

Speaking of Billups, he is under contract through the 2011-12 season and clearly loves playing for his hometown team. As he returns to his familiar All-Star form, the Nuggets have given Billups no reason to believe he will be the foreman of a construction project similar to what he witnessed during his first stop in Denver from 1999-2000.

“I don't want to rebuild. They know that and I don't think that they want to do that,” Billups told the Post earlier this season. “I've had some conversations with Josh and Masai. I think that they want to win. I don't think they're looking to win six, seven years down the line.”

Like Billups, center Nene is under contract for next season and repeatedly has said he has no plans to opt out of the final year of his contract next summer. Nene, 28, leads the NBA in field-goal percentage and is making a strong case of his first career All-Star appearance.

And then there’s shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who is a testament to the product of hard work. After dedicating himself to the gym each of the past two summers, Afflalo has become one of the league’s top three-point shooters and should earn recognition for the NBA All-Defensive team.

He can be a restricted free agent next summer but both he and the Nuggets have said they want to work out an agreement to keep him in Denver.

Nobody appreciates Afflalo more than Nuggets coach George Karl, who also has praised the work of Kroenke and Ujiri.

Karl, one of only seven coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 career regular-season games, doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding project, yet he and the team are in discussions on a contract extensions. That speaks volumes of what Karl thinks of Denver’s prospects for 2011-12 and beyond.

No one wants to lose a franchise player, and the Nuggets are no exception. But if they have to trade Anthony by the Feb. 24 NBA trade deadline, you can be certain that Kroenke and Ujiri will receive value in return.

That value could come in any number of packages, That value could come in any number of packages, including a potential combination of draft picks, quality players and salary-cap space that has been non-existent in Denver since 2004.

Add that to a Hall of Fame coach overseeing a nucleus of talented veterans and young players, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the blueprint for a demolition project..

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...

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