New era on horizon as Nuggets set to trade Carmelo Anthony
Denver front office finds maximum value for franchise player
The 30-year-old team president and the first-year executive vice president of basketball operations were supposedly in over their heads.
With their All-Star forward seeking a lucrative contract extension and a trade to the team of his choice – the best of both worlds – Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri would be manipulated by powerful agents and bullied by opportunistic NBA executives hoping to land Carmelo Anthony for pennies on the dollar.
That theory was turned on its head Monday night when the Nuggets agreed in principle to an 11-player trade that will send Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks in exchange for three of New York’s top four scorers, three future draft picks and $3 million in cash.
According to league sources, the Nuggets will receive forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, point guard Raymond Felton and rookie center Timofey Mozgov. Denver also will acquire New York’s first-round pick in 2014 and the second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 that the Knicks received from Golden State last summer.
In addition to Anthony and Billups, the Nuggets also will send point guard Anthony Carter and forwards Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams to New York, the sources told Nuggets.com.
To make the deal work under the salary cap, the Knicks also sent Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After six months of exhaustive media speculation and intensive negotiations, Kroenke and Ujiri called coach George Karl and assistant Chad Iske into the Nuggets conference room on the second floor of the Pepsi Center to deliver some good news.
Kroenke simply pointed to the details of the trade on the whiteboard and said, “Done.” The four men then exchanged hugs in celebration of the fact that they could once again focus on basketball and making another playoff push over the season’s final eight weeks.
Despite all the speculation and preseason doomsday prophecies, the Nuggets (32-25) are seventh in the Western Conference and just 4½ games behind Oklahoma City for first place in the Northwest Division.
“We have a great race with 25 games left,” Karl said after Denver's first post-All-Star break practice Monday night. “We've done a great job of keeping the focus on the game at hand, the situation of performing and winning. That's what I'm going to stay focused on.”
Karl and the 1971 North Carolina NIT championship team were honored Saturday in Chapel Hill, and the 59-year-old coach will soon have two Tar Heels running his offense – Felton and Ty Lawson.
Felton, the fifth overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, is averaging career highs in points (17.1) and assists (9.0) this season, while Lawson has been solid as the understudy to Billups in his first two NBA seasons.
By themselves, Felton, Chandler (16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds) and Gallinari (15.9 points) would have represented a nice return for Anthony, who never gave the Nuggets any indication he would sign an extension to stay in Denver through 2015.
Showing patience and negotiating savvy, Kroenke and Ujiri were also able to land a promising 7-foot-1 big man in Mozgov, the three draft picks and salary relief that will leave the Nuggets a couple million dollars under the NBA luxury tax.
Throughout the negotiations, the Nuggets were reluctant to make any trade that involved Billups, a Denver native who genuinely wanted to end his remarkable career in his hometown. Kroenke and Ujiri, however, knew that including Billups ultimately was the only way to maximize the value they could get in return for losing their franchise player in Anthony.
The trade won’t be official until Tuesday. Once it goes through, the Nuggets will be left with nine players when they face the Memphis Grizzlies at the Pepsi Center.
Even short-handed, the Nuggets will probably take a cue from their front office.
No one should expect them to get bullied.
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...