July 1 marked the start of the most anticipated free agent class in professional basketball history. For several years now, teams like the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and Miami Heat have traded away players and absorbed bad contract after bad contract just for a chance to sign one of the premiere players in the league when they become available. These teams have forced their fans to pay for bad basketball in exchange for future hope.
And those fans have gladly paid for it.
Denver Nuggets fans haven't suffered through these past few seasons. In fact, with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups in tow, the organization has enjoyed its greatest continued success in franchise history. The 2009 playoff run, although it ended two games short of the Finals, was the high point and promised future success. But something went wrong in 2010. Injuries occurred, chemistry seemed off and the team struggled its way into a shocking first round exit to a crippled Utah Jazz team that likely had no business on the same court talentwise.
Now there is rumor that the Denver Nuggets may in fact be willing to trade their star player if Anthony is not willing to accept their three-year extension. Shocking news to Nuggets faithful, but perhaps something that needs to happen to shake up a roster that may have missed its best chance at a championship.
Compare the Nuggets to the other three professional Denver teams:
- The Colorado Rockies took the plunge years ago, dumping off any high-paid talent and building through the draft. They struggled through some terrible seasons collecting high draft picks and allowing their young players to play. Many of their current stars, Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brad Hawpe, came through the organization this way. When players demanded more money, the front office traded them for cheaper, cost-controlled talent. Matt Holliday for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith has turned out to be a franchise-defining moment and one that ensures the Rockies will remain competitive for years to come without being burdened by weighty contracts.
- The Colorado Avalanche surprised everyone by making the playoffs a year after selecting third overall in the NHL Draft. With two 18-year-old centers on the roster, they are definitely ahead of the curve. Still, if you examine their moves before the surprise season, many of the same patterns emerge. They traded Ryan Smyth to Los Angeles for Kyle Quincey and salary relief. Jose Theodore was allowed to leave via free agency, allowing the team to sign Craig Anderson, a talented goalie who had never really been given a shot. Now they enter free agency with one of the youngest and most promising teams in the league and with plenty of cap space to sign a few complimentary pieces without breaking the budget.
- Even the Denver Broncos have begun the process of rebuilding through the draft. Mike Shanahan, who loved shopping in the free agent market, was fired because the organization had been stuck in neutral for years. They were always competitive enough to reach the playoffs as a wild card, but never really had a legitimate chance at a championship. Again, they have been following the same pattern. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall were traded for draft picks when it became clear they were not a Super Bowl contending core. Complimentary pieces like Brian Dawkins, Jabar Gaffney and Andre Goodman were signed that wouldn't break the bank. While it's too early in the cycle to determine how successful this team will be(or if they wasted their first round picks Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow), at least the ownership quickly recognized when something wasn't going to work and rebooted.
Let's return to the Denver Nuggets. Here is a list of every player drafted the past five years:
2010: None 2009: Ty Lawson 2008: Sonny Weems 2007: None 2006: None
In the past five years, Ty Lawson is the only player drafted who has actually played minutes for Denver. That is inexcusable in a league where a single player can dramatically change the entire fortunes of a franchise (see: Carmelo Anthony, 2003). In fact, has there ever been a professional team that has only drafted two players over a span of five seasons? Granted, they have done an excellent job of signing role-player free agents such as Joey Graham and Chris Anderson, but that is just playing catchup in a league where everyone else is playing for the future. They don't have the money to add talent through free agency, and they don't have the willingness to add quality talent through the draft. That is the definition of a team stuck completely in neutral.
Perhaps it is time to take the lead of the other Denver professional teams. If Anthony proves unwilling to sign an extension, then it may be time to trade him to one of the many teams that lose out on the LeBron Derby in exchange for young players and draft picks. Billups isn't getting any younger, Kenyon Martin isn't getting any healthier, and the Nuggets as a whole seem to have maxed out their production given their current talent level, with no real potential to add more talent given their current budget limitations. They have reached their peak as a group, and that peak is not close enough to their Western Conference rivals to justify the expense.
It's time to blow up the Denver Nuggets.