Throughout this long season of Carmelo Anthony's departure, the complaints drifted in about the Denver Nuggets' tactics.
They keep changing the terms.
They let you think you're close to a deal, and then they back away.
They're in over their head.
Josh Kroenke, Denver's 30-year-old rookie owner, and Masai Ujiri, their 40-year-old rookie executive VP, took control of the Nuggets under hopeless circumstances. Not only did their franchise star want a trade out of Denver, but he wanted to be sent to either of two teams -- the Knicks or the Bulls -- and he wanted it to happen before the season. He was making these demands weeks after the departures of LeBron James and Chris Bosh had left their former franchises in shambles via free agency, which made Anthony's stipulations all the more threatening.
How is it that the two front-office newcomers were able to maintain a working relationship with Anthony to keep the Nuggets in playoff contention all season, while also driving up his price in the absence of leverage? Anthony wound up moving to the Knicks, as he wanted, but in return the Nuggets received four Knicks' players, three draft picks and $3 million to help jump-start their post-Carmelo recovery.
I've already spelled out why this trade was a steal for the Knicks who essentially gave up two players -- Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov -- who might have had long-term roles with New York (though most of Gallinari's minutes at small forward would have gone to Anthony). But look at the assets retrieved by Denver.
The four acquisitions from the Knicks are all 26 or younger, and tradable. Though I was hearing Monday night that Gallinari was unhappy to be leaving New York, he could flourish in coach George Karl's offense while playing both forward positions. Wilson Chandler, at 23, can be viewed as the third-best "upside" small forward in the West, behind Kevin Durant and Nicolas Batum. Raymond Felton can either start ahead of Ty Lawson at point guard or be traded, because he only has $7.6 million year left on his contract next season. Mozgov, a versatile 24-year-old center, has two full years remaining at a total of $6.5 million (and his 2012-13 salary is only partially guaranteed).
The Nuggets go forth with a young team that lacks a star, but will score in big numbers with depth at every position. They have one of the best developmental coaching staffs in the NBA, which should help max out their young talent. They were never going to retrieve a star for Anthony because their prospective trade partners were limited, but in the end they were able to coerce more talent than the Knicks wanted to give.
Remember when the Nuggets looked as if they might have exhausted their options after New Jersey owner Mikhail Prokhorov suddenly withdrew from the months-long negotiations for Anthony? It turns out the Nets were responsible for restarting the talks with the Nuggets a fortnight ago. They made the initial call to Denver, resulting in an offer of rookie Derrick Favors and four first-round picks that would have been acceptable to Kroenke and Ujiri.
A closer look at those picks from the Nets, however, revealed that two were heavily protected while the others weren't highly valuable. Denver could rebuild more quickly with the Knicks' assets and -- this is important -- by helping Anthony move to New York, the Nuggets have been able to maintain a strong working relationship with Anthony's powerful representatives at CAA, which can't hurt when they're trying to acquire players in future.
Kroenke and Ujiri showed unusual patience in the six months since Anthony asked for a trade. They were under enormous pressure to deal him before the season, but they were able to work through that turmoil and maintain a productive relationship with Anthony that ultimately became profitable for both him and his former team. Some fans may have wanted the Nuggets to respond with a punitive, hard-line approach to Anthony after he said he wanted to leave Denver, but what would have been the good in that? There was a way for everyone to gain something from this painful experience, and in this case everyone did.
The Knicks gain the star they need to move closer to eventual contention. Anthony moves to the destination of his choice in time to sign a three-year, $65 million extension under the current collective bargaining agreement. And the Nuggets move forward with a talented young roster and confidence in their front-office leadership -- confidence earned under the harshest circumstance.