Two years later, Carmelo trade has benefited Knicks, Nuggets

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I thought the Knicks gave up too much in the Carmelo Anthony trade, but only Danilo Gallinari seems to have a chance to become big star among the players Denver received. What do you think of that trade two years later? -- David Chabon, Marlboro, N.J.

It's a good question to bring up, David, as Anthony returns to Denver on Wednesday for the first time since the February 2011 trade, which included three teams (the Timberwolves joined the Knicks and Nuggets) and 13 players.

As well as the Nuggets have played since sending Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New York for a package that included Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round pick, it's important to remember that they didn't want to make the trade. Anthony insisted on being moved to the New York market, and he wanted to be dealt in time to sign an extension under the old collective bargaining agreement, before the lockout negotiations could reduce the money he might make on his next deal.

The trade surely improved the Knicks, who were finally able to land a star replacement for Patrick Ewing in Anthony, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who at 28 is in his peak years. They also amnestied Billups before the 2011-12 season to create room to acquire Tyson Chandler, who was named Defensive Player of the Year in his first season with the Knicks.

[Carmelo expects knee trouble to continue all season]

At the time of the trade, I didn't understand the argument that the Knicks had given up too much for Anthony. My view hasn't changed. The controversial part of the trade involved whether the Knicks should include Mozgov, who at that time was a 24-year-old rookie. Mozgov has the wherewithal to be a starting center, but in three NBA seasons he has never averaged more than 15.6 minutes per game. It was the inclusion of Mozgov that persuaded the Nuggets to stop negotiating with the Nets in order to complete the deal with the Knicks, who from their point of view gave up relatively little in return for Anthony and Chandler.

The surprising outcome is that the Nuggets have outperformed the Knicks since the trade (Denver has won nearly 64 percent of its regular-season games and New York has won 57 percent), though neither team has won a playoff series. After a hot start this season, the Knicks (38-23) are 20-18 since mid-December. The Nuggets (43-22), meanwhile, have gone 31-10 in that stretch. Both teams are contending for top-four seeds in their respective conferences.

Though Gallinari is the one player with star potential to come to Denver, the Nuggets were able to improve their depth with NBA-ready contributors. Gallinari and Kosta Koufos, who was obtained from the Timberwolves in the trade, are starters. Chandler is part of the rotation, and the Nuggets traded Felton to Portland for point guard Andre Miller in June 2011. (Felton returned to New York last summer at a starting salary of $3.5 million.) The Nuggets used the 2014 first-round pick that they received from the Knicks in last summer's deal for Andre Iguodala, and Denver has the right to switch first-round picks with the Knicks in 2016.

While the Nuggets have a better opportunity to improve their roster moving forward, it can't be said that the trade has hamstrung the Knicks. After all, Anthony and Chandler rank among the best in the NBA at their positions. The issue is that Amar'e Stoudemire hasn't had an extended run of good health since the 2011 playoffs, and his $19.9 million salary will be almost impossible to move.

[Stoudemire sidelined for weeks after another knee surgery]

The Knicks don't have the means to add another major player over the next couple of years. If Stoudemire recovers his old form and if he is able to play at a highly productive level alongside Anthony and Chandler, the Knicks will have the chance to go farther than the Nuggets. As constructed right now, however, they look no better than a second-round team -- the same as Denver.

I really enjoyed your Lakers column. With L.A. making a strong push for the No. 8 seed (or maybe even better), do you think the teams at the top of the conference will start to play the positioning game? No one is going to want to play that Lakers team in the first round. -- Bryan Weil, Los Angeles

Thanks, Bryan. No one can afford to try to position themselves because there is no predicting the top-five or the bottom-three seeds in the West. A priority for the Spurs, who lead the West, will be to enter the playoffs healthy and fresh. The same is true for the Thunder and Clippers.

There may be some positioning on the final day of the season, when all 30 teams are in action. Upper seeds may hope to avoid the Lakers as well as Rockets, who could be this year's version of the 2007 three-point-shooting Warriors (who upset the No. 1 Mavericks in the opening round).

The goal for the Lakers over the next month is to prove they can control games against good teams from beginning to end. They've patched a system together by trial and error (mostly the latter), and now they need to turn that temporary structure into something more permanent. If they have structure, they should have a better chance of working Pau Gasol into the offense when he returns from a foot injury. He had no role earlier in the season because everyone else was lost, too.

The Lakers' four stars -- Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Gasol -- ought to frighten any opponent. At the same time, the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers all should be confident of controlling tempo against the Lakers, who have few wins against good teams.

There's no doubt Roy Hibbert was one of the early-season busts. But he's started to turn things around lately. Is he the postseason's biggest X-factor? It seems like a healthy Hibbert would give the Pacers an edge over the Heat in the East. -- Carrie D., Milwaukee

He'll need to turn into Bill Russell to give them an edge over Miami, Carrie. At the same time, I agree with you in terms of Hibbert's importance. If the Pacers want to make a series against Miami interesting, they need to play in the half court through David West and Hibbert. What they're lacking is an explosive point guard to attack the seams, as Boston's Rajon Rondo has done in previous years.

As long as the Heat are healthy, I don't need to be Nate Silver to predict their side of the bracket.

[GOLLIVER: LeBron leads MVP race as stretch run arrives]

David Stern said Sacramento's bid to keep the Kings is "not quite there." Do you see the hometown group increasing its offer and legitimately challenging the Seattle-based group, or is the move to Seattle all but assured at this point? -- Marissa T., Phoenix

It isn't assured, Marissa, because the Sacramento bid is likely to improve. The fact that Seattle made a preemptive bid and that Sacramento must be coaxed to improve its offer is not necessarily a good sign for the "home'' team, but it shouldn't be a killer either.

There is a way for Sacramento to win the bidding, I am sure. But I continue to believe that the wishes of the Maloof family will be important. If the Maloofs maintain that their preference is to sell to the group in Seattle, will their fellow NBA owners intervene? That is one precedent the owners are not going to want to establish. They won't want to be told what to do and to whom they can sell when it is their turn to put their own teams on the market.

We saw a few players returning from China sign with teams over the last two to three weeks. Do you see Tracy McGrady or Gilbert Arenas catching on with an NBA team this season? -- Trayvon, Philadelphia

I ran your question by an NBA team executive, Trayvon. Here was his text: ''Shocked. Shocked if anyone picked up Arenas or McGrady.''