Melo Gold: A Pro and Pro Discussion

Jimmy: Well, Jeremy, it’s finally over. The most notable Melodrama not to appear on Lifetime is at an end. I, for one, thought we’d never stop hearing about Carmelo Anthony’s future. Lately, I’ve wanted to close my eyes, plug my ears and chant “LALALALALALALALA” to avoid the end-to-end coverage.

But even that was no escape:

La: A note to follow sew. LaLa: A spouse to lead Carmelo to NYC.

Anthony’s forced his way to the Knicks. Was his treatment of Denver better or worse than what LeBron James did to Cleveland this past summer?

Jeremy: We’ve been back at this blog for less than a week, and you’ve already pulled me into an NBA topic. Well played, Ryals.

I’m going to use an extended metaphor to answer your question. (You do know what a metaphor is, don’t you?)

LeBron and Cleveland were the high school couple who had been together as long as anyone could remember. All their friends thought they were destined to get married and live happily ever after. Sure, Cleveland wasn’t the hottest girl in the class, but she was always there for LeBron and loved him with all her heart. When the senior prom (free agency) arrived, everyone knew that LeBron was taking Cleveland. The two of them walked into the dance together and then …

Not only did LeBron dump Cleveland for the head cheerleader (Miami) in front of the entire senior class, he further publicly humiliated her by calling her fat and ugly. (See “The Decision,” which, by the way, was the most tone-deaf move that both LeBron and ESPN have ever made.)

Carmelo and Denver were more like a couple who had been dating only two or three months. They gave it a try for a little while, but Melo eventually decided that he wanted to look for someone else to take to the prom. Denver still kind of liked Melo but didn’t want to be stuck in a relationship with someone who wasn’t 100 percent committed. She figured it was better to just find another date.

Carmelo shouldn’t exactly be applauded for what he did. As’s Michael Rosenberg argued, this whole thing for Melo was more about money and going to New York than winning a championship. But at least Melo made it clear that he didn’t want to stay in Denver, giving the Nuggets the opportunity to get something in return.

So here’s another interesting question for you: Which team handled the situation with its pending free-agent superstar better, the Cavs or the Nuggets? Or to put it more bluntly, should the Cavs have considered trading LeBron when they had the chance?

Jimmy: I hate to deflate this debate before it begins, but I agree with you entirely. I’d liken the Carmelo-Denver relationship to two college partners deciding whether part ways after graduation, but that’s splitting hairs.

Your question — who handled their splitting superstar better — is a hard one to answer. I’d have to say Denver, which got some solid talent for a second-rate “superstar.” I really like Randolph and Gallinari. But they won’t be teaching a ‘Melo case study at the Harvard Business School any time soon. Cleveland, on the other hand, got nothing but an opportunity to showcase Dan Gilbert’s woeful taste in typeface.

It’s not an entirely fair comparison. For a year, and probably more, LeBron gave Cleveland every indication he would come back. They had no reason to think they needed to explore the trade market for him.

To me, the revelation in all this is that, despite having virtually no leverage, Carmelo got everything he wanted: a max contract under the current collective bargaining agreement AND a trade to New York.

Of course, just when I was ready to ask you whether the labor-management relationship in sports had changed irrevocably, the Utah Jazz went and shipped a legit superstar, Deron Williams, to New Jersey without even asking how he felt about it first. How do you feel about it, Jeremy?

Jeremy: We may finally have something to disagree about in this conversation.

I don’t think the Cavs could have handled the LeBron situation any other way. To me, the key difference between Cleveland at last year’s trade deadline and Denver at this year’s deadline was the expectations for the rest of the season. The Cavs had every reason to think they could win an NBA title last year. You don’t trade the best player in basketball if you have that opportunity, especially not in a city like Cleveland that has gone so long without celebrating a championship. I doubt anyone had the pre-trade Nuggets getting that deep in this year’s playoffs.

On the Deron Williams’ deal, I feel the NBA is starting to resemble Major League Baseball — only less competitive. Just like in MLB, small-market NBA teams are being forced to trade star players they’ve got no chance of resigning just so they can get something in return.

It seems kind of odd to me that it’s come to this. The Knicks are bound by the NBA’s salary cap and rules for max contracts for players, while the Yankees can spend freely as long as they’re willing to pay MLB’s luxury tax. Despite the difference in salary structures, there’s clearly more parity in baseball than there is basketball. The last 10 World Series have featured nine different winners, some huge surprises like the 2003 Marlins, 2006 Cardinals and 2010 Giants. In the NBA, you pretty much know who the four or five best teams are going into each season, and more and more, those teams are coming from the major markets (San Antonio being the notable exception).

With that rant over, let’s get back to LeBron vs. Melo. Who would you rather be right now, the Cavs or the Nuggets?

Jimmy: That’s a tough question. My gut says the Cavs, because the draft lottery makes it a little easier to go from truly awful to good than from mediocre to good. And the Cavs are truly awful.

But Denver does have some nice pieces. While my Wolfpack heart hates to admit it, I love Ty Lawson. Nene (not that NeNe) is a good player, and I could see J.R. Smith flourishing without Carmelo hogging shots.

Still, it’s better to be the Cavs in the long run. No matter how bad it feels right now.


6 Responses to Melo Gold: A Pro and Pro Discussion

  1. Grant Jones says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Ashton’s opinion regarding similarities in MLB and NBA when it comes to large market teams plucking the best players from small market teams, at least when it comes to the two offered examples of James and Anthony. If anything these two trades/FA signings show a break in that pattern. Neither of these players were plucked. Both willingly left their old teams to play in a larger market. One could argue that Anthony wanted to leave the smaller market Denver for NYC (which, in fairness, is his home), but even if it was just for his name in lights on Broadway, you can’t blame the franchise for that. Every year hundreds of thousands of Americans and non-Americans alike are drawn to the excitement and opportunity of NYC. In the case of LeBron, Miami may be a larger market than Cleveland, but I don’t think anyone would argue James was motivated by the size of the market. If that was the case, he could have bolted for NYC himself. No, what we are seeing in these trades is a strong shift toward player-influenced wheelings and dealings. Owners set out to lure, not pluck, talent. This may one day change as the NBA union is notoriously undisciplined, but as of now it looks to have all the making of at least a minor sea change.

    • Jimmy Ryals says:

      Grant, I agree up to a point about these moves being a sign of players taking more control over their own movement. I think that’s definitely occurring at the margins: the top players can now essentially call their own shots. Those 2nd-rounders and undrafted players lucky enough to get onto rosters generally have greater freedom to move than the middle class of NBA players. Everybody else is, essentially, at the mercy of the owners and the superstars.

      I think there are two good examples of that in the Anthony trade. Billups badly wanted to stay in Denver, and (from what I’ve read) Felton was very happy as the starting PG for the Knicks. Now, Chauncey is playing away from home in a system that doesn’t suit his talents, while it appears Felton will have to fight Ty Lawson for minutes. For Carmelo to exercise his preference, they both had to move against their wills. Carmelo arguably treated his team better than LeBron did, but the other players involved paid the price.

    • Jeremy Ashton says:

      Mr. Jones, as always, I appreciate your insights (assuming this is The Real Grant Jones).

      The MLB-NBA comparison was more about Anthony and Williams than Anthony and James. The moves that the Nuggets and Jazz made reminded me so much of the desperation trades that you see every season from small-market MLB teams that know they can’t hang onto their star players who are about to enter free agency. For me, it’s less about the big-market team plucking those players away than the small-market team feeling they have no choice but to make a deal. I think that was even more evident with Deron Williams than it was with Carmelo. He was still a year and a half away from free agency, but it looks like the Jazz couldn’t stomach going through next season what the Nuggets had to go through this season. (Then again, they may have just wanted to completely blow up the team and start over after Jerry Sloan retired.) To some extent, I think that ties right into your point about these player-influenced moves, which I would argue is exactly what happens with star players in MLB.

      On your last comment about parity in the NBA (or the lack thereof), I think you’re dead on, and that’s probably something I should have separated from my point about player-forced trades. Jimmy and I talked about the nature of parity in the major sports for a while tonight, and you’re right that it kind of boils down to the fact that one or two players can consistently dominate in the NBA more so than they can in MLB or the NFL. I was going to suggest to Jimmy that maybe we should do a separate post on parity, but I think you covered it with your comment already.

  2. Grant Jones says:

    Fair enough, but I was discussing whether the Anthony trade was an example of owners plucking the best talents from small clubs. Billups was collateral to a trade forced by Anthony and welcomed by the Knicks (as any team lacking a superstar would have welcomed such a trade). Besides most of what I read had Felton being dealt at the end of the year anyway, same with Chandler. Salary cap and other financial issues were what forced Billups and Felton to trade places. If anything it was Denver who forced the Knicks to give up more than they wanted to (Mozgov) in order to get back anything even somewhat resembling a fair trade. If you are trying to make a point on the plight of journeyman players at mercy of salary schedules and caps then fine, but if the argument remains whether large markets are plucking big talent, I’d even point to Knicks as a perfect example of a team that until this year suffered through more than a decade of just awful, awful basketball precisely because it was unable to do just that.

  3. G Jones says:

    I do hate to double up comments as I know it’s a bit tacky, but there occurred to me a larger argument at stake here, which is the nature of basketball parity (which I assume would be thought of as the essential problem with large-market teams plucking talent, if it were true). But wanting NFL or even MLB type parity in the NBA is not realistic. There has never been parity in the NBA. We are talking about a league in which the Lakers have appeared 30 of 60 NBA finals since the inception in 1950. In which the Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years. In which repeat and three-peats are the norm not the exception. But this is not because of a situation of haves and have nots. One might argue a need for contraction but even when there were significantly lesser teams dynasties prevailed.

    So the question is Why? And I think here is where the comparisons to MLB and the NFL breakdown. Those sports cannot be dominated by one, two, or three dominant players in a single team. In the NBA they can. We even see in Miami how salary caps cannot prevent this. Even with a supporting cast of virtually zilch, they are a true contender. in LA, despite the deep reserves of talent in the mid 2000s, Phil and Kobe struggled once Shaq left untila 2nd super-talent arrived in Gasol. But sometimes even a single superstar can dominate the game as the Cavs did in the LeBron era. There are not 64 superstars to give 2 to each team. Maybe there are 15 or even 20. So some teams get none, some teams get one, and a few lucky ones get two or even three (if they are smart, like Boston, and wait until they can get them cheap). Those later teams will dominate. It’s simply the nature of the sport.

  4. Jeff Strowe says:

    Good discussion…I think a key to the future relevancy will be to see how the CBA turns out this summer. The owners would be smart to push for a NFL-style franchise tag or else we may be in for a long era of AAU style team-ups. Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul are the next three to move on to bigger markets…BOS, LAL, or NYK. My guess is 2 of the 3 go to those markets with the third (Maybe Paul) actually staying put. It will also be interesting to see if Orlando pulls the trigger on trading Howard this summer to avoid a DEN/CLE situation. I don’t think the Magic are much of a threat this year, and Howard probably has adopted the LeBron mentality of being surrounded by mediocre players.

    Side note: As a Cavs fan, I approach this with bias, but there was no way we could have traded LeBron last year. This team posted 66- and 61-win seasons back to back and were rolling along towards a title. Sure, BOS was a tough matchup, but Cleveland won a close game and blew out Boston earlier in that series. Something fishy was going on with LeBron (take your pick, Miami and D-Wade, fighting with Shaq, Delonte and Gloria) and the way that series ended just absolutely sucks. It was a weird way to bow out and I think over time something will be revealed about it. The fact that so few teams ever have a serious chance at an NBA title is what makes it sting worse. For two years, they were heavy favorites and they fell both times before even getting out of the Eastern Conference. LeBron is amazing…no doubt…but I reserve my judgment to hate on him for many years to come.

    Side Note #2: Cavs made a good deal yesterday. Lots of columnists ripping them for getting Baron Davis and I admit he is not going to do much to help them. However, they got a Top 10 draft pick for Mo Freakin’ Williams. Now with two picks in the Top 10, there is a chance to fully rebuild, regardless of the skill level of the players coming out.

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