I'm no basketball insider, and I certainly don't have the connections of a Mark Stein or the ability to read a player's mind, so forgive me if this is completely naive...
But what, exactly, is Carmelo Anthony thinking?
If Anthony, as reported, accepts a three-year extension offer to join the lowly Nets — that is, if the Knicks can't get a deal done beforehand — he'd be, in effect, sabotaging any chance he has of winning an NBA championship.
He'd be relegating himself to Karl Malone status.
It's not that New Jersey — or New York — would be a worse team than Anthony's current employer, the Nuggets, who have managed to go 32-25 despite being asked trade-related questions for the last 1,479 days.
If the deal goes through with the Nets, he'd be accompanied to Jay-Z's Empire State, or close to it, by his current point guard, Chauncey Billups, and would join a young, burgeoning big man in Brook Lopez.
In the actual Empire State, there'd be the opportunity to play with Amar'e Stoudemire and an improving Raymond Felton.
Either squad, with Anthony, would be an annual playoff participant. But, and here's the important part, also an annual playoff loser before the NBA Finals. Guaranteed.
It comes down to one simple fact: The Eastern Conference, and the future of the East, is much better than the West. At least the teams at the top, that is. For the next six or seven years — the prime years for the 26-year-old Baltimore native — 'Melo's current Denver outfit would actually have a chance of making the NBA Finals, simply because the West's top dogs won't be great.
A quick breakdown:
In the East, we all know Miami will be stellar for several years to come. Boston might be aging, but I give the Celtics a couple more years of competing for a championship with their core group (Ray Allen looks like he could swish 3s over defenders' fingertips for another decade). Orlando is going to be tough for another decade with Dwight Howard finally playing some offense and deservedly garnering MVP consideration. And let's not forget the Bulls, who are becoming very scary with perhaps the MVP frontrunner, Derrick Rose, tearing up opponents.
So that's a trio of teams — plus Boston — who should be very good for a very long time. It would be difficult for a 'Melo-led Nets team, especially with Billups aging, to get past the second round of the playoffs.
Now for the West. In three years, who scares you? The Lakers, clearly, are not frightening even though they'll probably get things together and win another championship this year to give Phil Jackson some symmetry with those Three Peats. In five years, though, they'll almost be an afterthought. The Spurs are old (don't let this year's success, so far, fool you: they're not winning another title). The Mavericks are old. The only team with a lot of upside is Oklahoma City, but it's still missing pieces and hasn't won a playoff series.
Not very scary, right?
Amidst all this banter, people seem to forget that this is a Nuggets outfit that came within two wins of downing the mighty Lakers and heading to the Finals just two seasons ago. The team hasn't changed much since then, which might be a reason why Anthony wants out. But from watching a few Nuggets games, this is a team that can play with anyone in the West and is downright, yes, scary when Anthony is on his game.
A team that, if focused, could make a run to the Finals. Seriously.
Billups is still Mr. Clutch, and Ty Lawson is a serviceable and electric backup point guard. Arron Afflalo has come into his own as a shooting guard and made the game-winner the other night at the buzzer against the Mavs. Nene can produce down low, and Kenyon Martin is a defensive stalwart when healthy.
Yes, sometimes they resemble their erratic, tattoo-covered character, J.R. Smith, and, yes, they're a couple pieces away from being a true contender. But that's not the point.
Bottom line: Anthony would have a better chance of reaching the NBA Finals by staying put than signing with the Nets or even the Knicks.
I know it isn't how superstars, likely, think. And a competitor like Anthony doesn't look at a Miami and back away.
But in this case, a little pre-trade analyzing would do him well. If, indeed, winning a Larry O'Brien trophy is his No. 1 objective.