Let’s start here.
That’s how much money the Denver Nuggets have paid Carmelo Anthony: about $75.5 million. I found this information on the Internet, so it has to be true. Including endorsements, the 26-year-old Carmelo has easily passed the $100 million mark. His contract also allows a “player option” for next season worth $18,518,575 million. Guaranteed. This is not someone who should be making crucial career decisions based on money.
And yet, by accepting a long-rumored trade to New Jersey, he would be crapping on his legacy for a few extra bucks. It wouldn’t be a normal crap, either; more like one of those “Dumb and Dumber” poops in which he nearly got blown off the bowl. After four months of behind-the-scenes posturing to become a Knick — at the expense of Denver’s season and his eight-year relationship with Nuggets fans, no less — how could Anthony possibly settle for a 10-28 team in Jersey? Because it’s near New York? Because it’s almost like playing for the Knicks? Because they’re moving to Brooklyn in two years? Because Jay-Z owns 1 percent more of the Nets than my dog does?
I know, Anthony wants a bigger market, and Jersey/Brooklyn technically qualifies. It’s unclear whether he wants this, or his wife (LaLa Vazquez, who recently turned their prolonged engagement into an unwatchable VH1 reality show) wants this, or both of them want it, or Carmelo’s new spiritual advisors Doug and Jackie Christie want it (just kidding), or if we’re all just a little gun-shy because LaLa has the same name as the villainous girlfriend in “He Got Game.” Recently, Anthony claimed that his wife has “nothing to do with anything” and “she has nothing to do with me staying or leaving. Nothing.”
I believed this for about 10 minutes until I remembered that I was married, and that I can’t go to a newsstand or a grocery store without my wife having an opinion on it. Regardless, since “The Decision” happened, the word on the street has been pretty consistent.
Carmelo is next. He wants to play in a big market. Specifically, New York. Lock it in.
One problem: The Knicks have little to trade. They dumped many of their assets in February’s Jared Jeffries deal with Houston — made specifically to clear cap space for LeBron James and another max free agent, and also, to tell everyone in New York, “WE JUST CLEARED ENOUGH SPACE FOR LEBRON JAMES AND ANOTHER MAX FREE AGENT!!!!!” — but LeBron never seriously considered them. Whoops. Their best possible Melo offer (Danilo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler/Anthony Randolph/Eddy Curry/2014 No. 1 pick/$3 million) would be like one of those insulting “MAKE AN OFFER” moments on eBay, when you lowball a seller hoping he’s going broke in the next 24 hours and might say yes.
That never stopped Carmelo from continuing to pine for New York. Here’s the irony: During the summer of 2006, when LeBron and Dwyane Wade were negotiating lucrative extensions with Cleveland and Miami, their agents realized they could demand three-year outs in those extensions (something no player had done before). LeBron was represented by CAA’s Leon Rose. Wade was represented by Henry Thomas, who also represented Chris Bosh. (FYI: Thomas joined forces with Rose at CAA in 2009.) LeBron, Wade and Bosh ended up with three-year outs, so if you’re a conspiracy theorist, that’s a great place to start with the “When did these guys first think about playing together?” question.
As the story goes, his friends shared their discovery with Carmelo and his then-agent, Calvin Andrews, who ignored them and negotiated a fourth guaranteed year. Why dismiss that leverage and avoid a potentially historic free agency in 2010? Either Andrews couldn’t see the big picture (doubtful), or he wanted that fourth year of a guaranteed commission (more likely). If Carmelo had fired Andrews and opted out after three years, Andrews wouldn’t have seen a dime from that fourth year.
You’re thinking, “Wow, that’s pretty shady if Andrews did that,” and we don’t know for sure if he did. What we do know: In 2009, Andrews was suspended by the National Basketball Players Association for one year after allegedly paying a handler named Ronald Guillory to deliver USC’s O.J. Mayo as a client. Knowing that, and knowing how Andrews inexplicably blew that 2010 leverage, let’s at least agree that Andrews and Melo weren’t exactly Jerry Maguire and Rod Tidwell.
You know who agrees with me? Carmelo!
That same summer, he fired Andrews and signed with (wait for it) Leon Rose, who happily would have made him a Knick had Carmelo done that three-year out.
Maybe that’s what has bugged Carmelo these past few months: His old agent screwed him, and now, barring a panic transaction, he can’t join New York until next summer unless there’s a lockout, which is like saying “unless Charlie Sheen has another meltdown.” 2010 couldn’t have been a better time to be a free agent; 2011 couldn’t be worse. If the Knicks acquire Anthony before February’s trade deadline, they could immediately give him a three-year, $65 million extension. If they sign him as a 2011 free agent, there’s no way to know what can be offered in a post-lockout wasteland. What if nobody is allowed more than a four-year deal? What if no contract can exceed $14 million a year? What if the cap plunges by $10 million per team? By not locking down that extension now, Carmelo might cost himself $15 million to $20 million.
These have been the stakes since August. Team Carmelo played the chess match a certain way: pretending not to care about the three-year extension, seeming intent on signing with New York, resisting overtures from any other team, and in the interim, hoping this mess wouldn’t affect (A) the Nuggets’ season (wrong), (B) Carmelo’s relationship with Denver fans (wrong) and (C) his legacy in Denver (wrong). Meanwhile, the Nuggets never panicked and kept Anthony heading into the season, knowing they’d have more options after Dec. 15 (when teams can start trading newly signed players). And Anthony kept playing hard, although there was something eerily detached about him, even more so than usual, that made him look like a trophy wife going through the motions of a marriage.
I’m not gonna lie; he’s old and we don’t have sex anymore. And I’m probably leaving him soon. But he’s making a big business deal in a few months, and I kinda want to get my cut of that before filing
That was Carmelo. Basically, he had turned into Kelsey Grammer’s wife on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — yeah, he was still married, but not really, and you kept waiting for him to fly off to Hawaii with the pool boy. I can’t remember another NBA situation specifically like this one: a player who clearly wanted to leave, a team that clearly couldn’t keep him, yet they were uneasily coexisting and pretending everything was fine. We’ve seen variations of this scenario before (most recently with Bosh in Toronto), but never something so transparently awkward.
Even worse, it was happening in Denver, quite possibly the most laid-back American city. I have been to Colorado multiple times, twice for book signings; it’s an extremely pleasant, unassuming, upbeat place. (Put it this way: If you had a buddy describe his younger brother as “a great dude, someone who loves to ski, snowboard, be outdoors, get high and just live his life, man,” your gut response would be either “When is he graduating from the University of Colorado?” or “Is he living in Denver or outside the city?”) Nuggets fans should have been bitching about Carmelo, jeering him and calling him out from opening night, but that level of vitriol just isn’t in them. After I ripped Anthony in November for holding Denver fans hostage, I was stunned by how many e-mailed me; not to pile onto the rant or add additional thoughts, more to thank me for sticking up for them. The recurring theme? “I’m glad someone outside of Denver noticed.”
They didn’t officially turn on him until last weekend, shortly after Carmelo returned from a five-game hiatus following his sister’s death from a prolonged illness. On Wednesday, I caught a Nuggets-Clippers game in person and couldn’t believe how toxic Denver’s chemistry was; it was like watching SNL’s “I drive a Dodge Stratus!” sketch with Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer and Sarah Michelle Gellar glumly eating in silence, but without the payoff of everyone eventually screaming at each other. The following night on TNT, the lowly Kings blew the Nuggets out of Arco Arena. On Sunday, with rumors of a New Jersey deal scorching through the interwebs, Carmelo scored eight points in a lethargic loss to New Orleans. Fed up, fans finally started booing him in the second half.
Uh-oh. That escalated Denver’s urgency to move him, as well as Carmelo’s urgency to be moved. Both Chris Broussard and Chris Sheridan reported that Anthony won’t agree to a Jersey extension, which stinks for Denver because it can’t beat a package of Derrick Favors (the best trade piece out there), Jersey’s 2011 No. 1 pick, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and a future No. 1. But within NBA circles, there’s a feeling that Carmelo will cave soon. Somebody Who Knows Things told me recently: “Don’t forget how impressed LeBron and [Leon] Rose were by the Russian last summer. Best meeting they had other than Riley, and the Knicks were the worst. Don’t think they haven’t told Anthony that 30 times. The Nets would build Brooklyn around him, and they can pay him the 65 [million]. It will happen. The Knicks are a pipe dream.”
Let’s look at the last three points again
1. “They’d build Brooklyn around him.”
So what? The Knicks have seven decades and four generations of fans; they’re in the top three of any “Diehard NBA Fan Base” list. Anyone who thinks the Brooklyn Nets are making a serious dent in that stranglehold is delusional. They will always be the not-as-hot sister standing next to the drop-dead-gorgeous girl at the bar. Wear your sexiest outfit, wear a push-up bra, wear high heels doesn’t matter. You’re always second.
2. “They can pay him the 65.”
Again, so what? Carmelo should sacrifice two years of his title-winning prime playing with Brook Lopez (took a step backward this season), Chauncey Billups (past his prime), Rip Hamilton (hasn’t had a meaningful basketball moment in two years), and no other real assets other than a billionaire’s money (which netted $60 million of Johan Petro, Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar last summer, so obviously, money isn’t everything), Ian Eagle and two ABA championship banners? And the light at the end of the teammate tunnel would be Chris Paul — another Rose client, and a free agent in 2012, but he’s playing with a knee brace the size of Earl Boykins right now? Really? That’s the whole plan?
3. “The Knicks are a pipe dream.”
Not necessarily. They can sign Anthony this summer. Besides, he rode the pipe dream for this long. What’s another five weeks until the deadline? Sticking Carmelo on this particular Knicks team, in front of those particular fans, on that particular franchise, would be stupendous; he does everything Chandler does for the Knicks, but much better. And they’re already a 6-seed. Sticking him on the Nets? Nuggets East.
There is one better place for Anthony: for basketball, his title chances, his wife, everything. He is choosing not to see it. He could even get his $65 million extension right away.
The place? Los Angeles.
The team? The Clippers.
Thirty-four years of misery and bad luck, the most despicable owner in sports I know. And I know you’re laughing and saying, “Stop it, Simmons, you’re just saying this because you’ve had season tickets since 2004 and they beat the Heat on Wednesday night, you’re embarrassing yourself.” Just hear me out. This Blake Griffin situation has gone places for which, frankly, I wasn’t prepared. You see this stuff on television, you see these guys when they pass through town, but to have someone this special playing down the street to have season tickets for someone like this I can barely put it into words.
You know when you’re in the theater watching a gripping movie, and you can’t get up for the bathroom or popcorn because you don’t want to miss a scene? That’s Griffin. He’s the movie. You can’t get up, glance at your iPhone, glance at a text, fumble for your soda there’s just no way to know when that next highlight is coming. The fact that he’s a guaranteed 24-13 guy every night — it’s almost an afterthought to the show itself. Griffin plays with an ongoing recklessness that’s both breathtaking and petrifying.
Remember, Clippers fans are conditioned to think the worst. They’ve been burned too many times: Danny Manning, Shaun Livingston, Derek Smith, Bill Walton, Ron Harper, you name it. Giving them the league’s most fearless player is almost like a psychology experiment; the energy in the stands resembles nothing you have ever felt at a sporting event. There’s Blake flying up for an offensive rebound, soaring higher, and higher, and then a little bit higher and we’re sitting there in awe, and we’re gasping for air and right at the moment of truth, we realize one of the following four things:
A. Blake is about to make the single greatest highlight in the history of professional basketball.
B. Blake is about to give us the highlight of the night.
C. Blake can’t pull this off because the degree of difficulty is too high, but he’s trying anyway.
D. Blake is going to break his neck or land in a such a way that his leg flies off his body and lands in the fifth row.
Those are the four options EVERY time he goes in the air. Watching it unfold reminds me of watching my 3-year-old son, who’s equally fearless (and dangerous); occasionally, we’ll notice him missing, look around, then catch him sliding down a flight of stairs at warp speed on top of a mangled UPS box with no time to stop him. All we can do is stand there and yelp, then hold our breath and hope he makes it. That’s Griffin. There is nothing like seeing him live. Nothing. Even if he gives you one electric moment in 150 minutes, that moment beats anyone else’s electric moment right now. Clippers fans have learned to anticipate those moments just before they happen, paving the way for the best side effect for any basketball or hockey crowd: when fans start reacting to something great before it happens and then it happens.
Example: Against Denver last week, Blake stole the ball and dribbled down the right wing, with Baron Davis trailing to his left and one defender back. As Blake crossed the foul line extended, headed for a seemingly easy layup, he threw the ball back for Baron. To the uninitiated, the pass seemed idiotic. You’re giving up a possible layup? Really? But Clippers fans had been properly trained by this point. They knew. They got it. Blake wanted the Return Oop. Even as Blake was throwing the pass, the buzz started, like a low rumble of a “Whoooaaaaa.” Baron deftly took the pass and lobbed it back (“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAA!”), but Blake was already jumping (“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAA!”) and climbing and climbing and climbing (here’s where the “Oh God, don’t let him get hurt” sound comes in, which I can’t even spell properly), then the slam (“HARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”) We lost our minds, basically. At halftime, I was still so wired that J.A. Adande teased me, “Look at you, you can’t stop hopping up and down, you’re like a little kid.”
I can’t help it. Griffin is the most meaningful in-the-air player since Shawn Kemp. Throw in his competitive streak and he did the impossible — he made Baron Davis care about basketball again. As my friend Tollin said last week, “It’s amazing; it’s like Baron has a purpose again.” He’s Blake’s dunk muse. Now the Clips have the foundation of something special: Griffin, Davis, Eric Gordon (a future All-Star) and enough left to make a legitimate offer for Denver: lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, expiring contracts and the rights to Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 pick (nearly as valuable a trade chip as Favors) for Carmelo and Al Harrington’s horrendous contract that’s the Carmelo Trade Tax. Mrs. Anthony could live in Hollywood and make her next unwatchable reality show. And her husband could play with Griffin, Gordon, Davis, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan a situation that’s between five and 20 times more appealing than New Jersey. Even when you include Donald Sterling.
Call me crazy, but I always thought the point of free-agency leverage was to make money AND find the best situation possible. How could Anthony do better than joining forces with Griffin and Gordon, short of somehow landing on the Knicks; joining forces with Amare Stoudemire; battling Miami, Chicago and Boston every spring; pursuing the first Knicks championship in four decades; and becoming a New York icon if it happens?
Those are the best two options. Period. Which makes it so depressing that Carmelo might sell himself short, sign off on New Jersey and compromise a chunk of his basketball prime for an extra $15 million or so. The good news: That extra money could yield him a mansion in the Hamptons. The bad news: He would be spending every June in it.
And you know what? If Carmelo Anthony settles for the Nets, maybe that’s what he was meant to do, anyway.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller “The Book of Basketball,” now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy’s World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.