Last season, as many Denver fans would tell you, a travesty occurred in the Denver sports area. No, I am not talking about the underacheiving of the Avalanche (that’s the Colorado hockey team for the 99% who do not watch this sport), or the whuppin’ by the Colts on the Broncos, 41-10. I am instead talking about the NBA Rookie of the Year voting.
Carmelo Anthony, hot off a NCAA championship to go along with a Most Outstanding Player in the tourney better known as March Madness helped lead a Nuggets team to 26 more victories (17 in ’02-’03 to 43 in ’03-’04) and a playoff berth in the Western Conference. But then the votes for RoY were cast, and the winner was…LeBron James? Now, let me first state that what LeBron accomplished last year was amazing, but shouldn’t have overshadowed the even more remarkable acheivements of ‘Melo. But I am not here to debate the Rookie of the Year voting; I am instead here to discuss the 2004-05 Denver Nuggets. The improved Denver Nuggets, with a determined superstar named Carmelo Anthony and a fact that not even the dimmest fan can dispute:
The Nuggets will finish as a top 5 team in the mighty Western Conference, while the L.A. Lakers will struggle to make the playoffs.
Yes, my friends, after a 17 win performance in 2002-03, the Denver Nuggets have officially become a better team than the Los Angeles Lakers in just one season, and two off-seasons.
But why must Carmelo shine this year?
With the movement of Carlos Boozer to the Utah Jazz, LeBron’s supposed “resurgance” of Cavaliers of Cleveland from horrific to mediocre (in ’03-’04) to playoff contender of the East this year has suddenly stunted. The Magic Johnson to Carmelo’s Larry Bird has suddenly found himself without a critical piece to Cleveland’s playoff push.
This occuring as the Denver Nuggets land prized free-agent acquisition Kenyon Martin. Therefore, the Nuggets have four big men who can each score at least 15 points, along with pulling down at least 5 rebounds, in Melo, Martin, Nene, and Marcus Camby, the Nuggets other “big move” in free agency. LeBron has one legit forward: himself. Therefore, the spotlight of the NBA will be on Carmelo more than King James for the basic fact that the Nuggets, on paper, can and should win almost twice as many games than the Cavaliers should.
Also, there is now a winning attitude surrounding the Nuggets in Denver. Previously, a Nuggets team could win 25-30 games and the fans would not care. But now the Nuggets, along with their fans, have tasted winning and the playoffs. Also, Denver fans are not dumb. They have seen the dimantling of the Lakers for his royal highness Kobe Bryant, and they also recognize that K-Mart adds a grit and toughness to the team that was lacking all through last season.
They also have seen the other third of the 2003-04 rookie phenoms, Dwayne Wade, get arguably the most dominant center in NBA history in Shaquille O’Neal on his team, the Miami Heat. The Heat will finish with a top 4 spot in the Eastern Conference for sure. The same is expected of Carmelo and the Chopper’s Circle Band of Big Men in an even harder Western Conference with the likes of: San Antonio with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli (along with Tony Parker), Sacramento with Chris Webber et. al., Minnesota with the defending MVP Kevin Garnett and buddy Latrell Sprewell, and Houston with newly-acquired Tracy McGrady and third year center Yao Ming.
But the Nuggets faithful, along with the local and national media, do not care. Anything less than a top 4 spot, or a 5th place spot at the worst, would be considered a failure. The anger of the public would then be on three people: Keke Vandeweghe (the GM of the Nuggets), Jeff Bzdelik (the already embattled head coach of the Nuggets), and the franchise’s “savior”: Carmelo Anthony.
You can assume, without a shdow of a doubt, that Carmelo already realizes this. He realizes that he must follow up a brilliant rookie campaign with an even better sophmore year. He cannot afford to hit the “sophmore year slump”. No one is safe from the Denver media, or public (ask Brian Griese or the Colorado Rockies baseball ownership). He will be scrutinized, analyzed, beratted, and razzed by the state of Colorado, and the national media if he does not succeed in not only leading the Nuggets to the playoffs, but past the first round. Carmelo is living on temporary respect from the fans of Denver. One slip-up, and he has lost them for some time.
Carmelo also realizes that if he does succeed in his sophmore year, maybe even getting some MVP consideration, that he will have gained the permanent respect of the fans of Denver that only a few on any Denver sports team (most notably John Elway) have ever achieved. He will be proclaimed as one of the greats in the NBA today. Nuggets fans will forgive him for those bad games without the analysis or beratting. He will forever be known as the Nuggets savior, and fans will demand that he be paid whatever he wants once his rookie contract is up at the end of the 2005-06 season.
Carmelo must shine this upcoming season.
Not only for the Nuggets.
But for his sake as well.
And it all begins @ the L.A. Lakers Nov. 2.