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Carmelo Anthony
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Carmelo Anthony is the missing piece the Nuggets need to add

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

During his 17-year NBA career, he’s averaged 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Along the way, he’s been selected to 10 All-Star teams, made six All-NBA teams and finished as high as third in the MVP voting.

But right now, he’s unemployed, unable to find a team who wants to add them to their roster. And by all accounts, that doesn’t seem likely to change between now and the start of the 2019-20 season.

Carmelo Anthony is a pariah. He’s vilified in multiple NBA cities and scorned by those who cover the game. As a result, he’s on the outside looking in at the moment, unable to continue playing the game he loves.

At this point, almost everyone reading this column will have the same thought: It serves him right. That’s because Melo is largely considered a selfish player who was always worried more about getting his stats than his team winning. So in every place he’s played, especially Denver and New York, he’s left town as much more of a villain than a hero.

With the Nuggets, Anthony helped transform the franchise. The year before they drafted him, Denver finished tied for the worst record in the league at 17-65. In the seven full seasons he played in the Mile High City, Melo led the team to the playoffs. And in 2009, he helped the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Finals, making it all the way to Game 6 before finally falling to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

Of course, most people don’t remember those things.

They just talk about six of those seven postseason appearances ending with a first-round exit. Nevermind that the eight years before Melo arrived in town didn’t result in a single trip to the playoffs.

And they focus on the fact that Anthony eventually forced his way out of town, pushing the Nuggets to trade him to the Knicks midway through the 2010-11 season. He’s seen as someone who chose the bright lights of New York City over the casual comforts of Denver; for that, he’ll forever be public enemy No. 1 to a lot of people in the Centennial State.

His time with the Knicks is largely seen as a failure, so much so that Stephen A. Smith – the brash ESPN commentator who is a long-time fan of the team – recently berated a caller to his radio show who suggested that Melo would be a good free-agent signing. It was an epic rant, one that went viral on social media.

While that’s largely Smith simply doing what Smith does, saying something outlandish in order to get attention, it does show what fans in New York think of the six-plus seasons that Melo called Madison Square Garden home. They see it as a failure.

But again, some perspective would be helpful. Prior to his arrival, the Knicks hadn’t made the playoffs in six seasons. His first three years in town, Anthony led New York to the postseason. And in 2013, he led the team to a first-round victory over the Celtics, the only time since 2000 that they’ve has won a playoff series.

So in Denver, Melo led the Nuggets to the farthest point in the postseason that the team has ever reached. And in New York, he helped a dysfunctional franchise accomplish something they’ve only been able to do once in the past two decades.

Yet, he’s seen as a locker-room cancer, a player who puts self ahead of team. He’s widely viewed as a loser, rather than a winner. Talk about denying facts and being unable to see that things are often much more nuanced than they appear.

All that said, this has created a situation where Anthony is currently still on the free-agent market. The veteran forward is without a team, desperate to restart his career.

The Nuggets should give him that chance.

The best player in the history of the franchise should return to where it all started, providing the opportunity for things to come full circle. Melo could mend fences in the city where he enjoyed his greatest NBA success, while the team could use his talents to get over the hump in the Western Conference.

Most people will scoff at this idea. They’ll see Anthony as exactly the wrong fit in Denver.

He’s seen as a ball hog who likes to play isolation basketball, which would be a terrible fit for the Nuggets pass-happy style built around center Nikola Jokic. And he doesn’t play defense, which would counter the message that Michael Malone has been preaching to his team.

But that’s not entirely true. That’s the old Melo, not the current player.

In an interview last week on ESPN’s “First Take,” Anthony admitted that he’s ready to take on a reduced role. He suggested that he was perfectly fine being the fourth option in Oklahoma City, behind Russell Westbrook, Paul George and even Steven Adams.

The Thunder, however, didn’t want to pay him nearly $28 million to play that role. So they dumped his contract, creating a scenario in which Anthony has subsequently bounced around from Atlanta to Chicago to Houston, looking for a new NBA home and picking up the reputation as a washed-up malcontent.

It’s pretty ridiculous, but perception has certainly become reality. That’s how Melo is now seen around the league.

But if the Nuggets are willing to defy conventional wisdom, if they are willing to think outside the box, they could use this situation to their advantage. They could bring in Anthony on a bargain-basement contract.

And he’d be a good addition. Anthony would bring some of the things that Denver is missing.

Against the Trail Blazers, the Nuggets could’ve used a veteran with postseason experience. Melo fills that role. Go back and watch the way he played against the Lakers in ’09; that type of intensity was needed in the series with Portland.

In Game 7, Denver could’ve used someone who was both willing to take a big shot and capable of making them. While Jamal Murray, Will Barton and others shrank in the moment, having another option to turn to in that situation would’ve been huge.

For it to work here, Anthony would need to embrace his role. He’s the fourth or fifth option on most nights, behind Jokic, Murray, Gary Harris and even Paul Millsap. And he’d have to be willing to worry as much about rebounding, passing and defense as he does scoring.

But in some games, when his shot is falling or the Nuggets need another offensive threat, he’d be a great fit. Melo can shoot from the outside, while also able to set up camp in the low post and score. That kind of versatility is perfect alongside Jokic.

It’s time to let bygones be bygones. It’s time to fixed the burned bridge. It’s time to bring Carmelo Anthony back to Denver.

Someday, his jersey number will hang from the rafters at Pepsi Center. Maybe he can help the team put another banner up there, as well.

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