Amid all the hype this summer surrounding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, we quickly forget that none of those three stars of the 2003 draft class has made the playoffs in all seven years since. That distinction belongs to Carmelo Anthony, the relatively forgotten fourth star of the group. Anthony has led his Denver Nuggets into the postseason every year, but he's still never sniffed the Finals. There's still plenty of work to be done in the Mile High City.
2009-10 Record: 53-29 (first in Northwest Division, fourth in Western Conference, lost to Jazz in first round)
Celtics' record vs. Nuggets: 45-28 all time, 1-1 last season
Familiar faces: Chauncey Billups (drafted by Celtics, traded midway through rookie season), Shelden Williams (played for Celtics last year)
Key additions: Williams (free agent), Al Harrington (free agent)
Key losses: Johan Petro (signed with Nets)
Burning question: Will the Nuggets come through in Carmelo Anthony's contract year?
For years, we all looked forward to the summer of 2010 as the season that would define the future of the NBA. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all had the opportunity to change teams and revamp their supporting casts, which left the door open for a realignment of the NBA's balance of power.
But what about 2011? That's when Carmelo becomes a free agent, and we've already heard plenty of rumblings out there about the possibility of the Nuggets' superstar leaving to join Amare Stoudemire (and possibly at a later date, Chris Paul) in Manhattan. This could be the Nuggets' last chance to win a title with Carmelo. They'd better make the most of it.
Like the Cavs with LeBron last season, the Nuggets as a franchise are now facing a tremendous amount of pressure. They must get it done now, or they risk losing everything. Carmelo will walk, Billups will ride off into the sunset, and the supporting cast around them will crumble. Winning a championship right now is the only way the Nuggets can avoid throwing their future into serious doubt.
2010-11 outlook: The Nuggets have been working for years to get over the hump with this same core group. So far, it hasn't worked — the furthest they've gotten is one Western Conference final in 2009. Do they have any hope of going deeper with this roster? It's hard to make a case for it. Billups isn't getting any younger, the defense is still a work in progress, and the team has plenty of questions about injuries (most notably with Kenyon Martin). The Nuggets' only hope is that the urgency of Carmelo's potential last season in Denver propels them to something great. Hey, at least they've got hope.
Did you know? Chauncey Billups played in seven consecutive conference finals between 2003 and 2009, six with the Detroit Pistons and one with the Nuggets in '09. He went to the NBA Finals twice and won one title, when the Pistons beat the Lakers in five games in the 2004 Finals.