LeBron & Carmelo: How the 2003 NBA Draft Changed Basketball History

LeBron & Carmelo: How the 2003 NBA Draft Changed Basketball History

If you haven't heard, the Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed in principle to trade Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Sheldon Williams, Melvin Ely and Renaldo Balkman to New Jersey for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy, Ben Uzoh and four first-round draft picks.

Wow.

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Of course Anthony still has to sign a three-year extension (worth a reported $65M) for the deal to be finalized, but this deal would clearly change the futures of two NBA organizations for the next 20 years.

New Jersey, owned by a Russian billionaire and Jay-Z, gets a face to put on their new building in Brooklyn. The Nuggets get a chance to compete for the next 10 years.

And yet this might just close the book on how the 2003 NBA Draft changed the future of professional basketball forever.

Consider the first round in that year's draft:

  1. Cleveland: LeBron James
  2. Detroit: Darko Milicic (epic fail)
  3. Denver: Carmelo Anthony
  4. Toronto: Chris Bosh
  5. Miami: Dwyane Wade

There have been other draft classes in other sports - 1983 NFL (Elway, Marino, Kelly, Dickerson), 1984 NBA (Olajuwon, Jordan, Barkley, Stockton), 2003 NHL (MA Fleury, E. Staal, Seabrook, Richards, Parise, Getzlaf, Kesler) - that have made a profound impact on their given sports.

But this class made an impact off the floor.

After the debacle last summer known as "The Decision," in which LeBron held the world captive and broke up with his hometown on ESPN, the landscape in the NBA changed. Three of the most talented players in the league (and top five picks from 2003) were going to play for the Miami Heat, who fleeced their entire roster to build it around three players.

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Never before had an organization sold its soul for one class of free agents. When the dust had settled, the Heat had, at one time, only Mario Chalmers on their roster.

The world watched while Cleveland and Toronto, whether it was naive or not, had faith that they would somehow keep the player they drafted seven years prior. Rather than either GM having the intestinal fortitude to make a blockbuster trade to assure their team of a future, both sat still and counted the days until the face of their franchise walked out the door.

Denver, just a few months later and facing the same armageddon, wouldn't make the same mistake.

There is no way to sugarcoat this reality.

The players now hold the owners by the bag.

It might have been true when Bill Shakespeare said that it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but that's not true in professional sports in 2011. The re-write would read "Tis better to do the screwing than end up empty handed."

Look at the proposed deal between the Nuggets and Nets. If you take Anthony and the four first round picks out of the equation, the Nuggets are actually getting younger/faster with each player coming back. And four first round picks from a team that will struggle to compete with Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks for any free agent heading to New York could all end up being lottery selections.

What this means long-term is that competitive balance is, in all likelihood, dead in the NBA. If players are going to allow the team that selects them in the draft to essentially lease their services until they're able to pick their location, the fate of teams like Cleveland and Toronto is sealed. If you can't land a free agent, you're dead.

And if LeBron's going to blow off his home town, why would any player ever stay anywhere for longer than four years if they didn't choose the location?

When the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement is ready to be re-negotiated, it could make what's going on in the NFL look like two 4th graders having a classroom debate. The owners will come to the table essentially asking for their manhood back, and, unlike the NFL, half of the NBA is losing money.

So I hope these kids are happy with their enormous paychecks, because they may have destroyed the league they represent.

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