Mike Monroe: Sometimes less is more in terms of star power

When they arrived in Denver late Tuesday afternoon, the Spurs brought with them fans’ fears that a magical season is about to go poof.

The Spurs know they won’t disappear from their spot atop the Western Conference standings if they remember they got there as a committed and cohesive unit and not because Tim Duncan dragged them to the pinnacle.

If they need a reminder that having a healthy superstar is no guarantee of victory, they can check the Nuggets’ starting lineup tonight.

Denver traded its All-Star starter, Carmelo Anthony, to the Knicks and has made a run up the West standings without the player who had been its leading scorer.

Wilson Chandler, one of four Knicks surrendered in the trade war for Anthony, now occupies ’Melo’s starting spot at small forward. No threat to score 40 or 50 points — his career high is 31 — Chandler has averaged 14.3 points in 13 games as a Nugget, a little more than half what Anthony scored for Denver this season.

It is the Nuggets, not the Knicks, who have found redemption in the biggest trade of the season. Playing fine team basketball, they are 10-4 since the deal was made and playing the sort of unselfish ball that reduces the stress on their cancer survivor coach.

“I don’t think there’s any question there was a lifting of the stress when the trade went down,” George Karl said after putting his new lineup through a Tuesday morning practice. “There was a lot of excitement that came with that deal. Arron (Afflalo) and Ty (Lawson) were starting to play their best basketball then, and Kenyon (Martin) was getting stronger and more confident at that time.

“Then we got the new guys, and it only took us one practice to know they were pretty good.”

Denver’s first game after that first practice was an 89-75 victory over the East-leading Celtics that served as instant rebuttal of the notion the Nuggets had ceded a spot among the Western Conference elite by trading an elite-level player.

General manager Masai Ujiri didn’t help perception when he said the Nuggets had been “killed” in the trade, but such candid humility now seems more smoke screen than admission of failure.

“People need to understand that (Nuggets president) Josh (Kroenke) and Masai squeezed everything they could out of that deal,” Karl said. “We got some good pieces.”

What Karl understood after just one practice was that he had the sort of roster that breeds overachievement.

“There is competition going on for minutes in every game,” he said. “Some of us were debating yesterday about J.R. (Smith), Wilson Chandler, Arron and Danilo Gallinari. Which one will be the best player three years from now? Then you’ve got Ty and Raymond Felton. Who will be the best point guard three years from now?”

“It’s exciting, and you’ve got competition every night motivating everyone to play, and play well.”

Coaching is fun again for Karl, who now spends quality time scribbling Xs and Os, rather than managing rumors and personalities.

“Yes, it is (fun), and I think a lot of it was just a release of the six months of stress and the excitement that we’re still capable of reaching the goals of this season,” he said. “No one knows how good we’re going to be. It’s going to be determined in the playoffs.

“Everyone has said we won’t be any good, but that’s fine. They’ve been saying it’s Doomsdsay around here for a long time.”

Now Doomsday is part of the calendar in New York City. Anthony’s new team is 7-9 since his arrival, and he has discovered that you can’t be the toast of Broadway unless you give New Yorkers reason to pop their corks.

’Melo wanted the bright lights of the big city but hid in the dark of the team bus after a loss last week so that the media couldn’t shine a light on his failures.


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