No. 3 isn't a losing number in lottery

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Don't cry for the Denver Nuggets. Sure, they didn't get LeBron James, who is Cleveland-bound. And Serbian big man Darko Milicic seems on his way to the Motor City. Even so, having Syracuse forward Carmelo Anthony coming your way is nothing to feel sorry about.

The Nuggets and Cleveland each had a 22.5-percent chance of landing the top pick in the NBA Draft through Thursday's draft lottery. And before the proceedings started, it was very apparent that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke was hopeful of landing King James in Denver.

"We've got to get (No.) 1," said Kroenke, to Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West before the lottery.

The Nuggets actually ended up with the first pick. OK, well, that was actually in an ABC dress rehearsal before the prime-time show began. Then reality set in.

The Nuggets advanced to the final three, and James was still within reach. But after a long commercial, NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik announced, "The third pick in the draft goes to the Denver Nuggets."

No LeBron. And soon after, it became apparent that there will be no Darko in Denver, either .

"I would think Darko would go to Detroit," said Marc Cornstein, Milicic's agent. "I think there is a real likelihood."

Well, if that's the case, there is a real likelihood that Carmelo will be coming to Denver. OK, let me restate that: If LeBron and Darko are gone, the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year will be playing in Denver next season.

If there ever was a player that could fit right into what the Nuggets need, it's Anthony.

Anthony is a Sports Illustrated cover boy who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title as a freshman. He also has impressive marketing appeal. The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder is a big-time scorer who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds and is also a strong passer. The Nuggets have three returning small forwards in Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Ryan Bowen and Rodney White, who also plays shooting guard. None of the aforementioned averaged over 10 points per game.

In an upbeat running game that Denver expects to have next season, 'Melo has the skills and the body to become the best scorer near the Rocky Mountains since Alex English.

"Every time I watched (the Nuggets), I tried to picture myself at the (small forward) out there playing," Anthony said.

While the Nuggets fans probably would have preferred James, they definitely prefer Anthony over Milicic. It's not that Milicic won't be a great player, because he will. But after Tskitishvili struggled last year, Nuggets fans seem more comfortable with an American they are more familiar with rather than going with a foreigner.

The selection of James would have instantly sold out the Pepsi Center. The unknown of Darko would have kept fans away until he proved he was up to his billing. As far as 'Melo wearing No. 15 and a headband in Denver, that will definitely sell tickets. And an inside-outside tandem of Nene and Anthony would bring excitement for the future.

"I watch Nene a lot. Nene's good. Nene's a beast," Anthony said.

Then add that Anthony's presence would help Denver in its quest to land major free agents.

Golden State Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas is No. 1 on Denver's free-agent wish list. Add Los Angeles Clippers guards Andre Miller, Corey Maggette and center Michael Olowokandi to that list, too. Oh yeah, don't forget about Nuggets forward Juwan Howard, the team's leader in scoring, rebounding and free-throw percentage, too. Playing with Anthony would be a definite drawing card.

"If they get Carmelo, it's a big plus," Howard said. "I think he's the best player in the draft."

Said Anthony: "I know that they are building right now, and they have a lot of money to spend. Hopefully, they can get some new players. Their No. 1 goal is building."

Well, Juwan, it looks like Denver is going to get Carmelo. And in the end, he will be a great thing for a franchise that is desperate for a boost.

"By me knowing that they had a bad season this year, there is a possibility that they might draft me," Anthony said. "To go there (and) be able to play as soon as I get there brings a lot to the table. I feel great about that."

About an hour after the draft lottery, Kroenke had long forgotten the thought of LeBron in Denver. But the thought of a 'Melo man in the Mile High City didn't sound bad either.

"I like Carmelo," Kroenke said.

And the Nuggets fans will definitely like their new star, too.