- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DENVER (AP) - The mood was Melo-choly at the Pepsi Center.

Only, the anguish Tuesday had as much _ if not more _ to do with Chauncey Billups‘ departure as it did Carmelo Anthony’s.

Anthony was one of the best players in Denver Nuggets history, but Billups was possibly its most popular. So, coach George Karl, team president Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri all echoed a community’s sadness in seeing its hometown hero, who wanted to stay put, leave for the Big Apple along with the superstar who wanted out.

In a three-team swap that was finalized Tuesday, the Nuggets dealt their top two players along with three backups to the New York Knicks for a package of four young players, three draft picks and cash in a megadeal that reshapes both franchises.

The Nuggets didn’t want to part with Billups but they said they couldn’t move Melo without including the former NBA finals MVP and All-Star who remains one of the league’s top point guards at 34. He grew up in Denver, attended the University of Colorado and had hoped to finish his career with the Nuggets.

“I want to offer a personal apology to the Billups family,” Kroenke said at the start of a news conference Tuesday night after the trade was finalized. “They mean the world to me personally and I know Chauncey means everything to Denver.

“When I say Denver, I mean Denver basketball at every level. He is Denver basketball. He was a high school star here, he was a college star here, he was a professional star here. It was an incredibly tough decision to include him in this trade,” Kroenke said.

While the Nuggets‘ new front office team of Kroenke and Ujiri drew high marks nationally for prying away so much from the Knicks, Ujiri all but flogged himself over the deal.

“We feel we got killed in the trade because we lost a couple of pretty good players,” Ujiri said. “Obviously, Carmelo Anthony, I feel sad for the city of Denver. I feel bad this was done on my watch. To lose a guy like that. And also Chauncey. But I think we had to do it. We had to do this trade. We had to move on and give this city hope.”

Ujiri also apologized to Billups and his family for having to throw him into the deal.

“This trade took this long because of Chauncey. We tried every way not to include him in this trade,” Ujiri said. “It’s one of the most difficult things, you try to maneuver and there are things beyond your control. What a great professional, what a great person, what a great family. He will always be welcome in Denver. He knows that.”

Coach George Karl said he was relieved the Anthony trade saga was finally over but, like several of his players, he, too, lamented the loss of Billups, who led the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals two years ago after he was acquired from the Detroit Pistons.

“I can’t deny that when the trade went down last night, I was kind of more sad than happy,” Karl said after his team’s short-handed shootaround Tuesday. “I think most of that sadness was because of Chauncey _ and A.C. a little bit, too.”

The blockbuster three-team trade also sent Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman to New York for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov. The Nuggets also got center Kosta Koufos from Minnesota.

The Nuggets could have lost Anthony to free agency without any compensation after the season like the Cleveland Cavaliers did when LeBron James bolted for Miami last summer.

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