Revenge, as they say, is sweet.
Back in August, Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien thought he was going to continue negotiating the two most important contract extensions in the organization's history -- those of Carmelo Anthony and coach George Karl. The fact that Warkentien had been ostracized in the very organization he'd positioned for a run to the Western Conference finals a little more than a year earlier, though, amounted to the writing on the wall.
Warkentien, the 2009 NBA executive of the year, was let go along with fellow front-office type Rex Chapman in a complete purge of the Nuggets' management team. This was after Warkentien had been insulted with an offer to take a roughly 50 percent pay cut -- with some of the difference possibly to be made up through incentive clauses. (And maybe some Wal-Mart coupons.)
Within weeks of owner Stan Kroenke's decision to turn the organization over to his son, Josh, and former Raptors executive Masai Ujiri, Anthony's camp began informing the team that he would not be signing a three-year, $65 million extension and wanted a trade. Nuggets advisor Brett Bearup subsequently was let go, and the Nuggets believed they had made a fresh start in their efforts to make the best of the Anthony situation.
Only one problem: Warkentien, who knows where all the bodies are buried in Denver and has a strong relationship with Anthony, is about to be employed by the enemy. A person close to Warkentien confirmed a report Sunday night by Yahoo! Sports that the Knicks intend to hire Warkentien as a high-level consultant. The move, which has yet to be finalized, represents the first step in Knicks president Donnie Walsh's long-time efforts to hire a right-hand man. In the past, he had considered Warkentien, former Warriors executive Chris Mullin, and former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, while coach Mike D'Antoni had some other candidates in mind.
After Garden chairman James Dolan's clumsy attempt at hiring former coach and president Isiah Thomas was thoroughly repudiated by Walsh, the decision to go with Warkentien is the strongest sign yet that Walsh -- whose fingerprints are all over the Knicks' revival -- will chart the course for the long-term future of the franchise, too.
Walsh's contract has a team option that must be picked up by April 1. While the addition of Warkentien as a consultant is viewed by those close to the situation as a prelude to an expanded and more permanent role, sources also say that not only is Walsh's option expected to be picked up, but his contract may be extended as well. Though Walsh has made no noise about wanting the extension, he has expressed to confidants a strong desire to see the Knicks' rebuilding through after overcoming a series of health issues in recent months. After returning to Madison Square Garden recently after undergoing hip replacement surgery, Walsh has been described by friends as especially enthusiastic and strong-willed about completing the massive restoration project.
So while the addition of Warkentien, a shrewd negotiator with a reputation as a relentless scout, bodes well for a Walsh-driven front-office structure going forward, the natural question is as follows: What does this mean for the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony? On one hand, teaming Warkentien with Walsh on the Denver trade negotiations would make it a decidedly unfair fight -- combining Walsh's experience with Warkentien's direct knowledge of the Denver power structure and Stan Kroenke's tendencies and psychology when it comes to deal-making. Sources say that Warkentien long ago zeroed in on Kroenke's negotiating weakness in any Anthony trade: his obsessive pursuit of cost-cutting. As Warkentien learned in a negotiating class he recently took at Harvard, the best way to win a negotiation is to know what the opponent wants and where his weaknesses are.
But it is difficult to predict how Kroenke, who is still ultimately calling the shots behind the curtain while his son and Ujiri handle the day-to-day business, will respond to the Knicks' hiring of Warkentien. It is possible, according to one source who understands Denver's still complicated organization dynamics, that Kroenke would stubbornly recoil from any talks with the Knicks and refuse to give Anthony his wish -- or give Warkentien the satisfaction. Also possible, the source noted, is that Kroenke would redouble efforts to once again engage the Nets in trade talks as a far more palatable option than dealing with Warkentien. Another person with direct knowledge of the Nuggets' trade discussions has told CBSSports.com on multiple occasions recently that the Anthony talks have not evolved since the Nets dropped out last week. One reason may have been the Knicks' impending hiring of Warkentien, which sources say leaked to some members of Denver's basketball operations.
One way or another, it would appear that Warkentien will play a prominent role in the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony -- via a trade or as a free agent. Warkentien is believed to be on board with the notion that Anthony wouldn't lose nearly as much money as some pundits think if he were to play out the season and become a free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. Estimates showing that Anthony would lose $40 million in such a scenario are nothing short of irresponsible.
Imagine the irony, though, if Warkentien ultimately winds up signing Anthony to a contract with the Knicks -- a contract he thought he'd be finalizing with the Nuggets last August. The plot, as they say, thickens.