The Nets have put into motion a plan to acquire several assets that the Nuggets have asked for in a potential blockbuster trade for Carmelo Anthony, two people familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com.
The first step, agreed to in principle Tuesday, is a three-team trade in which the Nets get a first-round pick from the Rockets and another one from the Lakers. New Jersey sends Terrence Williams to the Rockets and Joe Smith to the Lakers, who send Sasha Vujacic to the Nets, the people familiar with the framework of the deal said.
The deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, can't be finalized until Wednesday because Smith signed as a free agent this past summer and isn't trade-eligible until then.
The Nets now have their own first-round picks in the next two drafts -- one of which could be traded to Denver -- plus Golden State's 2012 first-rounder, Houston's lottery-protected 2012 first-round pick and a 2011 first-rounder from the Lakers. The plan is to include all of the above in a blockbuster proposal to Denver for Anthony, one of the people familiar with the deal said.
UPDATE: The trade was completed Wednesday, with the Lakers also receiving two second-round picks from the Nets (Golden State's in 2011 and Chicago's in 2012) along with the draft rights to Sergei Lishchuk from Houston. To clear a roster spot for Williams, the Rockets traded Jermaine Taylor and cash to Sacramento for a future second-round pick.
The Nets' new assets, combined with 2010 No. 3 pick Derrick Favors and power forward Troy Murphy, would put New Jersey in the driver's seat in the Melo sweepstakes. And the Nets, according to a high-ranking person familiar with their plan, are working other angles to accomplish the following: get another young player Denver covets and/or add an established player whose presence on the Nets would make the prospect of signing an extension with New Jersey more attractive to the three-time All-Star.
But satisfying Denver has always been only half the battle. Agreeing to an extend-and-trade to New Jersey has not been Anthony's top priority, but the Nets have been the most aggressive team in pursuit of the prolific scorer, whose talent and marketability would represent the biggest coup yet by Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets are moving to Brooklyn -- Anthony's birthplace -- in time for the 2012-13 season.
According to a person with direct knowledge of Anthony's strategy, he recently became entrenched in his desire to agree to an extend-and-trade only if the deal sent him to the Knicks. The person who provided this information could not have been more unequivocal -- and could not have been closer to Anthony's inner circle.
On Tuesday, a rival executive familiar with the Nets' months-long efforts to land Melo corroborated Anthony's Knicks-only stance, telling CBSSports.com of New Jersey, "They got word that Melo will not sign there. They can't get it done."
Contrary to another report, Anthony himself at no point informed the Nuggets or Nets of his stance. So the Nets, who according to sources have received repeated assurances from Anthony's camp that he would extend his contract in a trade to New Jersey, continued with their aggressive strategy to sweeten the assets they could offer the Nuggets. Even as word of Anthony's Knicks-only strategy leaked out Sunday after he made his only scheduled appearance of the season at Madison Square Garden, the Nets were working on the framework of the Houston-L.A. deal that came together Tuesday. A person familiar with the situation said acquiring additional first-round picks was something the Nuggets specifically asked for in an Anthony trade.
Like the crosstown rival Knicks, the Nets struck out in their efforts to lure free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this past summer. But if this haul of first-rounders puts the Nets over the top in their pursuit of Anthony, it would be another dagger for the Knicks. It is believed that Houston's 2012 lottery-protected pick going to New Jersey is the pick the Rockets acquired from New York in the Tracy McGrady deal last February -- the trade that cleared the final bit of cap space the Knicks needed to have any chance of getting LeBron.
The deal also works for the Lakers, who were willing to give up a first-round pick -- likely, of course, to be near the bottom -- in exchange for dumping Vujacic's $5.5 million for Smith's $1.4 million -- of which the Lakers only have to pay a prorated portion of $854,389 because it is a one-year deal for a player with more than two years experience.
What happens next could be portrayed in a commercial with Melo sitting in a director's chair and asking the question LeBron asked: "What should I do?" However this works out for New Jersey, the team's brain trust of GM Billy King and assistant GM Bobby Marks deserve kudos for ignoring the chatter and ever-changing whims of a potential NBA free agent and sticking with their plan. From the outside looking in, it always appeared to rival execs and other observers that the Nets' toughest sales job would be with Anthony. From the beginning, the Nets' brass always believed that would be the easy part -- and that the biggest challenge in landing Melo would be putting together a deal that satisfied all of Denver's desires.
On Tuesday, the Newark-Brooklyn Nets took a giant step closer to finding out.