In the 24 hours since Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri and executive Josh Kroenke left New York City, where face-to-face negotiations with Nets officials rapidly transformed the Carmelo Anthony saga into a game of who blinks first, the discussions have stalled, according to officials familiar with the situation.
Two people with knowledge of the negotiations described them Saturday as stagnant, with a third person going so far as to say talks were "still developing." Anthony himself, watching the UCLA-Texas game from his Los Angeles home, was said to be telling friends simply that there was nothing new to report.
No news is ever good news with a trade this big and complicated, with stakes this high. And it appears that Denver's strategy to accelerate Anthony's trade demand into a full-blown poker game, with an unofficial deadline of Monday, could be jeopardizing the potential blockbuster that would send Anthony to the Nets.
"With every day that passes," said one executive not actively pursuing Anthony, "the bigger deals fall apart."
The talks were not there yet Saturday, with one source describing the slow-dancing tactic from Denver simply as "part of getting a deal done." But even management sources who've been confident from the beginning that Anthony would sign off on a trade to New Jersey recognize how many other things could go wrong in a trade of this magnitude.
As things stood Saturday, the Nuggets were still getting No. 3 pick Derrick Favors from the Nets and Andrei Kirilenko from the Jazz. Devin Harris would go from the Nets to the Bobcats, who would send Boris Diaw to Utah. New Jersey also would send two first-round picks to Denver -- its own and Golden State's protected first-round pick in 2012 -- and Quinton Ross to the Jazz. Charlotte continued to balk at sending point guard D.J. Augustin to the Nets, and New Jersey officials were seeking to expand the deal in the pursuit of a point guard to replace Harris.
Multiple executives monitoring the Melo developments believe that publicizing the four-team trade talks was an effort on Denver's part to solicit better offers from other teams. However, the list of teams believing they have a shot at getting Anthony to agree to an extension is short; he's made clear from the beginning that his first choice is New York, with Chicago, the Nets and possibly the Clippers also having a chance.
One team clearly not on Anthony's list, Cleveland, deserves to be mentioned nonetheless because sources indicate that Anderson Varejao is among the players Denver has targeted as an acceptable replacement asset for Anthony. The others are Kirilenko, Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace, a person with knowledge of the team's strategy said.
The anticipated avalanche of offers, however, did not appear to be forming Saturday. One team with an outside shot at getting Melo's approval was described by sources as "not trying." Also, an executive on the periphery of the talks described Denver's negotiating stance as "delusional."
Anthony's first choice, the Knicks, have the expiring contract of Eddy Curry and young players to offer, but lack the first-round picks Denver is seeking. However, team president Donnie Walsh is said to be in no frenzy to acquire an attractive first-rounder. Sources say Walsh is playing his own game of poker and is unwilling to jeopardize the progress he's made in rebuilding the Knicks' roster and cap position -- a monumental task over the past 2 1-2 years. He also knows that if Anthony wants to come to New York badly enough, he can arrange that as a free agent after the season.
The team with arguably the most attractive first-round pick to offer -- the Clippers, who own a 2011 first-rounder from Minnesota that is unprotected in 2012 -- were nowhere near the Melo talks Saturday, sources said.
While sources who predicted that completing the structure of the deal would be more difficult than getting Anthony's approval to re-sign with the Nets were validated with Saturday's developments, a significant roadblock on the Anthony front still exists. With Favors being sent to Denver in the proposed deal, leaving center Brook Lopez as the only potential All-Star on the roster besides Anthony, the soon-to-be-ex-Nugget was said to be "worried about going there by himself," according to one executive familiar with the situation.
Thus, a significant aspect of what Anthony is mulling is whether Chris Paul -- a fellow client of Creative Artists Agency's Leon Rose-William Wesley tandem -- would be willing to join him there. Anthony, however, would have to wait until 2012 when Paul can become a free agent. That would coincide with the Nets' move to Brooklyn, but a lot can -- and will -- happen between now and then: a new collective bargaining agreement, possibly a lockout, and two seasons for Anthony in Newark, which is only a few miles from the Seventh Avenue entrance to Madison Square Garden but is really light years away.