LOS ANGELES -- Amid revived discussions between the Nuggets and Nets on a blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey, the tipping point remains as it has always been: Will Anthony take the ultimate deciding step and meet with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to indicate his willingness to sign a contract extension as part of a trade?
A possible three-team deal in which the Nets would give up a staggering haul of four first-round picks to lure the three-time All Star away from his preferred choice, the Knicks, cannot move forward without the Nets' owner finally getting his chance to sell Anthony on being the centerpiece of the franchise's move to Brooklyn. However, CBSSports.com has learned that Anthony personally has not agreed to such a meeting during All-Star weekend, despite reports that his representatives have already arranged it.
The New York Daily News reported Friday that Anthony is scheduled not only to meet with Prokhorov, but also Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan -- setting up dueling free-agent summits reminiscent of the teams' courtship of LeBron James in July.
A firm answer won't come until Friday afternoon, when Anthony will address the media as part of the scheduled All-Star interview sessions. The opportunity to meet with Prokhorov -- if, in fact, the Russian has changed his mind about ending his team's pursuit of Anthony -- represents the final step in determining whether the Nets' months-long pursuit of the All-Star can continue or not. After it became known that the Nets and Nuggets had re-engaged in talks after Prokhorov ordered GM Billy King to walk away from the negotiating table Jan. 19, Prokhorov's spokesperson, Ellen Pinchuk, told the Associated Press, "Mikhail has not changed his mind."
The latest incarnation of the New Jersey deal has the Nets sending Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and Ben Uzoh to the Nuggets along with four first-round picks for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, and Renaldo Balkman. In addition, Yahoo! Sports reported that Troy Murphy and his $12 million expiring contract would be sent to a third team, which would receive compensation in the form of one or two of the first-round picks from New Jersey.
The Nuggets, who privately have expected to someday revive the New Jersey talks since Prokhorov ended them last month, prefer this deal to anything the Knicks have been willing to offer. One person connected to the talks described the New Jersey deal as a leverage play that would force the Knicks to come to the table with their best offer for Anthony, who has long been determined to agree to a three-year, $65 million extension only with the Knicks if traded before the Feb. 24 deadline.
"It's good pressure for the Knicks," the person connected to the talks said.
The Knicks have balked at Denver's demands for Anthony, believing their best chance to build a championship team around the All-Star tandem of Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire would be to sign Anthony as a free agent after he opts out of his $18.5 million contract for next season. Knicks president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni have remained steadfast in their belief that they cannot afford to gut the team to get Anthony and leave themselves without payroll flexibility to build around him -- flexibility Walsh spent the past 2 1-2 years creating after years of mismanagement at Madison Square Garden.
Indeed, Prokhorov won't be the only billionaire roaming the hotel hallways in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles Friday. Dolan's presence for league meetings and a collective bargaining session has further stoked speculation that he will overrule his basketball people and authorize a lopsided trade in the face of the Nuggets' renewed leverage with the Nets.
Anthony has delivered consistently mixed signals about his willingness to meet with Prokhorov, a necessary step in completing the trade to New Jersey. When stories broke prematurely last month that the Nuggets had given the Nets permission to speak with Anthony directly, Anthony reacted dismissively after a game in San Antonio and said, "I let the front office handle that type of stuff. ... That's not my job to do."
Days later, after Prokhorov pulled the plug, Anthony conceded, "I would've taken that meeting."
This weekend in L.A., it will be hard for this sought-after millionaire to hide from the billionaires courting him.