LOS ANGELES -- As the Knicks and Nuggets remained in advanced talks Monday on a trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to New York, CBSSports.com confirmed that the deal could expand to include an unlikely facilitator -- the rival Nets.
A person familiar with the rapidly unfolding negotiations said New Jersey could be willing to send two first-round picks to Denver for Russian center Timofey Mozgov and another Knick -- perhaps Danilo Gallinari -- if those players were dealt to the Nuggets for Anthony.
ESPN The Magazine first reported the latest twist in the Anthony saga, which suggests that the Nets are willing to abandon their pursuit of Anthony but only if they can divert two key Knicks assets across the Hudson River in the process.
A second source with direct knowledge of the talks cautioned that it was premature to address the new angle involving the Nets as an indirect facilitator in what would be a separate transaction with the Nuggets because the Knicks and Nuggets have yet to agree to a deal.
As CBSSports.com reported Sunday, the Knicks sweetened their proposal for Anthony in what sources described as their "final offer," agreeing to send Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and their 2014 first-round pick to Denver for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter. The Nuggets also would get Corey Brewer from Minnesota, which would receive Eddy Curry's expiring contract and forward Anthony Randolph from the Knicks.
The Nuggets, nearing the end of an arduous process that has been unfolding for five months, were pushing for the Knicks to include Mozgov in the deal -- a concession New York has been unwilling to make, especially considering the Nets' minimal chances of persuading Anthony to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with them. Such an agreement from Anthony has been the key obstacle to the Nets completing a trade agreed to with Denver during All-Star weekend -- with the package including Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and multiple first-round picks.
Nets officials, led by owner Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, met with Anthony Saturday in Los Angeles but did not come away with a commitment from the four-time All-Star. Unwilling to abandon any leverage in his pursuit of the extension heading into the uncertainty of a new labor agreement, Anthony also did not close the door on the Nets in that meeting, a person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com.
Prokhorov covets Mozgov, a six-year pro in Russia before signing with the Knicks last summer. But he also hopes the prospect of two key Knicks players thriving across the river -- and in Brooklyn in 2012 -- could make the Knicks reluctant to complete the trade for Anthony. It's a tactical gamble that would be a win-win for Prokhorov, who would either swoop in to steal Anthony if the Knicks backed away or land two ex-Knicks to make their New York rival uncomfortable.
Either way, the Nets' willingness to allow Denver to flip two Knicks to them in exchange for draft picks could be the final piece that pushes the painstaking Anthony talks to their conclusion. The Nuggets' new management team of Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke, having shown patience and negotiating muscle beyond anyone's expectations, would come away with every conceivable asset they were seeking in an Anthony trade: quality young players on reasonable contracts (Chandler and Felton), three first-round picks (one from New York and two from New Jersey), and upwards of $20 million in savings.
Hours before the Nuggets were scheduled to practice at 6 p.m. MT Monday in Denver, it remained an open question whether Anthony would be there -- perhaps for his final public appearance as a Nugget. The trade deadline is 3 p.m. ET Thursday.
"Obviously something has to happen, whether I stay in Denver or they trade me or whatever," Anthony said after the West's 148-143 victory in the All-Star Game. "The end is here."