One month after Carmelo Anthony's high-powered team of advisers first began pressuring the Denver Nuggets to trade him, the superstar scorer has not wavered in his desire to be dealt, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. "There's no sign of reconsideration on Carmelo's part, despite what [Denver] has publicly said," said one of the people involved in the process.
The two sides remain locked in a stalemate over Anthony's future while a three-year, $65 million extension offer sits untouched in front of him. While Nuggets officials -- including influential adviser Bret Bearup and executive Josh Kroenke -- continue to rebuff trade inquiries while hoping to repair the franchise's relationship with Anthony, privately the team is beginning to examine which teams would have the most attractive combination of young players, draft picks and expiring contracts to complete a deal. And the team currently viewed by people close to the situation as having the most realistic chance of putting together a blockbuster, perhaps multi-team deal for Anthony is the New Jersey Nets.
"They're working the hardest to get a deal done," one of the sources said.
With No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors, multiple extra draft picks, and Devin Harris, whose $8.98 million contract could be parlayed into a serviceable replacement for Anthony in a three-team trade, New Jersey has the makings of a package that would appeal to Nuggets officials, one of the people with knowledge of Denver's strategy said. The key, according to the person, would be involving a third team to convert Harris into something the Nuggets would view as "decent replacement value" for Anthony.
That is where another team equipped with attractive assets could enter the picture, multiple sources said: the Philadelphia 76ers. New team president Rod Thorn and GM Ed Stefanski – who formerly worked together in New Jersey -- could be central to constructing a deal that would compel the Nuggets to move Anthony rather than endure a season-long distraction that ends with Anthony leaving as a free agent after the season. The key pieces of the Philadelphia equation would be the expiring contracts of Jason Kapono ($6.64 million) and Willie Green ($3.98 million), a young talent such as Thaddeus Young, and Andre Iguodala, who is coming off a solid contribution to Team USA's gold-medal performance at the FIBA World Championships. Some executives believe the Sixers would at least discuss including No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner if it meant getting Anthony, but that would defeat the purpose of going over the luxury tax to get Anthony in the first place.
Thorn drafted Favors, so that is one piece that is expected to be integral to the discussion once the Nuggets officially begin seeking trade packages for Anthony. The drop-off in talent from Anthony to Iguodala is considerable, but so is the savings; Iguodala is due $44 million over the next three seasons, compared to the $65 million Anthony would command. Two people familiar with Denver's strategy confirmed the Nuggets would be intrigued by a deal centered around Iguodala. The Nets could sweeten any such offer with Golden State's 2012 first-round pick and two extra second-round picks they own in the same draft.
A package sending Anthony to the Nets, Favors to Philadelphia and Iguodala to Denver is one way all of these moving parts could come together. But Thorn is said to have reservations about such a deal, which has yet to rise to the level of discussion among the teams.
The situation is complicated by the difficulty in putting enough assets in the deal to satisfy the Nuggets, who don't want the first move of GM Masai Ujiri's regime to be trading the team's cornerstone. Even more crucial is the need for Anthony to indicate he'd be willing to sign an extension with the team that acquires him. It is believed that Anthony, a Brooklyn native whose wife, LaLa Vasquez, also is from there, would sign off on a deal to the Nets, who move to the New York City borough in two years. It is not clear how Anthony would feel about signing an extension with Philadelphia, a city that is halfway between his New York birthplace and the Washington, D.C., area where he grew up. The Sixers were not on Anthony's initial list of preferred destinations, which included the Knicks, Magic, Bulls and Nets. Anthony, who is good friends with former Sixers star Allen Iverson, also is aware of how harshly Philadelphia treats its sports stars, a person with knowledge of his thinking said.
The Bulls are viewed by one source as "not a realistic candidate" due to the team's unwillingness at this point to include Joakim Noah in the deal. The Bulls and Noah are currently negotiating an extension. The Knicks, Anthony's first choice, are viewed by rival executives as not having enough assets to entice the Nuggets. New York has Eddy Curry's $11.3 million expiring contract, promising big man Anthony Randolph, and swingman Wilson Chandler, but the team's draft-pick cupboard is bare. Adding to the frustration among Nuggets officials, sources say, is that Anthony's team has been slow to offer a comprehensive list of trade possibilities.
As the Nuggets walk the tightrope between getting value for Anthony and trying to compel him to reconsider and sign the extension, other factors are in play. Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout who was with the organization when Anthony was drafted, just lived through the nightmare of losing star Chris Bosh in Toronto. Ujiri was part of the management team that decided not to trade Bosh at the February 2010 trade deadline, and Bosh bolted to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami. The Raptors got a trade exception and two first-round picks -- small consolation for the loss of the team's franchise player.
Which is exactly what the Nuggets are trying to avoid, one way or another.