NEW YORK -- Stan Kroenke strolled out onto 52nd Street, looking for a car to deliver him to the airport and back to the understandably hectic life of a sports tycoon on multiple continents. So through the horns honking and sirens blaring outside the Omni Berkshire Place hotel, it seemed almost trivial that my question to him would be about Carmelo Anthony.
|Carmelo Anthony might be saying goodbye to George Karl and the Nuggets organization. (Getty Images)|
But one aspect of Kroenke's interest in the Nuggets already has been ceded to his underlings. This aspect just happens to be the one that is of far more concern to Nuggets fans than the fine print in a new collective bargaining agreement. Not to say Kroenke is in a position to change Anthony's mind about wanting to be traded; sources say the last person in the organization capable of doing that is coach George Karl, who will get that chance when training camp opens next week. But when I asked Kroenke out on 52nd Street if he could say definitively whether Anthony would be traded, he did what his Rams will be doing a lot of this season.
"Oh, I don't know," Kroenke said. "I'm kind of ... that's going to be Josh's decision. He can handle it."
So there you have it.
Six weeks after Anthony's advisers -- agent Leon Rose, raconteur William Wesley, et Al -- first began making noise that their client wanted to be traded, little of substance has changed to push the story forward. Sources tell CBSSports.com that Melo's camp remains insistent upon a trade to New York, New Jersey or Chicago. (Two executives expressed doubts Thursday about Houston's level of involvement in the sweepstakes, saying Anthony's people have not been pushing a Rockets deal.) There are flaws with each of those scenarios, and Denver -- led by newly installed GM Masai Ujiri -- has been trying to expand the playing field to solicit more palatable offers.
The scenario both sides are most comfortable with to this point remains New Jersey, which can offer No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors, the expiring contracts of Troy Murphy and Kris Humphries, and multiple draft picks (with Golden State's 2012 first-rounder potentially the most valuable). The Nuggets, for good reason, want Brook Lopez, whom the Nets don't want to trade -- and whom Anthony wants on his team. So the Nets, according to sources, have been canvassing the league for a trading partner, with the most likely result continuing to be sending guard Devin Harris to a third team that possesses a skilled wing player the Nuggets would view as a decent replacement for Anthony.
Players fitting that description who appeal to Denver, according to sources, include Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace. The Sixers have no interest in helping their neighbors to the north land Melo, and Philly flat-out isn't on Melo's list of teams he'd agree to an extension with, a person with knowledge of his strategy told CBSSports.com Thursday. Wallace has come to be regarded as untouchable in Charlotte, especially if trading him would help another Eastern Conference team get Anthony.
The Bulls are "out of it" for now, said one executive privy to Chicago's insistence on keeping Joakim Noah and the Nuggets' refusal to take back Luol Deng. The Knicks, having dealt their 2012 first-round pick to Houston as well as the rights to swap 2011 first-rounders with the Rockets in the trade that created the cap space that was their only chance to land LeBron James, need a trading partner willing to sweeten their offer with an attractive first-round pick. Even then, the assets the Knicks have to offer aren't appealing to Denver.
A late, longshot entry into the Melo sweepstakes could be the Clippers, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. Besides young players, the Clippers have everything the Nuggets want: 1) cap relief (L.A. is $5 million under the cap and thus could save Denver $10 million when accounting for luxury-tax savings in a lopsided deal); 2) draft picks (L.A. has Minnesota's 2011 first-round pick, which is unprotected in 2012); and 3) the large market Anthony craves (his offseason home is in L.A., and his wife, La La Vasquez, certainly approves).
A Clippers deal could be further sweetened with center Chris Kaman, who could either be a keeper or a trade chip with a $12.7 million expiring contract next season. But Melo signing off on becoming Kobe Bryant's housemate at Staples Center is viewed only as a last resort if he can't force his way to New York or New Jersey, sources say. And the Clippers aren't willing to part with any of the above as a third-team facilitator; they're only on the table if they're getting Anthony in return.
Other teams have attractive assets to offer, but don't pass the Melo extension test. Portland, for example, can offer the expiring contracts of Joel Przybilla and Andre Miller (whose $7.8 million in 2011-12 is fully unguaranteed) plus an impressive array of young talent, including Nicolas Batum and Jerryd Bayless. But the Blazers couldn't even get a whiff of the Melo talks due to Anthony's lack of interest in re-signing there, according to a source.
With camp opening Tuesday at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets' last best chance to change Melo's mind rests in the capable hands and creative mind of Karl. The iconic coach is back from his inspiring battle with cancer, and with the departure of former GM Mark Warkentien and respected assistant coach Tim Grgurich, Karl is all Anthony has left in the organization. The Nuggets, sources say, appear committed to giving Karl his shot with Melo and seeing if the inevitable can be avoided.
If not, the Nuggets have two choices: Trade Anthony before the fire-sale vibe heats up and the offers deteriorate, or something a little more creative but risky. If Karl could persuade Anthony to sign his three-year, $65 million extension with the promise that he'll be traded a month or two into the season if he's still unhappy, both sides would get most of what they want. Denver would have the best chance of getting something close to equal value. Anthony would lose the leverage he currently has to dictate where he's traded, but he'd get the kind of money that would be out of his reach under a new CBA if the Nuggets refused to trade him.
"Nobody knows what new cap rules or extension rules are going to be," one executive familiar with this option said. "What's the guy going to do [next summer]? He could've had a $65 million extension and instead he's looking at what? Nobody knows what's going to happen. So if I'm Carmelo, I make sure I get my money on paper now." So that's where we are -- and that's where Stan Kroenke was as he stood amid the chaos on 52nd and Madison Wednesday afternoon, looking for a ride.
"Everybody knows where we are," Kroenke said. "We've been very positive and pro toward Carmelo. Carmelo's been with us since he came out of college. [Syracuse coach] Jim Boeheim and I know each other very well, and Jim's always spoken highly of Carmelo. We think very highly of him. I'm sure Carmelo's working through some issues on his own, and we like having him in Denver."
Like or liked having him? That part of the equation, according to Kroenke, is out of his hands.