NEW YORK -- As you might imagine, Carmelo Anthony heard the usual banter from Knicks fans during a 48-hour visit to his hometown. From cars to cabs to passersby, the message was basically the same.
"Everybody's been yelling out the windows, 'Melo, we need you in New York,'" Anthony said Sunday after his only scheduled visit to Madison Square Garden this season. "Of course that feels good when somebody out there wants you to come and represent their team, represent their city. That's what I took from it."
That and, apparently, much more.
After Anthony sparkled with 31 points and was warmly cheered in his MSG matinee, the months-long Melodrama took a decisive step toward a resolution with word that the three-time All-Star will only accept a trade to the Knicks. Anthony doesn't have a no-trade clause, but a person with direct knowledge of his strategy told CBSSports.com on Sunday that he is prepared to exercise an equally effective form of leverage: refusing to sign a three-year, $65 million extension as part of any trade that doesn't land him in New York.
|Melo shines in the Big Apple, launching his Jordan Brand Melo M7 shoes at the House of Hoops in Harlem on Saturday. (Getty Images)|
The Knicks have long been discounted in the Melo sweepstakes because New York's assets are not viewed as attractive by Denver's decision-making team. In fact, even if the Knicks were able to parlay Anthony Randolph into a first-round pick in a separate trade, the Knicks' assets still would not be as enticing to the Nuggets as what the Nets have been offering for months, a person with direct knowledge of Denver's strategy told CBSSports.com.
But with this power move to push exclusively for a trade to the Knicks, Anthony has changed the landscape. A team such as Charlotte, Houston or New Jersey may be willing to trade for Melo without an extension, and then take the chance that they can convince him to stay or send him away in a sign-and-trade arrangement after he opts out. Then it will be a question of how those lesser offers compare to what Denver can get from the Knicks in an extend-and-trade deal.
Sources familiar with the Nuggets' strategy told CBSSports.com last week that the team has all but decided to trade Anthony if he does not signal his intention to re-sign before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. While Denver still has every right to trade Anthony to a team other than the Knicks, New York will be the only team willing to offer the full force of assets they have.
ESPNNewYork.com, which first reported Anthony's Knicks-or-bust stance Sunday, asserted that Anthony has informed Nuggets officials of this strategy. A person with knowledge of internal conversations between Anthony and the Nuggets' brass disputed that aspect of the story.
"That has never come up," the person said.
But it's largely immaterial; as one person connected to the situation said Sunday, "They know now."
According to the person familiar with Anthony's strategy, he also has not ruled out simply re-signing with the Nuggets -- as CBSSports.com reported Saturday. In a meeting with Ujiri and Kroenke about a week ago, Anthony said he informed the executives he'll "think about" staying in Denver and signing the extension that has been on the table for months. Fielding questions from reporters at the scorer's table before Sunday's game, Ujiri called this development "encouraging," but said he will have to do "what's best for the organization." Ujiri declined to elaborate, saying he preferred to leave his conversations with Anthony private and that he was "still assessing the situation."
"I don't know if there's a deadline in my mind," Ujiri said. "But we'll do what's best for the organization, regardless of what angle you look at it."
The Knicks have won eight straight and 13 of 14 without Anthony, and they didn't need him Sunday to send the Nuggets home from their road trip with a 1-3 record and even less clarity about Anthony's future than they had when they left Denver. Amar'e Stoudemire scored 30 points, a mark he's met or exceeded for the eighth straight game, and the Knicks got significant contributions from some players the Nuggets evidently do not want.
Any Knicks offer for Anthony would have to include the expiring contract of Eddy Curry -- a money-saving mechanism that would appeal to outgoing but still influential owner Stan Kroenke -- and young talents such as Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Landry Fields. Stoudemire, who becomes trade-eligible on Wednesday, has not been part of any conversations between the teams, a source said.
The Knicks had no choice but to compromise their collection of first-round picks in last February's trade with Houston for Tracy McGrady, which cleared the final hurdle of cap space needed to make a run at free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in July. Team president Donnie Walsh has continued to work the phones in pursuit of another first-round pick to sweeten his offer, and has expressed confidence he'll be able to get one if needed.
Chandler scored 27 points Sunday, including 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Gallinari, another persona non grata to the Nuggets, had a gritty 16 and engaged Anthony in a feisty battle that included drawing a key charge from the Nuggets' star with the game still in the balance with 17 seconds left. Raymond Felton, another non-starter for the Nuggets in Melo trade talks, had 19 points and 17 assists, outplaying Chauncey Billups, who was 1-for-7 from the field.
"They're rolling right now," Anthony said of the Knicks. "Everybody seems to be in cahoots with each other."
Anthony deflected the trade questions after the game, but did offer his daily cryptic clue. After stating that the first order of business in deciding his future will be signing an extension -- with Denver or someone else -- Anthony was asked, "What happens if they trade you to a team that you don't want?"
"I don't think so," Anthony said. "I don't think that's going to happen."
Then he said, "I don't want to talk about that," perhaps realizing the cat he'd just let out of the bag was bigger than some of the rats scurrying around the bowels of the Garden.
The meaning behind that statement is no mystery now. And the Melodrama may have taken a significant step toward a resolution.