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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Nuggets brass keeps working while Melodrama drags on


SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas -- In a spring-break town deserted but for a few basketball junkies, NBA executives and scouts have gathered for their annual pilgrimage to the NBA Development League Showcase. Their end game is to find a player who can fill in nicely on a 10-day contract, or perhaps longer.

At this rate, several players discovered here will go on to be included in the next Carmelo Anthony megatrade; that is, if the first one ever gets done.

Nerves were frayed Wednesday among executives trying to push the Anthony-to-New Jersey deal to its merciful conclusion. The latest source of confusion was another report that Anthony does not want to sign a contract extension with the Nets and has never indicated to anyone -– including his agent, Leon Rose, who has been pushing the trade -– that he would. The reporting from ESPN.com mirrored similar reports from CBSSports.com and ESPN.com on Dec. 12. Despite the latest wrench in what has become an excruciating process, two executives told CBSSports.com on Wednesday that the Nuggets and Nets continue working on their aspects of the blockbuster, which also would have the Pistons sending Richard Hamilton to the Nets to join Melo.

The Nuggets, unfazed by the corroboration of past reports about Anthony's reluctance to take his talents to Newark, N.J., regard the notion of Anthony's reluctance to sign with the Nets as "inaccurate," according to a high-level source in daily contact with the organization. The Nuggets "continue to strongly evaluate scenarios," the person said.

As for the Nets, the team's front office also continues to doggedly pursue Anthony despite more evidence that their efforts could be for naught. Many observers have been dubious that Anthony's representatives would be pushing this trade so persistently without at least tacit approval from Anthony, and have also doubted that Anthony would be willing to have the deal fall apart -- which could greatly diminish his chances of getting a three-year, $65 million extension before the enacting of a new, less player-friendly collective bargaining agreement.

"If he wants to leave all that money on the table, that's for him to decide," said one rival executive who has been on the periphery of the trade talks. "Good luck."

Any Nuggets move to acquire Nicolas Batum from Portland likely wouldn't come until after Carmelo Anthony is traded. (AP)  
Any Nuggets move to acquire Nicolas Batum from Portland likely wouldn't come until after Carmelo Anthony is traded. (AP)  
The other significant hiccup, as CBSSports.com reported Monday, is that reports last week of the three-team deal being close to completion were significantly ahead of the actual negotiations among the teams. Denver, in particular, felt rushed and pressured and began backing away over the weekend -- when executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke privately chastised other team execs for the public nature of the discussions and began trying to extract more from the deal. Ujiri wants a young talent in addition to the Nets' Derrick Favors, and has his sights set ultimately on the Trail Blazers' Nicolas Batum -- though multiple people involved in the talks say Batum is likely to be pursued in the aftermath of an Anthony trade, not as part of one. The Nuggets also want more cost savings out of the deal and are trying to get someone to take either Al Harrington or Renaldo Balkman.

The confusion, smokescreens, competing agendas and fresh indications that Anthony is not on the same page with his agents have conspired to fuel the chances of two teams that have waited patiently on the sideline while the Nets and Nuggets have woven their perilous web: the Rockets and Knicks. If the New Jersey deal falls apart, Houston is regarded as the team with the next-best package of young players, cost savings and draft picks that could help the Nuggets salve the pain of having to trade their star player.

But the team with a puncher's chance to swoop in if the Nets fail in their pursuit of Anthony has always been the Knicks, if for no other reason than the Nuggets would be forced to at least entertain trade talks with them because New York is Anthony's preferred destination -- and the only place he would agree to an extension if traded, as CBSSports.com reported Dec. 12.

The Knicks' patient, almost detached posture in the Melo sweepstakes has been confusing to some but not to those who have seen team president Donnie Walsh's poker face before. Since September, when it first became widely known that Anthony wanted out of Denver and wanted to push for a trade to the Knicks, Walsh has been silent on the topic. One reason, according to a source familiar with the organization's strategy, is that Walsh has always known that "if Melo wants to play for the Knicks, he'll go play for the Knicks" -- as a free agent after exercising his early-termination option following the season.

For that reason, the Knicks currently have "zero role, none," in the Melo trade talks, according to a second person directly involved in the team's decision-making process.

Despite the uncertainty over the new CBA, Walsh has been able to wait patiently and let the negotiations come to him. But there are additional, more complicated reasons the Knicks have been reluctant to participate in the kind of guns-blazing pursuit of Melo that the Nets have engaged in. For one, they don't have to; unlike the Nets, the Knicks have a core of young players who are beginning to fit together and a superstar, Amar'e Stoudemire, to build around.

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Also, the person directly involved in the Knicks' decision-making said there is significant hesitation from at least one key player in the team's hierarchy who has doubts about whether Anthony would be the best piece to complement Stoudemire. While it is irrefutable that the Knicks are interested in Anthony, there is concern about how destabilizing it could be to the organization and coaching staff if an enormous price is paid for Anthony in a trade.

For one thing, the Knicks are reluctant to break up the first promising core of young talent they've had in more than a decade, with Wilson Chandler beginning to display borderline All-Star production and Danilo Gallinari continuing to tantalize coach Mike D'Antoni with his potential.

"People think you can only win with another star," said the person plugged into the Knicks' internal strategy. "That's wrong. You win with a team. ... They're not going to blow up their team for Carmelo."

Which brings us to the next and equally important factor: Any team that gives up multiple players and other assets for Anthony, while also giving him the $65 million extension he covets, will be in effect, turning the franchise over to him -- and, by extension, to Creative Artists Agency powerbroker William "World Wide Wes" Wesley.

"When you give up your whole team to get a guy, you're at his mercy," the person said. "And you bring in Wes, who then thinks he can run your team. None of that is very appealing."

It is a risk that the Nets, desperate for a star to usher them into their new home in Brooklyn in 2012, are justifiably willing to take -- but one that the Knicks do not have to take.

The linchpin in the Anthony talks remains what it has always been: Once a trade with New Jersey has been agreed to -- if it ever gets agreed to -- then Anthony must say once and for all whether he will extend with the Nets. If the answer is no, it's back to Square 1.

How long could this drag on? Though it's unlikely given the momentum toward a trade and the chaotic environment in Denver that has ensued, one possibility would be for the Nuggets to announce they're shutting down the trade talks and revisiting the matter after the season. If a deal more to Denver's liking can be found in June, Anthony could still get his lucrative extension all the way up to midnight July 1, which would still beat the expiration of the CBA and, as nearly everyone involved in the NBA business acknowledges, an ensuing lockout.

And sadly, it would mean months, not days, before the Melodrama finally ends.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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