With the next gap in schedule for both teams coming between Monday afternoon and Wednesday, optimism has grown that the Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets have established enough momentum in the Carmelo Anthony trade talks to push the deal to the finish line.
Only one problem. Well, two. First, multiple sources connected to the talks told CBSSports.com on Friday that there still wasn't agreement on all the aspects of a three-team trade that would send Anthony to New Jersey. Second, the most important piece of the puzzle -- whether Anthony will agree to a contract extension with the Nets to trigger the deal -- remains an open question.
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While sources say the Nets and Nuggets both believe Anthony will agree to extend with New Jersey, those words have yet to come from Anthony himself. In the daily crosshairs of attention over the trade discussions, Anthony has begun taking a light-hearted approach in his media interviews. And he continues to send mixed -- or at best vague -- signals about his immediate future.
After the Nuggets blew out the Heat without LeBron James on Thursday night, Anthony guaranteed he would be a Nugget for a weekend back-to-back at home against Cleveland and in San Antonio. The comment could have been read a couple of ways: 1) Anthony is calling the shots, and wanted to send a message that he isn't going anywhere until he's satisfied that it's what he wants; or 2) It was immaterial because the schedule won't allow the Nets to consummate the trade before Tuesday, as they are sending out eight players in the proposed deal.
But sources were adamant Friday that there has to be a deal before a date can be established for its completion. One of them described talks as "still evolving," while another said, "nothing imminent." Meanwhile, it wouldn't be logical for the three teams to agree to a trade involving more than 15 players, and then allow those players to risk injury in 2-3 games before completing the deal.
|A source says it's in the Nuggets' interest to get Favors before a potential injury. (Getty Images)|
While sources with two of the three teams involved said Friday there had been no negotiating breakthroughs since talks slowed last weekend for various reasons, at some point the Nuggets and Nets will have to present a completed deal to Anthony and get his official answer on the three-year, $65 million extension that has sat dormant for months. One source acknowledged there was a chance all of this could be accomplished by Tuesday, but most people involved in the complicated talks are more cautious given all the starts and stops in what has become an excruciating saga.
"There are a handful of scenarios, none of which have been agreed to yet, and Melo still hasn't committed," one of the sources said. "Denver holds the cards right now. As it gets closer to the deadline, the other teams are going to hold the cards."
Among the significant developments of the past 24 hours, Al Harrington's name and bloated contract were removed from the discussions while Denver tries to find another team to take the four years and $27 remaining on his deal. DaJuan Summers also was added to the proposed deal, going from Detroit to New Jersey with Richard Hamilton.
Meanwhile, there were reports Thursday and Friday that the Nets were planning agreement on the trade to coincide with the arrival of their Russian billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is flying to the States in time for the team's game Wednesday night against Utah for Russian Culture Night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. But a source contradicted that premise.
"That's the first I've heard of it," one source said of a possible Prokhorov-Anthony sitdown Wednesday to convince the star forward to commit to the Nets.
The longer the negotiations drag on, the more hopeful teams like the Knicks, Rockets and Mavericks become that they may be able to become a true factor in the discussions. It has been widely speculated among NBA executives that the Rockets or Mavs would be willing to make a play for Anthony without getting a commitment on an extension. One person familiar with the Rockets' strategy said the chances of Houston being willing to trade for Anthony on a rental basis were "very high." And Mavs owner Mark Cuban already has said publicly that he wouldn't shy away from such a scenario. "We'll play rent-a-player, no question about it," Cuban said in a Dallas radio interview last month.
One person who has been in contact with Nets officials in the past two days said he could envision Prokhorov authorizing such a deal if Anthony balks at extending his contract. But it is believed that GM Billy King and coach Avery Johnson would be staunchly opposed to getting Anthony on a rental basis, with no guarantee that he'd stay beyond this season. Even with a less-depleted team in a deal that would require the surrendering of fewer assets, the Nets (10-28) would have virtually no chance of making the playoffs this season -- which would hurt their chances of persuading Anthony to stay.