SAN ANTONIO -- Faced with the prospect of a face-to-face meeting with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z this week to finally push trade talks with the Nets to some kind of conclusion, Carmelo Anthony's reaction couldn't have been any clearer.
Nah, I'm good.
The reason is the same as it has been for more than a month -- longer than that, really. On Sunday, a person with knowledge of Anthony's thinking told CBSSports.com that there remain only two teams he has thought about signing an extension with: the Nuggets and the Knicks.
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As CBSSports.com reported Dec. 12, after the Nuggets' only scheduled trip to Madison Square Garden this season, Anthony remains steadfast in his desire to agree only to an extend-and-trade transaction that sends him to New York -- and by that, he means the borough of Manhattan. Anthony also still hasn't ruled out re-signing with the Nuggets, the person said.
When pressed on whether the Nets had a chance to persuade him, the person said Anthony hasn't thought about the Nets and "hasn't made a decision on anything -- whether to stay or go, or wait until the summer."
In his postgame comments after a hideous loss to the Spurs on Sunday night, Anthony seemed to corroborate this window into his thinking when asked for the umpteenth time if this was his last game as a Nugget.
"No, not at all," he said. "I'm going to play Wednesday against Oklahoma City and then against the Lakers."
And Indiana (a week from Sunday)?
"And Indiana," he said.
"You're sure of that?" he was asked.
"Yup," Anthony said.
With momentum building, fading, and building again toward an agreement on the details of a complicated three-team trade that would send Anthony to New Jersey, the saga seemed to reach a critical juncture Sunday. NBA.com was first to report that the Nuggets have granted the Nets permission to speak with Anthony directly about signing the extension, which would be the crucial trigger in finally consummating or canceling the trade. Although one of the executives involved in the trade talks told CBSSports.com on Sunday night that it was a non-issue because there is "no deal yet," Anthony nonetheless answered several rounds of questions about the proposed meeting after the Nuggets got run out of the barn 110-97 by the Spurs.
After expressing surprise about a meeting he knew nothing about -- and couldn't have been expected to know about since the story broke 20 minutes before the game -- Anthony stated his strong opposition to getting involved.
"I can't talk to them people," said Anthony, who scored only 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting as his game begins to cave under the pressure of this daily drama. "The Denver Nuggets still pay me. I can't talk to nobody."
Even after it was explained several times that this would not be considered tampering by the NBA, and that this was a meeting the Nuggets -- who've been trying to trade him to the Nets for four months -- would want him to have, Anthony still resisted.
"I don't want to talk to nobody," Anthony said. "I let the front office handle that type of stuff. It ain't my job to be talking to New Jersey, New York, the Lakers, Dallas, no one. That's not my job to do."
One last time Anthony was reminded that such a meeting would only take place with permission and that it would be legal under NBA tampering rules. It has happened before, such as with the trade that sent Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston in 2007.
"I still won't step into something like that," Anthony said.
Despite Anthony's unwavering stance, these cannot be considered his final answers on the Nets' involvement because both Anthony and executives involved in the trade talks do not believe a credible offer to speak with Anthony can be made until details of the trade are finalized, sources said. While the Pistons are on board to send Richard Hamilton and DaJuan Summers to New Jersey as part of the deal, Detroit officials have been in the dark for days about the rest of the transaction. The latest in a series of logjams, according to sources, is how many and which first-round picks would be going to Denver in the deal.
But without a trade agreement, Anthony was in no position to address with any finality whether he would agree to meet with the Nets. When he was asked how he would react if he got a call from Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri or executive Josh Kroenke about having such a meeting, Anthony said, " I haven't gotten it yet, so ... "
His opposition to such involvement, however, could not have been more apparent. So when Prokhorov returns to the States in time for Russian Culture Night when the Nets play host to the Jazz on Wednesday night, the chances seem overwhelming that he will be confronted with one of the coldest facts about being an NBA owner. This is one of the few walks of life where a 26-year-old, three-time All-Star is more powerful than a billionaire.
|'It ain't my job to be talking to New Jersey, New York, the Lakers, Dallas, no one. That's not my job to do,' Anthony says. (AP)|
When asked about the possibility of Anthony waiting until after the season to address his future, the person familiar with his strategy told CBSSports.com that he has not factored in the prospect of a hard cap and salary rollbacks in a new CBA. Such an outcome in the labor talks would make Anthony's three-year, $65 million extension -- thought to be a driving force behind any trade that would compel him to sign it before the Feb. 24 deadline -- a moot point.
A management source familiar with the owners' bargaining strategy told CBSSports.com that Anthony might "lose nothing by not signing because new and old contracts will have the same limits after old contracts are rolled back." While some large contracts were grandfathered in after previous changes to the CBA, the management source said, "This is a different world. There was no hard cap. ... In a hard-cap environment, you would penalize teams if old contracts were paid more."
This would mean that accepting a trade simply to get the guaranteed money under the current rules would not be a prudent strategy for Anthony. "Guarantees could go away, too," the source said.
This is something Anthony will have to think long and hard about before deciding his next move, which he said in a recent interview would "define my legacy." The longer this soap opera drags on, though, the more damage is done.
Despite having come to San Antonio on a three-game winning streak, the Nuggets were a beaten team Sunday night -- and Melo a distracted star robbed of the flare and talent that have made him one of the NBA's most dynamic performers. He saw how much fun his pals LeBron and Wade had this past July, and he wanted some of that. Only he has been led down a dead-end street in this farcical journey into a January free agency that doesn't exist.
And on top of trying to orchestrate a trade to a place that he clearly doesn't want to go, Anthony's agents, advisors, handlers and power-pushers apparently have not warned him that blood-thirsty owners are planning to shave millions off this all-important extension anyway. They have put Anthony in an impossible spot on this one, and now he and his team are suffering the consequences.
The best move now? That would be for Anthony to inform Ujiri and Kroenke to cool it with the trade talks -- and that he will wait until the end of the season to address the extension. Under the current rules, Anthony can re-sign with the Nuggets any time before July 1. Once the season is over, Anthony could be moved in an extend-and-trade all the way up to July 1, as well.
If Anthony stopped the madness, the Nuggets would then have several weeks to see if this calming influence would help the team settle down and get to the playoffs, where they have enough talent to be without all the distractions. Their other option, if they're truly sick of the Melo drama, would be to open trade talks with the Knicks or trade Anthony to a team that would be willing to take him without an extension -- such as the Rockets.
Neither of those teams currently is engaged in talks with Denver, and only Nuggets officials have the power to change that -- just as Anthony has the power to shut down the talks with New Jersey. The Knicks' interest in Anthony has been only theoretical to this point because the Nuggets have expressed "no interest" in having serious trade discussions with them, according to a source.
The power to make it stop lies with Anthony and the Nuggets. Until someone applies the brakes, more reputations and teams will be torpedoed, more egos will be damaged, and the winter of Melo will only grow colder and more miserable compared to the free-agent fun fest of July.
"I get tired of answering the questions, but I live with it," Anthony said. "I wake up in the morning, hold my head high, be professional, and answer the questions as y'all ask them."
Too many questions that have gone on too long for anybody's good.