The Nets thought they had a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Nuggets gave them permission to meet with their three-time All-Star and following a breakthrough of sorts in the excruciating trade talks aimed at shipping him to New Jersey.
"It's something that definitely could have been worked out," said a person connected to the complicated trade discussion. "There was no agreement (on the trade), but it was close. It was as close as it was getting."
It had all come down to what it was always going to come down to: whether Anthony would agree to sign an extension with the Nets, who were not on the two-team list (Nuggets and Knicks) that he established months ago and has stuck with ever since. As it turned out, optimism from the Nets' side that they could persuade Anthony given a chance to sell him face-to-face was only that: a hunch.
|The Nets' optimism they could persuade Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster deal isn't dead yet. (Getty Images)|
The response New Jersey officials received from Anthony was noncommittal and vague. At first, Anthony agreed to meet Tuesday with a Nets contingent led by owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Then, word got back to the Nets that Tuesday wasn't going to work; maybe Thursday would be better. At that point, there was no firm commitment from Anthony, as Prokhorov aptly described in his bombshell news conference canceling the deal Wednesday night.
"Everything was very mixed information," Prokhorov said. "I never received any straightforward information."
According to a person who has been in almost daily contact with Anthony, he eventually would have agreed to meet with the Nets. Whether a hard sell would've convinced him to sign is anybody's guess. But in addition to the anger expressed by Prokhorov about the protracted and public nature of the talks, Anthony also was beginning to grow tired of them -- and, in fact, felt rushed and annoyed by the leak Sunday night that New Jersey already had been granted permission to meet with him. At that point, Anthony hadn't heard a word about it because permission had not yet been granted. The result was a blunt rejection on Anthony's part of such a meeting, which included unequivocal statements such as, "I don't want to meet with nobody," and "I let the front office handle that type of stuff. It ain't my job."
"Melo is a real, real good kid," the person in contact with him said. "I don't think he's malicious in any way. He's genuine. I think he likes to be courted, too. He likes the attention that the LeBrons or those guys get. And I think for some reason, with all the reports and everything that was coming out and all the negative articles, I think maybe he felt like he was being positioned to do this and go there rather than being courted. There was just so much every day."
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Denver blamed New Jersey for the leaks. The Nets privately stewed about the Nuggets constantly moving the goalposts on the deal. But without a firm commitment from Anthony, none of it mattered. Fearing the embarrassment of flying to Colorado only to be turned down by Anthony, Prokhorov pulled the plug.
"I think they thought Melo was going to say no," the person connected to the talks said. "... There was a high percentage that could happen -- Melo saying no to New Jersey."
So what now? Within 18 hours after Prokhorov's bombshell, Denver officials received calls from three teams hoping to jump into the Melo sweepstakes, sources said. The Nuggets themselves called one team. (The source would not identify the teams.) Denver executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke now understand they are essentially comparing what the Knicks will be willing to offer in a trade that includes an extension against rental deals from multiple other teams, sources said.
According to the person in contact with Anthony, he has not wavered from his stance that he will consider signing an extension with either Denver or New York, with one caveat.
"There might be one more," the person said, declining to identify the team.
Since September, when Anthony's representatives first began making noise that he wanted out of Denver, the Bulls have been regarded as the third team Anthony would consider. But Chicago officials are extremely hesitant to be dragged into the kind of protracted drama that's engulfed three franchises over the past month, and the Bulls no longer can include a key chip, Joakim Noah, whose five-year, $60 million extension effectively makes him untradeable under the current collective bargaining rules.
The Nuggets, according to a source, continue to hold out hope New Jersey "will come back," and that Prokhorov's definitive shutdown of talks Wednesday night was merely a negotiating ploy. Denver, of course, needs this to happen because the Nets have always possessed the most attractive assets in an Anthony trade. Plus, the elimination of New Jersey from the bidding has dramatically lowered the price other teams now believe they will have to pay.
"After all the months that were spent on this, I don't see how you can just come in one day and just kill it," the person familiar with the talks said.
If New Jersey is out for good -- and I believe they are, unless they want to explore a rental deal with no extension -- then the Knicks suddenly have become the only team able to offer Denver the key ingredients it has been seeking since September: young players, savings and draft picks. Knicks president Donnie Walsh, in what may have been his last public comments on the Anthony matter, mentioned earlier in the week that he believes he can obtain multiple first-round picks, which obviously could be used to sweeten an Anthony deal. Walsh has always been hesitant to gut the team in a trade for a second superstar to pair with Amar'e Stoudemire, and the elimination of the Nets will only bolster his position. Walsh may have been born at night, but not last night; he is not going to negotiate against himself.
Anthony doesn't want to go to a depleted Knicks team any more than Walsh wants him to. And depending on how stubbornly Denver continues to bargain, possibly all the way to the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a Knicks team with enough talent for him to compete with Boston and Miami may only be available to him as a free agent. That's Denver's leverage.
Houston has always been the leader in the clubhouse among teams willing to trade for Anthony without a commitment from him on an extension. But a person familiar with the structure of such deals said Denver is extremely unlikely to get more than cap relief in such a trade. With CBA uncertainty looming, teams will be especially opposed to giving up young, cheap talent and draft picks that can be used to acquire young, cheap talent simply to have Anthony for three months. Denver could get a deal like that -- for draft picks and a large trade exception -- in a sign-and-trade after the lockout. Considering how that worked out for Cleveland and Toronto when they lost LeBron James and Chris Bosh, respectively, why would Denver do such a deal now?
So another strategy Denver is pursuing is trying to determine whether this chaos has created "a little window" where a chance to re-sign him might exist, according to a source. Keeping Anthony without an extension through the end of the season, presumably making the playoffs, and completing an extend-and-trade around the draft is another option -- though not one that sources say Denver has explored thoroughly yet.
"They are in a tough situation," a rival executive said.
And so is everyone engulfed in the Melodrama.