LOS ANGELES -- The Carmelo Anthony saga reached a tipping point Saturday, arriving at the moment of truth he was always going to have to confront for all parties to walk away feeling they got the best deal. Anthony met with a Nets contingent led by owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z in a last-ditch effort for New Jersey to finally complete a trade for the three-time All-Star.
|Melo refuses to sign a $65 million extension with the Nuggets. (Getty Images)|
A second person with knowledge of the meeting told CBSSports.com that Anthony's agreement to meet with the Nets was a condition of the Nuggets' decision to grant permission to Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan to meet with him. The arrangement was a "quid pro quo," said the source, noting strong indications that Dolan wouldn't have been given permission to meet with Anthony unless Anthony also agreed to meet with the Nets.
The New York Daily News first reported that the Nets' meeting was scheduled for Saturday. The meeting occurred only hours after Prokhorov's spokesperson, Ellen Pinchuk, issued her second statement in as many days saying that Prokhorov had no intentions of meeting with Anthony this weekend.
The Nuggets continue to prefer the package of assets offered by New Jersey, including Derrick Favors and multiple first-round picks, to the enhanced offer presented by the Knicks this weekend. The Knicks' willingness to part with three starting players -- Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton -- plus Eddy Curry's expiring contract and a first-round pick from another team, marked a significant departure from the patient strategy employed by team president Donnie Walsh. And sources told CBSSports.com Saturday that the involvement of Dolan, leaning on the advice of former team president Isiah Thomas, could call into question Walsh's willingness to remain with the team beyond this season.
As Walsh was waiting for the Nets' negotiations with Denver to reach their inevitable conclusion -- either with Anthony telling Prokhorov he would not sign with the Nets or with Prokhorov quashing a potential meeting for the second time in a month -- Dolan jumped ahead of the process and met with Anthony on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Sources say the meeting put Anthony's mind at ease that the Knicks were committed to trading for him in a scenario that would get him his preferred destination and the extension he has refused to sign with the Nuggets. But it also compromised Walsh's carefully constructed negotiating position and undercut the executive whose savvy rebuilding efforts were responsible for the Knicks having a chance to get Anthony in the first place.
"Dolan has taken Donnie's job away," said a person connected to the talks. "It's amateur hour."
The Knicks have a team option on the final year of Walsh's contract, which must be exercised by April 30.
A person who has been in contact with the teams involved said the Knicks privately believe their offer centered around Chandler, Gallinari and Felton should not be viewed as inferior to the Nets' package. It is possible, the person said, that the Nuggets' basketball staff also has come under undue influence from elements within their organization. Sources say some members of the Nuggets' still complicated hierarchy are more focused on making Anthony twist all the way to the deadline and not get what he wants than they are on the Knicks' offer. Thus, they may be overlooking the fact that Felton is a better player than Devin Harris on a better contract, Chandler is more polished than Favors, and only the Nets' own pick among the first-rounders being offered will have much value. The Knicks' offer also saves Denver approximately $20 million this year.
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But by sweetening the Knicks' offer before the Nets' hopes were dashed by Anthony, who privately has maintained his preference for New York over New Jersey for months, Dolan presented an opening for Denver to continue exploiting the Nets for leverage. He also gave renewed hope to the Nuggets that they can revive their own strategy of hoping Anthony panics and accepts the extension from New Jersey rather than risk a substantial paycut via free agency.
Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni are opposed to giving up multiple starters for Anthony, knowing they can get him as a free agent. That option, or negotiating a more reasonable trade without having to compete with New Jersey's better offer, would have given Walsh more flexibility to build around Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
"If they give up Wilson Chandler and Gallo, they're basically giving up the farm," one person connected to the talks said. "Melo, Amar'e and throw-ins -- you're not going to win in the East that way."
Walsh's patient strategy applied not only to keeping and adding necessary role players to complement the two superstars, but also to adding a third star who could push the Knicks into the Eastern Conference elite with an aging Boston team, Miami, and Chicago. A person with knowledge of the conversations told CBSSports.com on Saturday that Jazz point guard Deron Williams began informing close associates after last season that if Stoudemire wound up in New York, Williams would follow him there as a free agent in 2012. If the Knicks got Anthony with the three-year extension under current rules, it is not clear whether they'd have enough cap space to add a player such as Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard when the trio become unrestricted free agents after next season.
Even if the Knicks didn't get Anthony at all, sources say there are those within the organization who believe the team would be better off filling more obvious needs -- a defensive-minded center and backup point guard -- while preserving cap space for a run at one of those free agents, or even center Tyson Chandler, who will be unrestricted this summer.
While Denver executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke have signaled a desire to achieve a resolution to the painstaking Anthony saga by the end of All-Star weekend, one high-level agent connected to the talks said Saturday that he still believes Anthony will remain in Denver through Thursday's deadline. It is not clear when, or if, the Nuggets will employ what some regard as a nuclear option to force Anthony to New Jersey. Such a strategy would involve informing Anthony that they're not trading him to the Knicks, and they're also taking their own $65 million extension offer off the table -- leaving Anthony only one path to the extension that he has stated from the beginning is his first priority in determining his future.