Sources: Nuggets soften trade stance
The Nuggets still aren't aggressively shopping Anthony and haven't withdrawn their long-standing offer of a contract extension, but numerous sources told ESPN.com that Denver officials have in recent days let other teams know for the first time that they will listen to pitches after previously resisting such discussions.
"I'm not sure how soon, but I do think they're going to trade him [between now and February]," said one rival GM.
Said another source briefed on Denver's plans: "There's no doubt they are working on it. Eventually they're going to pull the trigger."
Reports have persisted for weeks that Anthony, who can become a free agent at the end of the coming season, wants out.
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported Aug. 16 that it was "a matter of when, not if, Anthony and the Nuggets will go their separate ways," while CBSSports.com quoted "multiple sources" last week as saying that the 26-year-old "has not wavered in his desire to be dealt" and that the New Jersey Nets are making the hardest active pitch for Anthony.
Several league sources on Monday told ESPN.com that they believe the Nets have emerged as the front-runner to secure Anthony. Not only is Anthony willing to sign a contract extension with the Nets, sources say the club is willing to make an intriguing offer of Derrick Favors (the No. 3 pick in this year's draft), the expiring contracts of Troy Murphy and Kris Humphries, and at least one future first-round pick to Denver to land Anthony.
A source close to the Nets told ESPN.com that he wasn't ready to concede that the Nets were the front-runners for Anthony's services, nor was the source willing to confirm what the Nets would offer. However, the source did acknowledge that New Jersey was in serious consideration based on the Nuggets' reluctance to trade Anthony to a Western Conference team and the Nets' combination of expiring contracts, draft picks and a young player with serious upside.
A number of others teams including the Knicks, Bulls, Rockets, Clippers and Warriors have been pursuing Anthony as well. However, sources on several of those teams were pessimistic that they could match what the Nets have to offer.
"They've got what the Nuggets want," one general manager told ESPN.com. "We're trying to put a package together that matches what the Nets can offer, but it's tough."
Although Anthony has not made any such declarations publicly, it appears that Nuggets management is growing increasingly resigned to the fact that it won't be able to change its franchise player's mind.
One source close to the situation told ESPN.com that Anthony has been no more communicative with the organization since the hiring of Masai Ujiri as Denver's new vice president of basketball operations in late August than he was before Ujiri's return to the Nuggets. Ujiri began his front-office career as a Nuggets scout during Anthony's rookie season in 2003-04 and spoke optimistically about arranging a face-to-face meeting with Anthony -- which sources say has not yet taken place -- and trying to sell him on the team's plans for the future at his introductory news conference.
The Nuggets, during Ujiri's first two weeks in the office, consistently told teams calling to register trade interest in Anthony that they weren't ready to discuss the subject.
But the Nuggets, sources said, have relaxed that stance and are starting to explore how much they might be able to get in return for the high-scoring small forward. To agree to a deal, Denver would expect at least one topflight young player it can market along with salary-cap relief and multiple future first-round picks.
Trading Anthony, however, is not as simple as merely seeking out the best deal or even recruiting a third team to help facilitate a trade, because of Anthony's ability to become a free agent in July. It's widely assumed in NBA front-office circles that any team trading for Anthony would expect him to commit to a contract extension as part of the deal -- as Kevin Garnett did when Minnesota sent him to Boston in the summer of 2007 -- which gives Anthony some measure of input into his trade destination.
Yet sources say that Denver, after watching LeBron James and Chris Bosh devastate Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, by bolting to Miami in July, is determined to avoid the same fate with Anthony and will ultimately work with him on a trade before the February trading deadline if the alternative is potentially losing him outright in free agency.
Ujiri, in particular, just lived through the Bosh saga as a member of Toronto's front office before taking the Nuggets job.
By sidestepping questions about his future, Anthony has contributed to the mounting tension in Denver all summer while the Nuggets' three-year extension offer worth $65 million remains unsigned. Around the time of the draft in June, Nuggets officials were quietly optimistic that Anthony was about to sign.
The Nuggets' annual media day is Sept. 27, with training camp scheduled to open the following day.
Marc Stein and Chad Ford are senior NBA writers for ESPN.com.
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics