Nets' nyet doesn't make Melo a Knick
Anthony could land elsewhere if Nuggets nix low-ball offers from Donnie Walsh
NEWARK, N.J. -- Great news for the Knicks, right? Not so fast.
The man ultimately in charge of where this drama turns next is Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets.
And if the Knicks' Donnie Walsh isn't willing to make a truly fair offer, do not underestimate the possibility of Kroenke unloading Anthony to a team that would be willing to use him as a rental for the remainder of the season while watching whether he is really willing to leave $83 million on the table -- the $18 million he is due to be paid next season, plus the nearly $65 million in additional money from the three-year contract extension he has refused to sign.
A league source with knowledge of the Nets' and Nuggets' maneuverings said Denver's first step upon hearing of the Nets' withdrawal from trade negotiations was to start taking another lap around the league, making calls to teams to gauge what they'd be willing to offer.
No team will ever be able to match the pile of assets the Nets were willing to mortgage their future on, but there might be somebody out there with enough expiring contracts, extra draft picks and young, talented players to trump any low-ball offer Walsh might make.
Walsh has been extremely guarded in discussing the Anthony situation, although he did disclose Monday that he believes he can acquire a pair of No. 1 draft picks -- the clearest signal he has given to date that he has the means to acquire some of the key components the Nuggets are seeking.
But Walsh also has been steadfast in saying he will not "gut" his team to get a second superstar to play alongside Amare Stoudemire on the front line, so it starts to become a guessing game as to exactly how much the Knicks are willing to give -- and whether those assets will satisfy a Denver front office that has told the Knicks it isn't particularly enamored of anyone on New York's roster.
But Denver is not as smitten with Danilo Gallinari as Mike D'Antoni is, and as much as the Nuggets have been impressed by the way Wilson Chandler has played, the Nuggets do not want to box themselves into a position in which they'd have to overpay to keep Chandler next summer when he becomes a restricted free agent.
The key for the Knicks might be finding a third team that likes Chandler and would give up a player the Nuggets covet.
Blazers forward Nicolas Batum is Exhibit A in such a scenario, but Portland general manager Rich Cho said publicly last week that he has no intention of trading the young French forward.
So that's one area in which this could get tricky for Walsh, but the second area is the one we discussed first: the Kroenke factor.
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Maybe Kroenke feels the Nuggets would be better off keeping Anthony for the remainder of the season, seeing how they fare in the playoffs, and then trying to move him in a sign-and-trade in the summer (if such deals exist in the new collective bargaining agreement).
Maybe Kroenke will call Anthony's bluff, keep him past the Feb. 24 trade deadline, tell him the Nuggets will leave the extension on the table until 11:59 p.m. June 30 and see whether Anthony really has the guts to leave all that money on the table.
Maybe Kroenke will decide to trade him to the Rockets, who have Yao Ming's expiring and insurance-paid contract to go along with two trade chips the Knicks gave them 11 months ago -- second-year forward Jordan Hill and the Knicks' unprotected 2012 draft pick.
Maybe Kroenke will trade him to the Thunder, who have a 2012 Clippers first-round pick in their vault and still appear to be one more good player away from being a legitimate championship contender.
The point is, Kroenke can do whatever he pleases because he is the one who holds the keys to the bus and he'll be the one driving it. He could decide to be stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn, to show his best player and the rest of the league that he will not be held hostage by Anthony's Knicks-or-nowhere stance (in terms of whom he would agree to sign the extension with).
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So it's far from a done deal that the Knicks are going to get Anthony.
They are going to have to pay a fair price, or they are going to have to settle on playing out this season as the fifth- or sixth-best team in the East, then rearrange their roster next summer to clear enough cap space to make a max offer to Melo.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a question of what is a fair price?
The guess here is that if the Knicks acquire Anthony, they will give up Chandler or Gallinari (not both), Fields, Walker, Anthony Randolph (or a No. 1 obtained through a Randolph trade), Eddy Curry, plus an additional No. 1 pick (perhaps New York's own 2014 pick), with the Knicks getting back an additional big body -- something they've been scouring the league for throughout December and the first half of January. And I'm not necessarily saying the Nuggets would be taking on all those pieces, because a three-team trade might make it easier for everyone to walk away satisfied.
But that assumes everyone is going to walk away satisfied. And as we saw from a clearly frustrated Mikhail Prokhorov on Wednesday night, not everyone walks away happily from situations like this one.
So stay tuned. The MeloDrama is the story that keeps on giving, and it ain't over. We'll have to see where we go from here with Walsh, Kroenke and Anthony himself. And with 35 days remaining until the trading deadline, that's a lot of time for the intrigue to endure.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.