NEW YORK -- This might have been the last night to see Landry Fields or Danilo Gallinari in a New York Knicks uniform at Madison Square Garden, because if the Bockers are going to get the Carmelo Anthony trade done, one of them might have to go.
On a day of yet more developments in the unending MeloDrama, the Knicks played their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday night amid a strong undercurrent of uncertainty regarding which of them will be back in New York next week and whether their return stays will be extraordinarily temporary.
This is the lay of the land from a Knicks perspective, gleaned from conversations with various sources from around the NBA and sprinkled with logical extrapolations gleaned from those discussions.
There are several factors in play, so let's go ahead and deal with them one by one:
The Fields/Gallinari Factor
In a perfect world, the Knicks would like to keep both of them while sending a package of Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry, a first-round draft pick (Utah's, which would be acquired from Minnesota in exchange for Anthony Randolph) and various other flotsam to the Denver Nuggets for Anthony.
But this is not a perfect world, and the Nuggets believe the pressure from Knicks ownership will force team president Donnie Walsh to include Gallinari or Fields in the final offer. (Owner Jim Dolan was spotted by yours truly leaving Walsh's postgame suite some 25 minutes after the final buzzer of Wednesday night's 102-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Dolan usually is in his limo no more than five minutes after a game ends.)
One league source insisted the Nuggets hold Fields in higher regard than they do Gallinari, despite the fact that Fields is due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012 while Gallinari will be a restricted free agent then.
But then there is this factor: The Knicks also might value Fields more highly than Gallinari if they are able to obtain Anthony, because Fields would remain their starting 2-guard (whereas Gallinari would have to move to a bench role if Anthony came to New York), Fields does not (unlike Gallinari) need the ball in his hands to be effective and Fields is considered the consummate glue guy all championship-contending teams need.
And when you read between the lines of what Walsh had to say prior to the game Wednesday night, it left you with the impression that the Knicks want to come out of this trade -- if it happens -- with a lineup in which no one would have to play out of position.
"If it's a good trade, I would do it," Walsh said. "But I have to look at the end of the trade and say: We have a good basketball team? We didn't just make a good trade, so do we have a good basketball team? So that's the object of any trade. I don't think my mindset will change. I have a clear idea of where we are, what we could do through things we talked about, things that would be good for us and wouldn't be good for us."
The Nets Factor
ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that, according to league sources, New Jersey re-entered the Anthony trade talks about a week ago, trying to work out a smaller deal than the 13-player multiteam trade involving Detroit that was squashed by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov last month.
The Nuggets' objective in doing a trade with the Nets would be getting back a package including rookie Derrick Favors and the Nets' 2011 first-round draft pick, which is all but certain to be a lottery pick. Knicks sources believe the reports of New Jersey's renewed interest were part of a disinformation campaign, but what they might not be factoring into the equation is the Nuggets' interest in putting pressure on Anthony while trying to do whatever deal makes the most sense for their franchise.
Still, the Nets were adamant before the earlier trade talks broke off that they would not do an Anthony deal without an assurance that he would sign a three-year extension with them, and there is no reason to believe their thinking on that subject has changed.
The Anxious Melo Factor
If the Knicks don't get a deal done before the deadline, Anthony could lose somewhere in the area of $10 million to $15 million if he opts out of his contract at the end of this season and leaves Denver (or someplace else) as a free agent.
How do you think Melo feels about that?
He isn't too happy with the notion of being hit that hard in the wallet, and as Broussard has reported, Anthony has grown frustrated that the Knicks have seemed unwilling to put together a decent enough package to make the Nuggets bite.
If the deadline passes without Anthony wearing a Knicks uniform, he is going to blame New York for missing out on this opportunity and for costing him a boatload of bucks. He might be angry enough, in fact, to turn his back on the notion of signing with New York.
The Time Factor
The trade deadline is 3 p.m. ET Feb. 24, but for the Nuggets, it actually comes a little earlier.
Because Anthony is not the only player they are trying to deal, and a number of secondary trades have been discussed in the event that Melo is moved. The player drawing the most interest is their center, Nene, with the Houston Rockets at the front of the line offering a combination of young players and draft picks to give the Nuggets more of the rebuilding pieces they are seeking.
This MeloDrama has been compared to a game of chicken or a game of poker, and it could come down to a matter of who blinks first -- the Knicks, the Nuggets or Anthony himself. But remember, when the Knicks were trying a year ago to acquire the cap space (through the Tracy McGrady trade) to make a run at two max-salary free agents, it was Walsh who blinked in the end and relinquished everything the Rockets were demanding.
If Walsh refuses to budge this time, there is no guarantee Anthony will come aboard as a free agent next summer. There is a likelihood, but no guarantee.
Bottom line: Somebody is going to have to yield, and the educated guess here is that it will end up being the Knicks -- and the player they'll ultimately surrender to get the deal done will be either Gallinari or Fields.