- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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New Jersey Nets officials, led by majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov and minority owner Jay-Z, expect to have the opportunity Tuesday or Wednesday to make a face-to-face pitch to Carmelo Anthony, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that details of the meeting, which would likely happen Tuesday at an undisclosed location, were still being finalized Sunday night. The Nuggets play host to Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Anthony, though, professed to have no knowledge of a meeting -- or desire to have one -- when he met the media Sunday night after Denver's loss in San Antonio. A sitdown could either clinch or squelch New Jersey's months-long pursuit of Anthony depending on his willingness to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nets.
"I don't want to talk to nobody," Anthony told reporters in San Antonio. "I let the front office handle that type of stuff. It ain't my job to be talking to New Jersey, New York, the Lakers, Dallas, no one. That's not my job to do."
NBA.com was the first to report Sunday that the Nets had been formally granted permission for a face-to-face meeting with Anthony. ESPN.com reported Friday that the league office would have no issue with a sitdown, since it does not regard such contact to be tampering as long as the Nuggets have given the Nets clearance to speak directly to Anthony.
"The team owns [Anthony's] contract," one league source said of the Nuggets. "They can do what they want."
Yet it was unclear late Sunday if Anthony's negative reaction to the idea of meeting with the Nets stemmed from his apparent belief that such contact violates league rules or because he is finally ready to make it clear to the Nets that he won't agree to an extension.
"That's news to me," Anthony said of speaking directly to New Jersey. "I can't talk to them people. The Denver Nuggets still pay me."
When informed by the assembled reporters that the league approves of such contact as long as the Nuggets grant permission, Anthony added: "Y'all have to ask [Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri] about that, because me personally, I don't think he gave anyone permission to talk to me about anything."
Nets coach Avery Johnson said before Monday's game against Golden State that general manager Billy King had not told him of any potential meeting. He says if there is a meeting, he wants to be told about it so he can participate.
"You guys always have something new every day," Johnson told reporters. "If there's such a meeting taking place, make sure you guys contact [Nets spokesman] Gary Sussman so I can make sure I make myself available."
The Nets are unwilling to complete a trade for Anthony unless the 26-year-old agrees to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension as part of the transaction in what is known as an extend-and-trade. Boston used the same formula in the summer of 2007 to acquire Kevin Garnett from Minnesota.
After weeks of conflicting media reports about Anthony's willingness to sign an extension with New Jersey, Prokhorov has privately maintained confidence that he could sway Anthony to buy into the Nets' future prospects and the team's move to Brooklyn starting with the 2012-13 season as long as he could get in front of him.
Although two sources with knowledge of Denver's thinking stressed again Sunday that no trade is imminent, Prokhorov's anticipated sitdown with Anthony -- or Anthony's refusal to accept his invitation -- figures to bring a resolution to the Nets' interest in the star forward one way or the other. The Russian billionaire was scheduled to arrive in the States from Moscow before the Nets' game Wednesday against Utah, which is "Russian Culture Night" at the team's temporary home in Newark, N.J.
Despite Anthony's well-chronicled preference to land with the New York Knicks if he leaves Denver, there was widespread belief throughout the league last week that the Nets and Nuggets were finally on the brink of a three-team deal involving the Detroit Pistons to send Anthony to New Jersey.
But if Anthony resists an extension this week, there would seem to be little reason for New Jersey to continue chasing a deal it has been pushing since September, when a four-team trade involving Charlotte and Utah that would have landed Anthony with the Nets also came close to completion before collapsing.
If Prokhorov and Jay-Z do get their meeting and are sufficiently persuasive in convincing Anthony to be the face of the Nets, New Jersey and Denver would have the go-ahead needed to finalize a three-team deal with Detroit expected to feature at least 15 players and land the Pistons' Richard Hamilton and the Nuggets' Chauncey Billups in New Jersey with Anthony.
The most recent construction of the deal calls for the Nuggets to acquire prized Nets rookie Derrick Favors, New Jersey's former All-Star guard Devin Harris, Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and at least two first-round picks, although sources say that one of the holdups in recent negotiations has been Denver's determination to acquire at least one more future first-rounder.
Detroit's motivation for participating, meanwhile, is largely financial. The franchise is up for sale and swapping Hamilton for Nets big men Troy Murphy and Johan Petro and a future second-round pick would result in a savings of more than $17 million for Detroit.
The Nuggets have been fielding interest in Anthony for weeks, with Ujiri announcing in mid-December that he was "listening aggressively" to trade pitches. It was the first public signal that the Nuggets were resigned to moving Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Since September, however, Denver's most serious trade discussions have always been with New Jersey, because only the Nets appear to have the trade assets capable of significantly reducing Denver's luxury-tax bill while also furnishing the Nuggets with multiple lottery picks and a young player with Favors' promise.
The Knicks have not yet abandoned hope of winding up with Anthony, but they've also known from the start that teaming him with Stoudemire would likely require Anthony being willing to sacrifice money. Denver has shown little to no interest in making a trade with New York because the Knicks don't have lottery picks to offer or a frontcourt prospect with Favors' upside.
The Nuggets have looked elsewhere for a young forward they like as much as Favors, but have been met with staunch resistance when they pursued players such as the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin and Portland's unheralded Nicolas Batum.
Anthony has said repeatedly that he wants to sign the extension before the June 30 deadline in hopes of locking in his next contract under the current collective bargaining agreement. If he declines to sign the extension, Anthony has the ability through an opt-out clause in his contract to become a free agent July 1, with the terms of his next deal dependent on the outcome of the next collective bargaining agreement. Fears of a more onerous labor agreement and an overall reduction in salaries after this summer's negotiations have kept New Jersey hopeful that Anthony could be convinced to sign an extension with the Nets in spite of any reservations he has.
But some of Anthony's comments over the weekend suggest that he might still be willing to wait for free agency and turn down the Nets once and for all.
In a TV interview Friday with ESPN's Colleen Dominguez, Anthony referred to playing in New York as his "ultimate dream." The Brooklyn-born Anthony didn't specify whether playing for the Nets in Brooklyn would match that dream, but he appeared to give the Knicks further hope in a Saturday group session with reporters in Denver when he said he's not averse to a reduced salary if it increases his chances for championship.
"[If] I have a chance to win a championship and make less money," Anthony said Saturday, "I don't have a problem with that."
That would appear to contradict a pro-Nets comment Anthony made in Friday's interview with Dominguez, when he said that the league's next labor pact is "the most important thing right now" when assessing his future.
When asked specifically about the Nets by Dominguez, Anthony said: "I [had] never really thought about the New Jersey Nets [before trade talks got serious in September]. I see what the future holds, they'll move into Brooklyn. ... Me going back home to Brooklyn, opening that arena ... I think about all that stuff."
Projecting future salary-cap space is difficult without knowing what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like, but the Nets privately believe that they would still have the ability after acquiring Anthony to go after New Orleans' Chris Paul, who is eligible to become a free agent in 2012. Convincing Anthony that they'll have the requisite cap space to chase Paul or Utah's Deron Williams (another 2012 free agent) to join him and center Brook Lopez is a key element of Prokhorov's strategy, sources say, although the Knicks and other teams continue to convey skepticism to Anthony's representatives that the Nets would really have enough cap space to do so.
Anthony, for his part, continues to insist that he'll be a Nugget for the foreseeable future, scoffing Sunday night when he was asked if the loss to the Spurs was likely to be his last game in a Denver uniform.
"Not at all," Anthony said. "I'm going to play Wednesday against Oklahoma City, and then against the Lakers. Then Indiana. Yep."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.