Nets' Bid for Carmelo Anthony Stalled as Nuggets Seek to Shed Salary
On this roller coaster we've all come to know as the Melo-Drama, the brakes were being applied by the Nuggets yet again on Monday just as they were back in September.
Once again, the deal New Jersey thought it had to land Carmelo Anthony wasn't enough. Once again, the Denver duo of 30-year-old team president Josh Kroenke and first-year executive Masai Ujiri was asking for more no matter how it affected their popularity. Once again, the question of why Anthony is letting the Nuggets wield the kind of leverage that should be his came into question.
Yet there was one major difference in the latest turn of this ride that has lasted so long now: the embattled new Nuggets' brass appears to be more in control than ever.
With the framework of a trade between Denver, New Jersey and Detroit in place Sunday that would have gone down as one of the largest in league history, the Nuggets kept pushing to make it even bigger on Monday after it was reportedly nearing completion. According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, the Nuggets' insistence that the Nets take back forward Al Harrington and his deal that runs through 2015 and has a combined $28 million remaining is the cause of the latest delay.
The Nuggets were already set to acquire prized rookie forward Derrick Favors and veteran point guard Devin Harris along with Anthony Morrow, Ben Uzoh, Quinton Ross, Stephen Graham and two first-round draft picks, but they're making an aggressive move to shed future salary and speed up a rebuilding process that -- as Cleveland has learned the hard way in the wake of LeBron James' departure -- is always far more painful when the team left behind doesn't make the most of the superstar's exit. And while the move certainly prompted some criticism from team executives and agents who believe the Nuggets should already be content with the trade in its Sunday form, there were others who lauded Kroenke and Ujiri for an approach that just might work after all.
"It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them walk away from the table again and frustrate everyone," an executive not involved in the three-team discussions told FanHouse on Monday afternoon. "But the last time they frustrated everyone, their offer got better. Everyone can bitch and moan about how it's going, especially (the Nets) ... but (the Nuggets) are trying to do what's best for them. And so far -- like the strategy or not -- it seems to have worked for them.
"If your goal is to do right by the franchise, then so far so good. People don't like the drama, but fast forward six months, much less 24 or 30 months, and no one will care about the drama that happened."
There has been no pausing of this DVR just yet, though, so the drama plays out in the present with emotions running high from all around. The Nuggets, who are expected to trade Harris (owed $18 million combined in the next two seasons) should the deal go down and would thus belatedly benefit even more from the trade, refuse to buckle under the immense pressure and have let it be known that they won't be bullied into rushing such a monumental move. If the inexperienced pair of personnel men are, in fact, able to maximize Anthony's value while withstanding the unenviable combination of this situation and their team's recent on-court struggles, it would be an accomplishment not many would have predicted just a few months ago.
The Nets, who are as aggressive with their interest as ever but have resisted the inclusion of Harrington enough that one source close to the situation said they "couldn't (predict)" the direction the discussions will take, must wait for Anthony's reported meeting with Kroenke and Ujiri before proceeding with the necessary matter of him signing a three-year, $65 million extension. They are set to acquire Chauncey Billups from Denver and Richard Hamilton from Detroit in the deal, with the Pistons, who are justifiably thrilled at the notion of being rid of their shooting guard's contract worth a combined $25 million in the next two years, landing the expiring contract of the Nets' Troy Murphy ($11.9 million) and New Jersey center Johan Petro (two years, $6.75 million remaining after this season).
Houston Hopes to Enter Picture
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets, according to league sources, remain engaged with the Nuggets on the periphery about a possible Anthony deal as a possible Plan B for Ujiri and Kroenke. While the specifics of their latest talks are not known, the significant changes that have occurred since Denver's four-team deal with New Jersey, Utah and Charlotte fell apart are worth reviewing because of what they might mean.
In late-September, the Rockets, who have the built-in disadvantage that we discussed on Friday of being a Western Conference rival of Denver's, had very little urgency to do an Anthony deal and even less to offer. Specifically, forward Luis Scola was not yet available to be traded, as the veteran who signed a five-year, $47 million in the summer could not be dealt until Dec. 15. And while the Nuggets are clearly looking to shed future salary that isn't deemed relevant to their future plans, their frontcourt needs far exceed any other area on the roster and sources say Scola has a favorable reputation among their decision makers.
What's more, the expiring contracts of Yao Ming ($17.7 million), Shane Battier ($7.3 million), Jared Jeffries ($6.9 million), Chuck Hayes ($2.3 million) and Aaron Brooks ($2 million) offer plenty of financial flexibility when it comes to the Nuggets' possible savings. Houston is trailing the Nets by a large margin on the picks front, though, as it can't trade its 2011 pick because of last month's trade that also involved the Lakers in which the Rockets gave New Jersey their lottery-protected 2012 first-round pick. As analyzed by the Rockets blog, Clutch Fans, the Rockets do have the Knicks' pick from last season's Tracy McGrady trade, but it is protected in the top five.
The possibility for increased incentive on Houston's part can't be overlooked either, as the Rockets have gone from learning Yao would be out for the season (and perhaps his career) with an ankle injury to seeing their team lose five straight and fall to 16-21 on Sunday (they broke the streak with a win over Boston on Monday). While it's not known whether Anthony would consider signing an extension with the Rockets, sources have maintained for months that Houston has a confidence, or at least guarded optimism, similar to that of the Nets when it comes to that aspect of the deal.
Yet the Nets remain in a class all their own as potential suitors, seemingly unfazed by the frustrations and forced to face a new reality as this longest of rides continues on. Barring an announcement from Anthony that he will only sign an extension with New York or that he'll join his dream team as a free agent this summer, there's no question who's sitting in the operator's chair. The Nuggets, like it or not, are in control.
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