This is the moment everyone has been waiting for since the Melo-drama started in the summer: the moment he decides it's time to be the alpha dog. It's crunch time, so it's fitting that he steps up now to finish this off.
As we told you last week, Carmelo Anthony told his representatives at CAA, led by agent Leon Rose, to get something done with the Knicks.The main goal, a source with intimate knowledge of the situation, said that was emphasized as Priority One: an extend-and-trade to the Knicks.
But the Knicks still need a little more help from Carmelo here. They need him to tell the Nuggets he will ONLY sign an extension with the Knicks, which is something both Chris Sheridan (ESPN.com) and Ken Berger (CBSSports.com) reported in mid-December (and the inexhaustible T-Dee from TheKnicksBlog said it in September). While I still can't confirm that message was sent, I can say that the message has been strongly suggested after his comments after Sunday's game in San Antonio in reaction to a report by the generally impeccable David Aldridge (TNT/NBA.com) said the Nets have been granted permission by the Nuggets to meet with Carmelo and convince him to buy into the Newark/Brooklyn plan.
"I don't want to talk to nobody," Anthony told reporters in San Antonio (quoteage via the Denver Post). "I let the front office handle that type of stuff. It ain't my job to be talking to New Jersey, New York, Lakers, Dallas, no one. I still won't step into something like that. I've seen a lot of people go through that.
"For me to sit here and say I want to talk to them or Masai [Ujiri] or Josh [Kroenke] gave them permission to talk to me, I think that's false. If that was the case I'm pretty sure I would have gotten a phone call from Masai or Josh about that."
The Nets still feel confident that if Mikhail Prokhorov and Brett Yormark can get some quality time in the company of Carmelo and his wife, Lala, they can sell their vision. And maybe that's why Carmelo is resisting.
The Knicks, meanwhile, are also resisting, which might be maddening to some fans but Donnie Walsh is playing his cards right (as usual). He doesn't want to overpay and gut the roster of young, contributing talent if he does have to. He doesn't want to hinder the team's chances to fill other areas of need (starting center). And any old school trader knows you don't overpay when you're only bidding against yourself. Walsh has to believe that the longer this situation continues to drag out, the better chance he has become the only horse left in the race. You'll still have to give up something, but maybe not nearly as much among the beloved trio of Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields and Danilo Gallinari.
And once Carmelo makes it clear to Denver that the Knicks are his only choice, then there can finally be some meaningful dialogue. The Nuggets can finally tell the Knicks what they're looking for off the roster and the Knicks can make an offer. There's plenty of time between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
And if all else fails, Carmelo can just stay with the Nuggets for the remainder of the season for one more playoff run. Why not? The Lakers look vulnerable this season. The Mavericks are hurting. The Suns are no longer the Suns. The Spurs have been great, but are beatable. For the first time in years, the West is somewhat up for grabs.
Then give the Nuggets the chance to trade him on draft night -- he'd have to accept an extension first to lock in his option year for 2011-12 -- before free agency (or the current CBA expires, which will lead to a lockout) begins. Or he might decide to just forget all this trouble and stay in Denver. Or he can just opt-out and become a free agent, which will allow the Knicks to sign him without losing much off their current playoff-bound roster.
That has always been the best-case scenario from a Knicks POV. The problem is, that kind of patience is only found in Walsh. Everyone else here is pushing the panic button.
As Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo! Sports) reported, Carmelo's reps at CAA don't want him to go into free agency because they believe it will cost him -- and them -- money. But this fear is based on speculation. Based on the idea that the NBA will adopt a more restrictive collective bargaining agreement that will result in major reductions in potential salary.
But let's think about that for a minute: the NBA is a league built on it's star players, promoted with it's star players and dominated by it's star players. And if you consider that owners would not want a system in which they could lose star players sooner, or have to continually re-negotiate with star players, it's impossible to believe that the new CBA will not have some sort of star player exception built in to ensure that: 1. star players are paid like stars, 2. that star players can get long-term deals.
So while the mid-level exception will certainly be dismissed, a new CBA won't restrict long-term commitments to players who mean so much to a franchise. And another thing, would the NBA really go with a deal that results in it's most marketed players making $12 million annually when players in MLB and the NFL are around $20 million and more?
In other words, Carmelo should still be able to get at least a five-year contract and he still should be able to get at least $15 million per in his next deal. By the way, check to see what LeBron James ($14.5M), Dwyane Wade ($14.2M) and Chris Bosh ($14.5M) signed for to go to Miami.
If that was amenable to CAA, then getting Carmelo to the team he wants shouldn't be an issue. And if the money is that big of a deal, remember, the Knicks are owned by someone who also owns a major cable television company. And Carmelo's wife, Lala, happens to be a television personality. That right there is simple mathematics.
The Nets on paper unquestionably have the best offer to Denver, especially when it comes to those draft picks. But while the Nuggets feel like they could sell the idea of this trade to their fans -- though you have to expect George Karl wouldn't be too happy about a rebuilding situation -- there has to be a great deal of trepidation about how much value it really has going forward. Unless you could foresee a dynamic draft coming in 2011 or '12 -- by dynamic, I mean 2003-caliber, the one Melo, LeBron, Wade and Bosh were in -- then how much value do these picks really have?
But this situation was never something the Nuggets ever had full control over, not with Carmelo wielding the power of the extension. The Nets could get desperate and just make the trade without an extension and then overwhelm Carmelo until he signs it. But what a potentially crushing risk that would be, especially if Carmelo still decides he wants to be with the Knicks and leaves for Manhattan.
Whatever the case, Carmelo should get credit for handling this as well as he could. It wasn't he who leaked information and whispered agenda-driven rumors, it was his people. Melo may be thinking about playing at the Garden, playing with another star in Amar'e Stoudemire and playing in Mike D'Antoni's high-octane offensive system and wearing the same jersey -- and, possibly, same number -- as his childhood idol, Bernard King. But he also had the Nuggets and the fans who adored him for seven years in mind and never wanted to be viewed as someone who just dumped the franchise without warning.
It took a long time to get the widespread respect of a star player, longer than it took LeBron and Wade, and he doesn't want to ruin that. He doesn't want to see Denver fans burning his jersey in the street the way he saw those images of Cavaliers fans burning LeBron's jersey moments after The Decision last July. And while fellow stars such as LeBron and Kobe have tried to tell him to focus only on what makes him happy, because you can't please everyone, this stuff does personally matters to Carmelo.
But not enough to make a bad decision that could impact him for the next four years and, potentially, the rest of his career. And that's why, as this situation enters the fourth quarter, as we enter crunch time, Carmelo is stepping up. It's time to take over the game.