In the pre-dawn days of the 2010 free agency period, when LeBron James had already talked himself out of New York as a choice destination, the idea was being tossed around about leaving the Knicks and Nets as options for players who needed the league's biggest market more than the globally more established figures such as LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Worldwide Wes and the CAA crew had bigger plans for 2010 than just pairing up LeBron and Wade in Miami. Several insiders say there was talk as early as late June about Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony making their own moves, as we've been telling you all along.
The reasons are deeper than just a power play by the game's top stars. This is also about the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement and the uncertainty of the system that will emerge once the dust settles, perhaps after a work stoppage. With that in mind, 2010 was the right time to be a free agent because, according to what we're hearing from the NBA in regards to finances, it'll be the last time there is that much money available.
Those who come up in 2011 (Carmelo) and 2012 (CP) are almost certain to see far less money on the open market because of a more restrictive agreement.
For Carmelo, there is opportunity to get the money now by signing that three-year, $65M extension from Denver, but that doesn't solve all of his concerns. Mainly, a contract like his, in a restrictive system, would be immovable. And clearly Melo wants to move.
But while there has been a great deal of chatter about this over the last several weeks and will continue to be as we get closer to training camp, this may be a situation that lingers into the season. Denver knows they can get into a staredown with Carmelo because of what we mentioned above: if he goes into free agency, he is almost assured to get less money in a new contract. The Nuggets also know that things will be ugly for Melo if he refuses to agree on an extend-and-trade to a team that has the best offer for him, but is a place he isn't interested in going (like the reported lead destinations such as the Clippers and Timberwolves...I mean really, Minnesota?).
Masai Ujiri, the new Nuggets GM, has already stared the campaign now to put the onus entirely on Carmelo and relieve the franchise of any responsibility. Ujiri said the team's preference was to keep Carmelo, which is obvious, and that they will continue to make that a priority.
Know this: the Nuggets will do everything to keep all pressure on Carmelo throughout this situation. And if the team has a slow start, be assured that he will be the one placed front-and-center in he blame game. This will be their way of making it easier to sell to their fan base the need to trade him: He's not really a leader...aside from one nice run in 2009, which was really fueled by hometown guy Chauncey Billups, Carmelo really hasn't delivered playoff success...he's not the best-conditioned athlete...his defense at such a critical position is appalling...
And then there is the Knicks angle. Witnesses told me Stan Kroenke was livid at Carmelo's wedding last month in Manhattan, while he sat there exposed to the blatantly outspokenness about Melo and Paul leaving their teams to play for the Knicks. It was disrespectful to the owner of his current team who was there to celebrate with the family of a player he's paid handsomely since his rookie year.
The "T" word -- tampering -- has already been spit through gritted teeth in Denver. So don't be surprised by the sudden change of the tune involving Melo (just like it did for Chris Paul) and his choice destination. The Nets have come up as a perfect alternative because of the impending move to Brooklyn (where Melo and his wife, LaLa Vazquez, were both born). But let's keep the 2010 trend in mind: stars joining other stars. So are the Nets, who would stand lose either Devin Harris or Brook Lopez (or both) really a better option for Melo than playing with Chauncey Billups in Denver? Would he really be motivated to sign an extension to play there with that roster?
This right now is about finding as many options not named "Knicks" as possible from several perspectives:
- No. 1, from Denver: Why would the Kroenke's want to do Carmelo any favors here? Especially when the Knicks don't have anything substantial -- not even a first round pick in the next two years -- to offer? Of course they're not a leading candidate right now. The principals from all three entities -- the Nuggets, Knicks and Melo's camp -- know this to be fact.
-No. 2, the Knicks: If it appears there is too much effort on their end, it will look suspicious and the NBA is extremely sensitive to the tampering issue (as evidenced by the Chris Paul memo). More importantly, if Melo winds up elsewhere, the Summer of 2010 will be remembered as the time the Knicks were passed on by three superstars: LeBron, Wade and Melo.
-No. 3, Carmelo: The LeBron-Wade-Bosh power play has team owners annoyed and alarmed and there is little chance any player could ever get away with working a trade to just one team. As we said above, the Nuggets have no interest in making Melo happy here, so his representation knows the Knicks can't be the prime choice. Because if a deal is struck, it looks like the player won and sets yet another dangerous precedent that Chris Paul is sure to follow.
The best scenario for the Knicks is for this to carry into the season. It gives them the needed time to showcase their new roster and see if either Danilo Gallinari or Anthony Randolph emerge as the type of assets that will grab the Nuggets' interest. But we're here to tell you that even that seems to be a longshot. The Knicks don't want to give up Gallinari and see great potential in Randolph. To give up both in even a blockbuster trade for a superstar such as Carmelo Anthony would be a high price to pay and yet might not even be enough for Denver to do it. Let's make it clear: if the Knicks are going to somehow work a trade for Carmelo, they're going to have to overpay just for the Nuggets to get over the idea that this is what Carmelo (and the Knicks) want.
The best play for the Knicks is to wait out the Melopalooza until 2011 (after the new CBA is completed) and sign him as a free agent. If Carmelo really wants to be here, he'll let the Nuggets know he's not interested in an extend-and-trade anywhere else. Of course that'll scream of collusion, but this time it's on the part of the player. And last we checked, after reviewing the events of South Beach 2010, that is legal.