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Now there's hope; will 2011 bring Carmelo?

Denver Nuggets point forward Carmelo Anthony (15) waits

Denver Nuggets point forward Carmelo Anthony (15) waits for game action to resume during the first half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 12, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

The year the franchise had been waiting for came to a close with the franchise sort of still waiting. Amar'e Stoudemire made 2010 a success for the Knicks, who invested the previous two years in clearing enough salary-cap space to rebuild the team through free agency. He provided the first stone in the foundation; now we'll see if similar patience in 2011 produces the next piece in a championship-level rebuild: Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony practiced with the Nuggets Friday after an eight-day absence to mourn the death of his sister, Michelle, 38. The funeral was held Monday in Baltimore.

This obviously was not a time for the Nuggets to engage in Anthony trade talks, but they are in no hurry to deal him. There is a belief that once they feel the pressure to make a move, the most likely result will be to send him to the Knicks. "They will get Carmelo,'' a league source said, "one way or another.''

Whether Anthony becomes a Knick before the Feb. 24 trade deadline is up to the Nuggets, who, according to multiple sources, are almost sure to move him if he doesn't sign an extension by then in order to avoid being burned the way the Cavaliers were with LeBron James.

There still is hope in the Nuggets' organization that Anthony will decide to remain in Denver, and they will exhaust as much time as possible to keep that possibility alive before they are forced to make a decision.

The Nets have been the most active in working to put together a desirable package for Anthony. The Knicks haven't done much more than have internal discussions, but that doesn't mean there isn't strong interest. It's just that, as a person involved in the situation said, you can't talk trade with someone who doesn't want - or isn't ready - to talk.

Mike D'Antoni is thrilled with the competitiveness of his group. But there is an undeniable need for another major scorer and a finisher down the stretch who can complement Stoudemire when defenses collapse around him. Anthony would bring that, plus add to the toughness and swagger that Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have provided, which could put the Knicks on par with the Celtics, Heat and Magic in the East.

Anthony holds most of the leverage here because although the Nuggets might get better offers from other teams - they reportedly have set an astronomical price of five first-round picks - Anthony would have to agree to an extension with the acquiring team. That is why the Knicks are the heavy favorites, because it is well known that New York is his preferred destination.

The Nuggets may have a wish list, but they instead could be forced to work with the Knicks, and perhaps involve other teams, to get the most they can.

But although that has great potential, it also is somewhat of a hindrance for the Knicks. They have two glaring needs: a backup point guard and a big man who can take some defensive pressure off Stoudemire. To acquire Marcus Camby ($10.1-million salary) from Portland, it likely would mean trading Eddy Curry's expiring $11.2-million contract, which is needed to make up the money in a trade for Anthony ($17.1 million). The Knicks might be more inclined to keep Curry until they know the result of the Carmelo Sweepstakes.

Though there never were championship expectations for this season, the Knicks feel as though they're much closer than they thought they'd be. "Where we are now in December, it definitely gives us hope,'' D'Antoni said. "We can get better.''

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