The parameters have been set in the talks between the Knicks and Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks are willing to part with Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari and a source with knowledge of the situation said that including a Raymond Felton-Chauncey Billups swap would not be a deal-breaker.
The issue at hand is the precarious decision to complete a blockbuster deal that involves even more players, perhaps rookies Timofey Mozgov and Landry Fields, and dramatically jumbles the roster, the starting lineup and the rotation with 28 games left -- and very little time for practice -- after the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
The Knicks have one game left, Wednesday against the Hawks, before the all-star break and go into that game 4.5 games ahead of 9th place Charlotte, which is below the Mendoza Line. Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine a lineup with Billups, Anthony and Stoudemire would fail to finish the job and clinch a playoff berth in the East, but there's not much time to generate the necessary chemistry, nor would there be much of a bench, for a meaningful playoff run. And all of this falls on Mike D'Antoni, who, sources say, is resistant to a major roster shakeup.
Donnie Walsh has reason to proceed with caution, too. Sure, the Knicks might have had Carmelo now if they were willing to give up as many as five players, including three starters, in the deal. But a person with knowledge of Denver's thinking said the Nets also thought they were close to an agreement several times, only to have Denver continue to ask for more.
Denver's negotiating philosophy, so far, seems to come from the pages of the children's classic, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."
Team executive Josh Kroenke and GM Masai Ujiri are the front men, but while owner Stan Kroenke is technically no longer involved because he's moved on to become owner of the NFL's St. Louis Rams, it's still his money. Also, recently ousted Nuggets basketball operations executive Brett Bearup still serves in an official capacity as an advisor to Stan Kroenke and multiple sources say Bearup has been and remains completely against trading Anthony to his preferred destination; at least not without the Nuggets walking away with an undisputable win.
Donnie Walsh' patience might be the Knicks' best weapon here. The closer this gets to 3 p.m. on Feb. 24, the less time Kroenke has to change his mind. Or ask for more. But waiting also buys time for another team to emerge as a competitive bid against the Knicks, though the candidates are slipping away.
The Nets could make a last-second move by re-emerging with their last offer before owner Mikhail Prokhorov pulled the team out of talks on Jan. 19 and put Carmelo on the spot to make a decision: go to Newark/Brooklyn with the extension for a guarnateed $65 million or stay in Denver and opt-out as a free agent in the unknown of a new collective bargaining agreement. But at this point, a source told me, "The Nets are out."
The Lakers were hardly ever a real partner in this, though that didn't stop ESPN from spending an entire day talking about it. [Bloghost note: The thing to keep in mind with the Lakers and Andrew Bynum is this: if he doesn't reach all-star status in another year, he could be exactly what they need to engage the Magic in a sign-and-trade for Dwight Howard. Knicks fans should let this one go, because the Knicks didn't commit $100 million to Amar'e Stoudemire to then go ahead and sign Howard, who is mainly a pick-and-roll big man. Plus, Howard isn't a New York-type; he's totally L.A.].
As for the Rockets, a source said they're out. GM Daryl Morey gave it a look, thought perhaps the Yao Ming contract could make it happen, but a person with knowledge of the situation said Anthony has no interest in signing an extension there. The Rockets could just take him as a rental and work a sign-and-trade once he opts out, but, again, can Houston offer more value than even the Knicks' lowest bid? Hardly.
At this point, a source with knowledge of the situation said the biggest -- and perhaps last -- remaining threat to the Knicks could be the Dallas Mavericks.
Though Mark Cuban hinted recently that he would be willing to trade for a superstar without an extension, the source said Anthony would be amenable to signing an extension with the Mavs, who are already a championship contender and yet have a huge hole at small forward after the injury to Caron Butler.
"The only way Melo doesn't come to New York is if [Mark] Cuban makes a play," that source said.
The main issue, however, is that Dallas has even less to offer the Nuggets than the Knicks. The Mavs are searching for a third team to help them, with Roddy Beaubois, who has just returned from injury, as bait. But a source with knowledge of the Mavericks' thinking said he'd "be shocked if [Carmelo] came" to Dallas, but did say Cuban is unpredictable. But Beaubois, the source said, has been deemed untouchable.
For the Knicks, the easiest play has always appeared to be to pass on a trade now and sign Carmelo as a free agent in the offseason, which would cause far less collateral damage. But that still comes with a risk that Anthony may panic and decide to sign an extension with Denver before the current CBA expires on June 30.
As we reported on Monday, a source with knowledge of the situation said there is "more of a sense of urgency" from the Knicks to get a deal done before the deadline rather than to wait until free agency. But that doesn't mean the Knicks would be willing to pay top dollar if they know they're the only bidder.
The Knicks know landing Carmelo would pave the way to attracting Chris Paul in 2012. But if Denver comes in at the 11th hour and demands the Knicks to add, say, Al Harrington (2012-13 salary of $6.68 million) or Chris Andersen's ($5.2 million in 12-13), that would compromise their ability to sign Paul, or Deron Williams, in 2012, plus build a championship-caliber roster.
Carmelo recently talked about how much he has endured, but, really the entire league has been caught up in this ongoing saga since the summer. The anxiousness to reach finality, however, must be tempered. Talks between the Knicks and Nuggets are expected to carry through all-star weekend and things are expected to reach a boiling point by next Tuesday.
"Don't expect anything to happen before All-Star," a source with knowledge of the situation told us.
Hearing that was like being told the groundhog saw his shadow: Nine more days of Melopalooza.