Amar'e Stoudemire played with extra jam in tonight's preseason win against the Nets, and made it a point to attack Derrick Favors the minute he stepped onto the court. Stoudemire, who finished with a dominating 39-point, 11-rebound performance, drew three fouls on the rookie in 1:13 and watched him head immediately back to the bench.
Perhaps it was just coincidence, or was Stoudemire, who privately is pining to get Carmelo Anthony as a teammate here in New York, trying to expose the young forward if the Denver Nuggets happened to be watching? The Nets say now that they never really wanted to part with Favors, their No. 3 overall pick in the June draft, in a trade for Anthony. A person with direct knowledge of the situation told Newsday that it's the Nuggets who are no longer as enamored with Favors as they were when the four-team trade was being discussed before training camp.
More important to Stoudemire is this: the source also told Newsday that Denver is now starting to back off their defiant stance against dealing with the Knicks. Initially the Nuggets were making it clear the Knicks, undeniably Carmelo's choice team, didn't have the proper assets to interest Denver in a deal. Now, however, we're hearing that the Nuggets have had internal discussions comparing the value of Favors to Anthony Randolph.
The Knicks according to a person with knowledge of the situation have had their own internal discussions about making an aggressive play for Carmelo now rather than wait for free agency and potentially risk losing him to the Nets or even the Chicago Bulls before they get to next summer. There is a franchise-wide determination to make the playoffs this season and the preseason has offered enough concerns that this very young team, as currently constructed, may not be good enough to get the job done.
The belief is that Anthony and Stoudemire, with Raymond Felton at the point would make the Knicks a bona fide playoff team. And with Carmelo and Amar'e in the mix, the team would then have two seasons to handle the salary cap and make a free agency push for either Chris Paul or Deron Williams in 2012. The Miami Heat built their three-star alignment in one summer. The Knicks might need two years. But this was something Stoudemire, Anthony and Paul discussed in July -- and even toasted at Carmelo's wedding -- and it remains a possibility.
The Knicks would be more than willing to put together a package that would include Randolph ($1.9M), along with the obvious addition of Eddy Curry ($11.2M expiring) for his contract size to help get to the money-match with Carmelo's $17.1M salary. The Knicks would undoubtedly send the maximum $3M in cash, as well. Other pieces in the complicated deal could be Danilo Gallinari, whom the Knicks don't want to give up, but it wouldn't be a deal-breaker, and Wilson Chandler, either of whom could wind up elsewhere in a multi-team deal that might yield a player Denver values more. And don't overlook the possible inclusion of 7-1 Russian center Timofey Mozgov, either. Mozgov's potential has NBA scouts buzzing.
The Nuggets are desperately looking for size. Mike D'Antoni's job is to make sure Randolph is in the rotation and putting up strong numbers, similar to the start of the 2008-09 season, when Zach Randolph got off to a hot start and then Donnie Walsh quickly shipped him (and his hefty contract) to the Clippers by the third week of the season.
Anthony Randolph looks like he's starting to find a comfort zone in the rotation, but Gallinari hasn't been consistent at all in the preseason. He had ice on his forearm at halftime of Sunday's game against the Wizards, when he missed all seven of his shots, and Wednesday against the Nets he was seen flexing his right wrist several times. Afterward, Gallinari acknowledged that he was experiencing the same numbness in his forearm that stemmed from an injury he suffered last season. Gallinari said the issue comes and goes and he needs to do "nerve stretches" to relieve it. It obviously affects his shooting, but, he said, "I'm not making excuses." He was 3-for-7 in 21 minutes against the Nets and pointed out that he did hit the only three he attempted.
What should be mentioned here is that both Gallinari and Randolph have fourth-year options for 2011-12 that need to be picked up before Nov. 1. It is almost a given that those options will be exercised (as will Toney Douglas' third-year option), but it is curious that the Knicks have waited.
ESPN-New York's Chris Sheridan had a report tonight with a source saying the Knicks have made "significant progress" in their effort to land Carmelo. Two sources I spoke with tonight after the Knicks' 117-111 preseason win over the Nets confirmed the report was factually accurate, though there was nothing imminent, or even in the negotiating stage, between the teams. As we've reported here previously, this is a process that is likely to take some time and may not heat up until Christmas at the earliest.
Anthony's camp wants a deal to happen sooner rather than later -- preferably before opening night next week -- but it is unlikely. Not only because of how complicated a deal, which would undoubtedly involve one or two more teams, would be, but also because neither of the two main parties, especially Walsh, do anything quickly. Walsh put an inordinate amount of time into the Tracy McGrady deal that went down right before the trade deadline last season. This figures to be no different. And the Nuggets, especially with neophyte GM Masai Ujiri front-and-center with the owner's son, Josh Kroenke, and the owner's advisor, Bret Bearup, working behind the scenes.
The actual "significant progress," one source said, was that the Nuggets were finally ready to accept the idea of engaging the Knicks and working out the best deal possible. This is significant to Walsh and the Knicks, who were miffed by the notion that they didn't have anything of value to offer for Anthony. At the start, there were misguided suggestions that Denver wanted to get a top player, a top young player, draft picks and to come away with financial savings on this season's cap. Now the understanding is that they might be able to come away with two of the four and a Nuggets source has repeatedly told us that financial savings is an absolutely must in any deal. Bottom line is, if Denver is giving up their star player, then team owner Stan Kroenke doesn't want to pay luxury tax on a rebuilding team.
The four-team deal with the Nets that was apparently close? It would have resulted in additional salary this season. No chance that was going to happen. This isn't about saving money in 2011-12. The Nuggets already have plenty of potential space then. This is about eliminating the unwanted luxury tax payment at season's end.
And the notion that Denver has to come away with multiple first round picks is also naive. Why? Because just how valuable is a first round pick going to be to a team that you send Carmelo Anthony to?
These realizations are why a source closely connected to the situation said Denver is "coming off the medication." Reality is setting in.