Carmelo Anthony's wish list starts with the New York Knicks, but that's not the only trade destination he's targeting.
Sources briefed on the state of Anthony's ongoing push to be dealt by the Denver Nuggets told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the Chicago Bulls are a firm 1A on his list. This is partly attributed to the fact that the Bulls are much closer to assembling the sort of package Denver would want in return for its franchise player than the Knicks.
Over the last 72 hours, sources said, Anthony's representatives -- headed by agent Leon Rose -- have been ramping up the pressure on the Nuggets to complete a deal with the Knicks or the Bulls before training camps open leaguewide next week.
Sources say that Denver officials, however, are not inclined to rush into anything. ESPN.com reported Sunday night that the Nuggets, in recent days, have been telling interested teams for the first time that they are willing to field offers for Anthony after resisting such inquiries for weeks.
But even as the Nuggets have opted to see what sort of haul can be had for their high-scoring forward, there remains strong sentiment within the organization to slow the process down in hopes of mounting one last campaign to win back Anthony's support.
The Nuggets, sources said, are clinging to the hope that Anthony might reconsider his trade-me stance once he starts hearing some Denver-friendly voices upon reporting to camp after weeks of isolation from the organization.
Anthony will be greeted by the likes of head coach George Karl and trusted teammate Chauncey Billups trying to convince the 26-year-old that his current team is not far away from a return to contention in the Western Conference and that the foundation of the group that reached the West finals in 2009 should not be scrapped.
Yet sources say that the message from Anthony's camp to the Nuggets has stayed consistent: New York and Chicago are the preferred landing spots, with New Jersey and Houston also still in the conversation.
The Nets remain a viable option because of their planned move to Brooklyn and because the Nets have what several rival executives believe to be the deepest cache of assets to satisfy Denver's trade demands in its worst-case scenario.
Though the Rockets are the fourth known team in the Anthony sweepstakes, multiple sources close to the situation insisted Friday that Houston is not making guard Kevin Martin part of the discussions.
The Nuggets, sources maintain, would expect a combination of expiring contracts, future first-round draft picks and at least one marketable young talent if they ultimately concede that Anthony must be traded between now and the February trading deadline.
The Nuggets have offered Anthony, who can become a free agent next July, a three-year extension worth $65 million.
ESPN.com reported Monday that the Nets are widely regarded in NBA front-office circles as the frontrunner for Anthony. New Jersey is reportedly willing to package No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors with the expiring contracts of Troy Murphy and Kris Humphries and at least one future first-rounder.
It's believed that the Nets, though, would insist on Anthony agreeing to a contract extension as part of the trade -- as Kevin Garnett did when Minnesota sent him to Boston in the summer of 2007 -- before they agree to surrender assets such as Favors and draft picks.
The Bulls could theoretically trump any New Jersey offer if they were willing to include center Joakim Noah as part of a deal for Anthony. Sources with knowledge of Chicago's thinking, however, have maintained for days that the Bulls are strongly against the inclusion of Noah, revealing instead that Chicago has offered a package featuring Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and one future first-rounder.
Playing alongside former Team USA teammate Amare Stoudemire in New York is thought to hold the greatest appeal to Anthony, something Stoudemire openly discussed earlier in the summer. The Knicks, though, simply lack the draft picks to sweeten a package that sources say would be centered around Eddy Curry's expiring contract and either Danilo Gallinari or Anthony Randolph -- but not both of those young players.
The Knicks, Bulls and Nets all stand to benefit from Denver's determination to send Anthony out of the Western Conference if it decides there is no alternative apart from trading him, but sources close to the process note that a third team would almost certainly have to be recruited to help facilitate a deal.
Reports have persisted for weeks that Anthony, wielding the hammer of his potential free agency in the wake of the defections of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami, wants out. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported Aug. 16 that it was "a matter of when, not if, Anthony and the Nuggets will go their separate ways."
But Anthony has not made any such declarations publicly, announcing Tuesday night via his Twitter feed: "Everyone has [their] own opinion. It's funny. It cracks me up."
Yet Anthony did add in a follow-up tweet: "When I know something ... you guys will know something."
Chad Ford and Marc Stein are senior NBA writers for ESPN.com.