The New Jersey Nets reached out to the Denver Nuggets about a week ago to resume trade talks concerning Carmelo Anthony, according to league sources. The two clubs are discussing a smaller version of the 13-player, three-team trade they nearly agreed to last month.
Detroit was a part of that deal and would have sent Richard Hamilton to New Jersey, but the Pistons are not involved in the new talks.
With talks between Denver and the New York Knicks picking up steam over the past couple of weeks, the eventual trading of Anthony to his favored destination of New York before the Feb. 24 trade deadline was beginning to appear imminent. But the Nets' re-emergence is a serious threat to New York's chances since Denver covets New Jersey rookie Derrick Favors and the numerous first-round draft picks the Nets can offer.
"New Jersey has come back strong," said one source with knowledge of the discussions. "They really want Anthony."
Even if the Nets and the Nuggets agree to terms on a trade, they will still have to cross the significant hurdle of getting Anthony to agree to play long-term in New Jersey by signing a three-year, $65 million contract extension, thereby allowing the teams to pull off an extend-and-trade deal.
The key figure in the longest-running trade story of the season is just looking for a little peace at this point. He can't watch TV, can't read the news and can't avoid the same questions he simply can't answer right now.
"I really don't know what's going to happen to be honest with you," Anthony said after a Wednesday shootaround as Denver prepared to play the Milwaukee Bucks.
It's been known since last summer that Anthony's desire is to play for the Knicks, while the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only other clubs with which he would agree to sign an extension, according to sources.
But that hasn't stopped New Jersey from pursuing Anthony since training camp. Though Anthony hasn't told anyone he would sign the extension to play in New Jersey, the Nets have remained confident that he would indeed agree to play there long-term.
In January, the clubs, along with Detroit, nearly reached an agreement on a trade that would have been one of the largest in league history. Favors, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and two first-round draft picks would have gone to Denver, while the Nets would have received Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Detroit's Hamilton. The Pistons would have taken on Troy Murphy and his expiring contract, along with Johan Petro, from the Nets.
When the teams neared an agreement, Denver granted New Jersey permission to meet with Anthony, but Anthony balked at the meeting, only to agree to a face-to-face sitdown with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and minority owner Jay-Z two days later. But a day before he was scheduled to meet with Anthony, an irate -- or perhaps savvy -- Prokhorov canceled, saying at a news conference before a game against Utah that the Nets were pulling out of the talks for Anthony for good.
As of now, sources said no meeting between Anthony and the Nets is currently scheduled.
While Anthony would prefer playing in New York, sources say he has grown frustrated with the Knicks' inability to pull off the trade, especially when reports out of New York suggest the Knicks are hesitant to exchange a collection of role players for him.
Sources close to Anthony have long said he would be willing to go to New York as a free agent this summer and thereby risk losing tens of millions of dollars under a new collective bargaining agreement, but as the trade deadline has drawn near, Anthony's willingness to leave that type of money on the table has seemed to wane. That's what New Jersey is banking on.
At the very least, New Jersey's re-entry into trade discussions would seem to drive up the price for the Knicks. Denver likes Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov and wants two, if not three, of those players in a deal, as well as point guard Raymond Felton in exchange for Chauncey Billups. Any deal between the Knicks and Nuggets is also likely to include a first-round pick from Minnesota that the Timberwolves would give up in exchange for New York's Anthony Randolph. But the Knicks are reluctant to part with two, much less three, rotation players.
Knicks owner James Dolan, however, badly wants to acquire Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, and sources say he has been pushing team president Donnie Walsh to get a deal done. Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni do not want to decimate their roster to get Anthony, especially since they've been confident that Anthony would sign with New York as a free agent this summer. But now that New Jersey is back in the mix, the Knicks' leverage has declined.
Meanwhile, Anthony said he's ready for a resolution, even though he insists he's not fretting about what might happen as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches.
"I know something will have to happen whether I sign the extension or whether the Nuggets move me or whatever," said Anthony, who is averaging 24.9 points a game this season. "Something is going to happen, so I try not to stress myself out about it."
That doesn't mean he can avoid the hours upon hours of coverage devoted to one of the NBA's biggest stars. He said he can "see" all the rumors out there, no longer needing to turn on the television in his hotel room.
"I turn on the TV, and I turn it right back off because it's always something, it's always a new team, always a rumor, always this person saying that, that person saying this," he said. "I try not to pay attention to it."
It isn't easy.
He acknowledged his thoughts keep turning to a murky future that he hopes begins to clear in a few days. But first, he'll have to get past at least one more major session with the media over the All-Star break.
"I know they're going to be looking to talk to me. And I'm going to be in L.A. for the All-Star Weekend and every media outlet is going to be there, so it's going to be a 'MeloWatch,' I guess," he said.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.