Even if the New Jersey Nets do not acquire Carmelo Anthony, they still might pull off a trade with the Denver Nuggets, one that would likely be a sore spot for their cross-river rivals in New York, according to high-ranking league officials.
If the New York Knicks send Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Anthony, the Nets are in discussions to then acquire either Gallinari, Felton or Chandler plus Mozgov for two first-round draft picks.
That deal is obviously contingent upon the Knicks trading all those players to Denver for a package headlined by Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
The Nets remain confident that they can acquire Anthony before the deadline, but if he instead is obtained by the Knicks, they see this trade as an alternative way to strengthen their team, the sources said.
The move could also burn the Knicks, who are reluctant to part with so many of their coveted young prospects, even for a player of Anthony's ability. To see a couple of them opening the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn could certainly be bothersome to the Knicks' franchise.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni says he's "ready for anything" as the deadline nears and the trade scenarios keep swirling.
"I think everybody is waiting the next three days to see what happens, see the cosmetics, see if it's big," he said Monday. "We're ready for anything but we do business as usual. We're preparing for Milwaukee."
Asked if he favored trading for Anthony while giving up three starters, D'Antoni said: "We could sit here, debate all day, but I'm not going to do it. It's just not worth it."
Although league rules generally preclude packaging players for two months after they are acquired via trade, Denver can package players acquired from New York in a subsequent trade with New Jersey if the players involved are sent to the Nets in separate but simultaneous smaller deals before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
One example: New Jersey could trade Troy Murphy to the Nuggets as a trade exception that Denver would generate by the trade of Billups to New York. The Nets, then, would accept multiple players from Denver whose aggregated salaries are less than Murphy's. There are other combinations possible for the Nuggets and Nets to make two separate trades to satisfy league rules and convey the former Knicks to New Jersey.
Sources confirmed to ESPN.com a Friday report from the Bergen (N.J.) Record that New Jersey has agreed in principle to send prized rookie Derrick Favors, former All-Star guard Devin Harris, Murphy (and his expiring contract), Ben Uzoh and four first-round picks to Denver for Anthony, Billups, Shelden Williams, Melvin Ely and Renaldo Balkman. As ESPN.com reported Thursday night, Denver would then use at least one of those future first-round picks to package with Murphy -- either in this trade or in a separate deal -- to a third team yet to be determined.
That deal is contingent on Anthony signing a three-year, $65 million extension to remain in New Jersey long-term.
But the Nuggets are currently embroiled in talks with New York, Anthony's preferred destination. The Knicks are willing to send Gallinari, Chandler, Felton and a first-round pick to Denver, but the Nuggets are pushing for Mozgov, a 7-foot center, to be included in the package.
Landing Mozgov (and then trading him to New Jersey) would be a huge coup for Denver, since it would enable it to get the draft picks it desires, along with some of the Knicks' young talent, along with a savings of roughly $20 million this season.
Felton (2005, No. 5 by Bobcats), Chandler (2007, 23rd by Knicks) and Gallinari (2008, sixth by Knicks) are all former first-round picks. Mozgov, a former six-year pro in his native Russia, was signed as a free agent in July.
Anthony, meanwhile, was excused from the Nuggets' practice Monday night because he was in Burbank, Calif., taping a segment on "Conan."
Team spokesman Tim Gelt told The Associated Press that Anthony's absence was excused. Late Monday afternoon, Anthony tweeted: "Headed to Burbank to film THE CONAN SHOW."
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and The Associated Press was included.