The Lakers and the Denver Nuggets have had preliminary discussions about a blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles, according to league sources. The Lakers' package would be built around Andrew Bynum.
Talks are in the preliminary stages, but it appears that another option besides the New York Knicks has materialized for the Nuggets.
"There have been discussions between the two teams," one of the sources said. "The Lakers are definitely an option."
It is believed that the Lakers have not yet made an offer for Anthony but that the two clubs have merely had discussions.
Los Angeles has long viewed Bynum as a building block and potential star, but a series of knee injuries throughout his six-year career has frustrated the Lakers to the point that one source said the club would consider moving him.
Bynum missed the first 24 games of this season while recovering from offseason knee surgery and also missed a game last week with a bruised knee.
Pau Gasol starts at center in Bynum's absence, with Lamar Odom moving to power forward, and the Lakers' record of 18-7 without Bynum this season is better than their record with him (18-9).
The Lakers' front office is not in full agreement on dealing Bynum, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher. Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry, was in charge of the franchise when Bynum was drafted with the 10th pick in 2005 and has consistently resisted any attempts to move him, including a deal for free agent-to-be Chris Bosh last season.
A Lakers source told ESPNLosAngeles.com Tuesday that the deal won't happen, and the New York Daily News cited an unnamed source in saying that the Lakers actually shot down a deal with Denver that included Bynum. And a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Lakers have reassured Bynum they aren't looking to trade him.
But another league source has maintained that a potential deal involving Anthony and Bynum is not dead.
Of course, Anthony, who can opt out of his contract after this season, would likely have to agree to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Lakers for them to part with Bynum. But Los Angeles is believed to be a city Anthony would be amenable to playing in, as he and his wife, La La Vasquez, bought a home there last summer. Two people close to Anthony said the Nuggets superstar would sign off on a deal that would make him a Laker.
The Nuggets have no interest in Lakers forward Ron Artest and sources said they may not insist on getting Odom either. A straight-up trade of Anthony for Bynum meets the financial requirements of the collective bargaining agreement, but more players could be involved since Denver would look to shed as much salary as possible.
The Lakers first contacted the Charlotte Bobcats last week, looking to deal Artest for either Stephen Jackson or Gerald Wallace, sources told Bucher. The Bobcats were initially intrigued because owner Michael Jordan has long appreciated Artest's toughness, but talks ended during the weekend after the Bobcats learned Artest was not excited about playing in Charlotte.
The Nuggets are also engaged in talks with New York about a three-way trade involving the Minnesota Timberwolves. Initial discussions centered around Denver getting Wilson Chandler, with Minnesota sending Corey Brewer and a first-round pick to Denver as well. But Denver wants more than that and has its eye on young Knicks assets Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields, along with Chandler.
Minnesota, which would receive Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry in the trade, also wants more in return if it is to send a first-round pick to Denver.
In a sign that the Denver-New York talks have heated up, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan has had direct negotiations with Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, according to the New York Daily News.
One stumbling block to a Nuggets-Knicks deal, however, is the health of Chandler. The Daily News reported Tuesday that he is experiencing discomfort in his surgically repaired left ankle. Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni refuted that to ESPNNewYork.com.
What is clear is that with the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaching, the Nuggets are weighing every possible option, including holding on to Anthony for the remainder of the season while hoping the owners can negotiate the right to put a franchise tag on players in the new collective bargaining agreement. Under that scenario, the Nuggets would be able to "franchise" Anthony and keep him in Denver.
The likeliest outcome, however, remains that Denver will trade Anthony before Feb. 24.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, another source said, would like to see how his team performs in a rematch against the Celtics Thursday and in the remaining five games on its current seven-game road trip before deciding to make such a dramatic move.
The Lakers' motivation to upgrade their roster largely stems from the struggles of Artest this season. He was considered an important component last season in defending premier small forwards such as Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, and the Lakers may see either the Celtics' Pierce or the Heat's LeBron James in the Finals if they were to get that far.
But Jackson has not played Artest down the stretch in a number of games this season because he has been ineffective both offensively and defensively.
The Nuggets like Bynum's immense upside and believe that, at 23 years old, he can overcome his health issues. But they understand it would be a risk, and are not entirely certain they would trade for him, one source said.
A source close to Bynum said Tuesday that he relishes the opportunity to defend the Lakers' championship. He was limited in the playoffs last season due to his knee. But he realizes that until he becomes a free agent he can't control where he plays, according to the source.
Acquiring Bynum is not a huge financial risk for Denver, considering his great potential. Bynum has two years and $31 million left on his contract, but the final year is a team option for $16.5 million. If Bynum experiences another injury next season, the Nuggets could decide not to pick up the option and thus be on the hook for just the $15.1 million he's due next season.
Bynum is averaging 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in 27 games this season. In five full seasons with Los Angeles, Bynum has averaged only 56 games per season because of injuries.
Anthony is coming off a 50-point, 11-rebound outing Monday, but the Nuggets lost to the Rockets.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne and ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley was used in this report.