The Nuggets entered the weekend on the brink of ending their seven-year association with Anthony by dealing their franchise player to the New Jersey Nets as part of a trade that would also involve Charlotte and Utah, as ESPN.com reported Friday, but the deal was not finalized as of midnight Monday.
The Nuggets instead spent the weekend talking to other teams in an attempt to see if teams such as New York, Chicago or the Los Angeles Clippers could trump the four-way framework that would bring Nets rookie Derrick Favors, Jazz veteran Andrei Kirilenko and two future first-round picks to Denver in return for Anthony, with the Nets also sending point guard Devin Harris to Charlotte and Utah acquiring veteran forward Boris Diaw from the Bobcats.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Denver officials were clinging to hope that Anthony -- who has had virtually no contact with the organization all summer -- could be convinced to reconsider his desire to be traded once he reports to training camp and starts hearing pro-Nuggets voices again.
"The deal is in neutral," one source close to the negotiations told ESPN.com on Sunday afternoon. "Denver is trying to get [Anthony] there for media day [on Monday] and beg him to stay."
Anthony's presence at camp, however, is not a given. Sources with knowledge of Anthony's thinking said one option he has considered this week is not reporting to Nuggets camp if he was not traded by Monday, despite the fact that a holdout of any length would put him at risk for stiff discipline from the league office and make things even more uncomfortable locally for Anthony if Denver decides to keep him.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have commenced trade talks with the Philadelphia 76ers about a new trade for Anthony that would be co-headlined by Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala, according to reports out of Philadelphia and Denver. That's despite the fact that the Sixers, according to sources, have been told that Anthony is not prepared to sign a contract extension if he is traded to Philadelphia, whereas it is widely presumed that he will do so if dealt to New Jersey.
The Nuggets have also queried the Golden State Warriors about including Stephen Curry in a deal, according to The Denver Post.
But one source with knowledge of those discussions downplayed the possibility of any Golden State involvement, describing the negotiations as "brief talks going nowhere."
Because there has been no indication that Anthony would agree to an extension with the Warriors, Golden State -- like Philadelphia -- has little incentive to part with valuable assets for what could wind up as a costly one-season rental, given that Anthony can become a free agent on July 1, 2011.
Denver's weekend discussions with other teams have not surprisingly caused frustration among the Nets, Bobcats and Jazz, but one source with knowledge of New Jersey's thinking continued to express hope that the original four-way deal would go through sometime this week.
The source, pointing to the fact that the highly publicized proposed deal would furnish Denver with Favors and two more first-rounders, described the Nets as "believing the deal will happen at some point."
Nets general manager Billy King, speaking Sunday to local reporters, would only address the prospect of acquiring Anthony in general terms.
"I would say that we're exploring everything," King said. "But there's no deal. We have nothing. We have nothing. We're excited about the guys playing. I'll continue to explore and see if we can make the team better. At this point I'm excited about watching our guys practice.
"It's a process. ... Some of them take two years to get to the point when you get the player you want. Some take two weeks. I think you've got to make sure you do it and do it the right way."
"Everyone is waiting on Denver, not Melo [committing to an extension]," one source close to the trade talks told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan.
The trade as currently constructed would satisfy virtually all of the requirements that the Nuggets have expressed to interested teams over the past week to 10 days, when they began fielding offers for their disgruntled superstar after turning potential suitors away throughout the first half of September.
At a minimum to part with its All-Star scoring machine, Denver wants a top young player it can market, salary-cap relief and at least two future first-round picks. The Nuggets would get the top young player in Favors, who was the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft, and the cap relief through Kirilenko's expiring contract.
But as ESPN.com reported Friday night, quoting a source close to the All-Star forward, Anthony was still holding out hope that the Knicks or Bulls -- his two preferred destinations -- would make an 11th-hour bid to trump the Nets' offer once they realized how close the four-way trade was to completion.
The Nuggets could also elect to back away and keep Anthony for the short term in hopes that offers get better with time. They'd do so even after new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke, according to CBSSports.com, flew to the East Coast earlier this week for face-to-face trade negotiations with the Nets, helping escalate the talks to the brink of a done deal.
ESPN.com also reported earlier this week that there was strong sentiment within the organization, starting with Nuggets coach George Karl, to mount one last campaign to try to win back Anthony's support once he arrived in training camp, where he would be greeted by pro-Denver voices such as Karl and Nuggets teammate Chauncey Billups for the first time in weeks after a lengthy isolation from the organization.
Before the trade talks reached a stage where the framework for a four-team deal had been established, sources said one of Denver's plans was urging Anthony one last time to sign the extension that has been on the table since June, with the promise the Nuggets would trade him closer to the February trading deadline if he continued to be unhappy.
But Anthony's desire to leave Denver, sources say, runs very deep.
All indications Friday night were that Anthony was warming to the idea of joining the Nets, whose planned move to Brooklyn in two years under Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a strong lure, in addition to the presence of center Brook Lopez, one of the league's top young big men.
It's no secret that Manhattan is where Anthony most wants to be, with Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire having spoken publicly more than once about how much he and Anthony would like to play together with the Knicks. But New York's lack of future draft picks to offer and Chicago's blanket refusal to make Joakim Noah available to the Nuggets in trade talks appear to have established the Nets as Anthony's best option if he's determined to move immediately.
Yet that can happen only with the Nuggets' cooperation.
Anthony has the ability to become a free agent at season's end, which is the hammer that has enabled his representatives, Leon Rose and William Wesley of CAA, to apply such pressure to the Nuggets in hopes of forcing a trade before camps open Monday. The tension has been building since June, when the Nuggets believed that Anthony was on the verge of signing a three-year, $65 million contract extension, only for Anthony to pass.
If Anthony does report to camp Monday, though, it will be interesting to see if he indeed meets with the Denver media to field questions. He has said very little about his basketball future throughout the offseason, amid persistent speculation about his time with the Nuggets coming to an end since ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported Aug. 16 that it was "a matter of when, not if, Anthony and the Nuggets part ways."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.