Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed the Nets and Nuggets have discussed a three-way trade proposal that would land Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups and Pistons guard Rip Hamilton alongside Anthony in New Jersey.
But a source close to the situation subsequently told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that the three-way deal in its proposed form -- which would require the Pistons to take Nets center Johan Petro and surrender a first-round pick in addition to absorbing the expiring contract of Troy Murphy to the Pistons -- is not amenable to Detroit.
The source told Broussard the Pistons -- restricted in their attempts to make changes in recent months because of the team's pending sale -- would be interested if a trade scenario develops where they only had to surrender Hamilton and take back Murphy. Such a scenario, however, has not been discussed.
The Nets have already committed to send rookie Derrick Favors, former All-Star guard Devin Harris and at least two first-round picks to the Nuggets in exchange for Anthony. But New Jersey has been attempting to find a third team -- having already tried Portland, Minnesota and Cleveland before Detroit -- to help facilitate the blockbuster deal for Anthony that they've been chasing since the September collapse of a four-team swap involving Charlotte and Utah.
The talks involving Detroit have not progressed nearly as far as the original four-team construction, sources said, although one source insists that the sides are still "going back and forth."
Even if the Nets, Nuggets and the Pistons -- or any other third team -- eventually reach an agreement in principle, New Jersey won't sign off on the trade unless Anthony agrees to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nets as part of the transaction in what is known as an extend-and-trade. The Boston Celtics got the same extend-and-trade commitment from Kevin Garnett when they acquired him from Minnesota in July 2007.
But Anthony has told the Nuggets he will not sign the extension unless he is traded to the New York Knicks, a source told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan last month.
So Nets officials would request and receive permission to meet with Anthony face-to-face if a trade agreement is eventually struck with Denver, as ESPN.com also reported last month. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z would lead a Nets contingent that would try to lobby him directly on the team's future in Brooklyn.
The Nets, sources said, have not stopped looking for other third-team facilitators, since Denver does not have a strong need for Harris with young guard Ty Lawson on the roster. New Jersey and Denver likewise continue to discuss trade possibilities with the Nuggets that don't involve any other teams.
Broussard reported Thursday the Nets and Nuggets seriously discussed a three-team swap involving Cleveland just before Christmas, only for the Cavaliers to pull out because they wanted a first-round pick in the deal that New Jersey also wanted. In that trade, sources said, Denver would have received Favors, Harris and three first-round picks, Cleveland would have received Murphy and one or two first-round picks and the Nets would have received Anthony and Nuggets forward Al Harrington.
And while New York reputedly remains Anthony's preferred destination, the Nuggets have shown little interest in the Knicks' assets (such as Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari) and have been negotiating almost exclusively with the Nets for weeks. With Favors and a cache of first-round picks it can move, New Jersey has a far more attractive war chest of trade assets.
It likewise appears the Nets will not abandon their pursuit of Anthony until they're told directly by the All-Star forward that he would not sign an extension with them. Nets officials have remained quietly confident for months that Anthony, born in Brooklyn, ultimately would agree to the extension -- no matter how much he'd prefer to play in New York -- to ensure that he locks in his contract before labor negotiations this summer that are expected to establish a much more restrictive financial landscape in the league.
Although the Nuggets have been preaching patience since the collapse of the near-deal in September, it remains to be seen how their uninspired play this week -- most notably in Thursday's nationally televised rout at lowly Sacramento -- affects their timetable for moving Anthony. Back-to-back road losses to the Clippers and Kings were the strongest indication yet that the Melo trade drama that has hung over this team for months is affecting the team's spirit on the floor.
Last month, Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said publicly for the first time that he was "listening aggressively" to Anthony offers, which seemingly guarantees Anthony will be moved before the Feb. 24 trading deadline.
If the aforementioned deal involving Detroit ever came to fruition, Billups and Hamilton would be reunited in New Jersey after helping the Pistons win a championship in 2004. The Pistons bypassed their own opportunity to flank Anthony with Billups and Hamilton in the 2003 draft, when they used the No. 2 overall pick on Darko Milicic ahead of the former Syracuse star.
Marc Stein in a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.