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Tag:Masai Ujiri
Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:30 pm
 

Nuggets and the Nene dilemma

To Nene, or not to Nene. This is the potentially franchise-shaping question facing the Denver Nuggets.

This is becoming familiar territory for Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, who no sooner got the job last season when he was thrust into the Carmelo Anthony saga. That one ended well for Denver: Melo and his wandering eye got a max extension and a trade to the Knicks. The Nuggets got valuable assets and picks, including players like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler -- who were already accomplished starters to a degree but also young and cheap enough to build and plan around.

But what about Nene? In a lackluster free-agent class, only Nene and Mavs center Tyson Chandler figure to command max money. Some NBA executives question whether either player is worth a contract starting at the max of $17.4-$17.8 million. If Nene wants to push for a sign-and-trade to a contender -- such as Dallas and Miami, two of the teams on his list -- he'd have to settle for a four-year deal with smaller raises than the Nuggets can offer.

If he wants a five-year deal, he'll stay in Denver. If he just wants a change of scenery, he could get a four-year deal from any number of teams that have cap space or could create it, such as the Nets, Warriors, Rockets or Pacers. In short, Nene has options. Not as many options as Anthony, who had the full extend-and-trade avenue and max sign-and-trade scenario going for him -- but options, nonetheless.

So, why aren't the Nuggets panicking? One, if Ujiri survived the Melodrama, the Nene-a-thon will be a piece of cake. And two, the Nuggets have options, too.

If Nene bolts, Denver is projected to have the most cap room in the league next season -- nearly $39 million, and more if they amnesty Al Harrington between now and then. They have their own first-round pick in 2012 and '13, and could wind up with more if Nene departed via the sign-and-trade route. As weak as this free-agent class is, this year's draft will be deep and exceptional. Not a bad time to undertake a one-year rebuilding/reloading plan if that's what the Nuggets are forced to do.

Also, the Nuggets brass need to find out what Gallinari is going to be in major minutes, not to mention Timofey Mozgov, another piece they got from the Knicks for Anthony. The sting of a rebuilding year also would be minimized by a shortened season. It'll be over fast, and if the Nuggets missed the playoffs, it wouldn't be long before they'd be preparing to pick a potential All-Star in the lottery.

While the Nuggets won't be in the running for a potential superstar free agent like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams, their copious cap space and assets obtained in the Melo trade would give them flexibility to be one of the biggest players next summer. So do the Nuggets want Nene back? Of course. Ujiri has told him that on many occasions, and as with Anthony, the Nuggets exec has taken the time to build a relationship with his star so there's mutual trust.

But if someone is willing to pay Nene the max in the next week or so, making a 14-point, seven-rebound center a $17 million player? There may be no way to avoid parting ways. And as in the case of Anthony, it could wind up working out for the best for both sides.
Posted on: June 2, 2011 8:06 pm
 

Malone to meet with Warriors' owner


MIAMI -- Hornets assistant Michael Malone will meet with Warriors owner Joe Lacob about the team's vacant head coaching position and also will interview for a position on Mike Brown's staff with the Lakers, a person with knowledge of the searches told CBSSports.com Thursday.

The meetings will take place in the next three or four days, the person said.

Malone, who worked for Brown in Cleveland, is high on the former Cavs coach's list of candidates to join his staff in L.A. But Lacob, who is narrowing the field in his search for Keith Smart's replacement, indicated that he wanted to meet with Malone in person before Malone made a decision on joining the Lakers' staff. Barring a head coaching offer, Malone's interview for the position on Brown's staff would be little more than a formality, as Brown is comfortable working with him and is said to want him on the staff.

ABC/ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson and Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer are the only candidates known to have met with Lacob, who is putting his stamp on the team's coaching search. It is not clear whether Budenholzer wants to leave San Antonio.

Though the Raptors are in the early stages of their search for Jay Triano's replacement, Malone could garner some interest for that position as well. Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is looking for an experienced coach -- not necessarily with head coaching experience -- who can teach defense. Malone is Monty Williams' lead assistant in New Orleans, and he coached both sides of the ball under Brown in Cleveland. 

Former Nets coach Lawrence Frank and Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey also are expected to become candidates in Toronto, where a significant reorganization is planned for after July 1 with Colangelo seeking a high-level basketball man to fill the position vacated when Masai Ujiri left for the Nuggets, sources said. 






Posted on: March 8, 2011 5:10 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 5:55 pm
 

Karl, Nuggets agree to three-year extension

After successfully navigating one crisis by getting good value for superstar Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets averted another one Tuesday when they agreed with coach George Karl on a three-year contract extension that could last as long as six years.

The deal has team options for the fourth, fifth, and sixth years, said Karl's attorney, Bret Adams -- a huge commitment from the Nuggets at a time when coaches have so little job security.

"I think with this team, they just have great confidence that this is a team that's coachable and there's not a more experienced or better coach to do it than George," Adams said. "They stuck with him last year with the cancer, and to take it the next step with this long-term commitment, I don’t think George could be any happier with his future. He wanted to be there, they wanted him there, and with this team it's a whole new re-energized George after the trade."

Contract talks ground to a halt during the months-long process in which Nuggets executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke were negotiating a trade that eventually sent Anthony to New York on Feb. 20. Once that complicated deal was complete, it didn't take long for contract talks with Karl -- the Nuggets' coach since 2004 -- to Heat up again.

"There was a whole lot of frustration with George having to coach a guy who didn’t want to be there," Adams said. "Only Masai and Josh knew how difficult it was to coach that team in those circumstances. It was difficult, and he kept them winning. To do that under those circumstances was pretty remarkable."

Karl, 59, has won at least 50 games for three straight years and led the Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals against the Lakers. This season, he has dealt with his own personal battle against throat and neck cancer and kept the Nuggets alive in the playoff race despite months of speculation over Anthony's trade destination. The Nuggets are 5-2 since trading their franchise player to the Knicks along with Chauncey Billups for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, and draft picks. Denver (37-27) currently is fifth in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I’ve always said Denver is the place I want to end my career,” Karl said. “This puts me one step closer to achieving that goal. Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke were very professional throughout these negotiations. The Kroenkes have been great throughout this entire process. They’ve been very supportive of me as a coach and during my battle with cancer. I’m excited for the remainder of the season and look forward to making another playoff run.”

Close friends say Karl is energized by the trade, both for the obvious reason of removing the daily distractions of trade speculation and because he's excited about coaching a new group of players. A coach's coach, Karl thrives on the teaching and team-building that comes with the job far more than he thrives on the accolades.

"Getting the Melo trade done and getting George's fairly complicated contract done because of the health issues is a testament to the future of the Nuggets," Adams said. "They've really given real confidence to the fans in Denver as to the direction of this team. They hit two home runs."

Karl, who underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that spanned from last season through the summer, received another clean bill of health from doctors Tuesday, Adams said. Karl's health issues "had to be addressed" in the contract, and Adams said the Nuggets addressed them "very fairly."

"Extending George’s contract has been one of our top priorities,” said Ujiri, the Nuggets' vice president of basketball operations. “He’s done a tremendous job since arriving in Denver, and particularly with the unique challenges of this season. With George on the bench, we have a bright future and everyone here is focused on finishing the season strong.”

For more on this story, check out our Eye on Basketball blog.
 
Posted on: February 20, 2011 3:41 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2011 1:08 am
 

Knicks make final offer for Melo

LOS ANGELES -- The Knicks have made what was described as their final trade proposal for Carmelo Anthony Sunday, pushing the months-long drama toward its merciful conclusion, CBSSports.com has learned.

The Knicks would send three starters -- Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Raymond Felton -- to Denver for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter, sources said Sunday. The Nuggets would get the Knicks' first-round pick in 2014, while Minnesota would get Eddy Curry's expiring contract and Anthony Randolph from New York. Curry would then be waived, and the Knicks would send as much as $3 million to Minnesota to pay his freight. 

The Wolves also would send Corey Brewer to Denver in the proposed deal. Carter must approve the trade and waive his Bird rights for the trade to be approved.

Confident that a Friday night meeting between Anthony, his representatives, and a Nets contingent led by Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z did not result in a commitment from Anthony to sign an extension with New Jersey, the Knicks are drawing the line. They are not offering rookie Landry Fields or Russian center Timofey Mozgov, two pieces Denver has asked for at various times in the negotiations, sources said.

"We shall see," Anthony said on his way out of Staples Center after the All-Star Game Sunday night, after being informed of the status of trade talks with the Knicks.

Earlier, Anthony revealed that he did not give, nor did the Nets ask for, a commitment from him on whether he would sign a contract extension that would trigger the completion of a trade that already has been agreed to between the Nuggets and New Jersey. He described the meeting with Prokhorov as "a good meeting" and "interesting," and said he was "just listening" to the Nets' presentation.

"I didn't give anybody a definitive answer," Anthony said.

Anthony said the Nuggets "have been knowing everything since day one" about where he would and wouldn't sign an extension. 

"They know everything," he said.

While Anthony privately has been entrenched for months in his position that he would only agree to an extension with the Knicks if the Nuggets traded him, a person familiar with the three-time All-Star's thinking told CBSSports.com Sunday night that he did not close the door on the Nets in their meeting. Doing so would have eliminated the Nets as a last resort to get the three-year, $65 million extension that would be off the table in a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Anthony drama now rests in the hands of Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri, who must decide whether to accept the Knicks' offer, continue pushing for a trade to the Nets, or keep Anthony beyond Thursday's trade deadline. Sources say it is unlikely a deal would be agreed to Sunday.

"The deadline is Thursday," Anthony said. "So obviously something has to happen, whether they trade me or I stay in Denver or whatever," Anthony said. "The end is here. All this stuff will be over with. I'm excited for this stuff to be over with, and I'm pretty sure everybody else is excited for it to be over with."

Anthony said he would "not be upset at all" if he were still with the Nuggets after the deadline.

A person familiar with the trade negotiations told CBSSports.com Sunday that the Nuggets were still working through specifics with the Knicks and were pushing for New York to add Mozgov to the deal. Denver also hasn't shut the door on the Nets, with whom they have agreed to the framework of a trade, according to the source. But it appears that key figures in the organization have grown comfortable with the Knicks' offer, which was sweetened significantly after the Nets re-emerged in the discussions during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.

As the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony reached a tipping point Sunday, the team released a joint statement from Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, president Donnie Walsh, and coach Mike D'Antoni saying all three were in agreement on the Anthony discussions. In a rare and obscure step, the statement also asserted that "no one from outside our organization" was involved in the Anthony process -- an obvious reference to former team president Isiah Thomas, whose input Dolan has received since Thomas was replaced by Walsh in 2008.

With so many agendas and obfuscation attempts at play, it was difficult to predict Sunday how Denver would respond. But Nuggets executives have signaled that they want a resolution to the Anthony matter by the end of All-Star weekend -- a timetable that Anthony publicly stated that he favored, as well. 

Just as the Knicks' negotiating strategy was sidetracked by Dolan's decision to get involved in the negotiations and meet with Anthony Thursday night in Los Angeles, so have the Nuggets' efforts been influenced by agendas affecting their still complicated hierarchy. Sources say Denver's reluctance to deal with New York throughout the process was prompted more by a feeling among some segments of the team's power structure that they should not give Anthony what he wants -- the extension with the team of his choice. But sources also assert it will be difficult for Denver to turn down what could be the best offer they will receive for Anthony -- one that gives them a quality point guard, Felton, on a better contract than the Nets' Devin Harris; a young, promising frontcourt player, Chandler, who is more polished than New Jersey's Derrick Favors; a hard-nosed, floor-spacing shooter, Gallinari, instead of multiple first-round picks from New Jersey whose ultimate value is undetermined; and $20 million in immediate savings.

The Nuggets' basketball staff is said to have preferred the Nets' long-standing offer centered around Favors and multiple picks, which would set the team up for a long-term rebuilding process -- whereas the Knicks' offer provides assets better suited to a quicker turnaround after Anthony's departure. But the Nets' competing offer ran its course with Friday night's obligatory meeting between Anthony and New Jersey officials, which CBSSports.com reported was allowed as a condition of Anthony receiving permission to meet with Dolan on Thursday.

Keeping Anthony beyond Thursday's trade deadline remains an option, though the likelihood of that has decreased dramatically, sources say. Denver is not seriously considering a nuclear option with Anthony, which would involve telling him the team will not trade him to new York and also won't give him the extension -- making New Jersey the only path to the money for Anthony. That option, sources say, would reflect poorly on the organization and could hinder its future dealings with players.



Posted on: January 31, 2011 11:37 pm
 

Melo: I'm not afraid to become a free agent

NEWARK, N.J. – On his way in and out of the Prudential Center Monday night, Carmelo Anthony walked past a series of strategically placed renderings of the Nets’ future home in Brooklyn. The imagery only fueled speculation that the Nets aren’t finished pursuing the Nuggets’ three-time All-Star. 

Who knows? Maybe those posters were part of the presentation the Nets never had a chance to make to Anthony, who made his only trip – as a visiting player – to the temporary home that could’ve been his. 

"That was interesting,” Anthony said with a smile after the Nets beat the Nuggets 115-99. “I mean, that was interesting.” 

Anthony’s reaction to the Nets’ Brooklyn mind tricks was about as far as he pushed the story forward when it comes to where he will be finding a long-term home. The closest Anthony came to making news was when he was asked to clarify whether he’s afraid of risking millions by playing out the season in Denver and becoming a free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. 

“The CBA is in the back of my mind,” Anthony said. “But as far as being afraid to play this out, I’m not. If that’s what it’s going to take, then so be it. I’m with that. I know in the back of my mind what the CBA is up for, what we’re up for dealing with the lockout, things like that. So as long as I know that, my decision will be my decision.” 

Asked if he’d be willing to take the risk of passing on the extension and facing the unknown of post-lockout free agency, Anthony said, “Yeah, I mean whether it’s playing this year out and then going back to the drawing table, sitting down with Denver and trying to figure it out, or whether it’s to move on, I’m with that.” 

So is Nuggets coach George Karl, who said before the game that he continues to believe – as he did in training camp – that the best outcome for all involved is for Anthony to remain in Denver. 

“My job and my thought is that he’s going to be with us,” Karl said. “It is my desire and that would be probably the best thing for us as a basketball team.” 

That outcome, however, is largely in the hands of Denver executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke, who were with the team but kept a low profile amid a throng of media here to chronicle Anthony’s visit. Both of them are banking on the qualifier that came next from Anthony, about whether there is a limit to how much money he’s willing to sacrifice to get to the team of his choice. 

“If I sit here and tell you I’m willing to lose $15 or $20 million, then I’d be lying to you,” Anthony said. “But at the same time, this has never been about the money. In my career so far, I think I’ve made enough money. Now I can focus on just trying to win a championship. That’s the only thing that’s on my plate and on my mind right now.” 

Anthony reflected on the news conference held Jan. 19 in which Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov put a very public end to the Nets’ pursuit of Anthony. He reiterated that he would’ve accepted a meeting with the Nets’ brass if Prokhorov hadn’t canceled it, but wouldn’t reveal whether he would’ve agreed to an extension as part of a trade. 

“As far as the extension, if that trade were to go through, who knows what would’ve happened?” Anthony said. “I can’t answer that because it didn’t go through.” 

Nothing has changed for Anthony, who all along has only considered signing a three-year, $65 million extension with the Knicks or Nuggets – though a person familiar with the strategy being employed by his agents at Creative Artists Agency recently told CBSSports.com that CAA has been consistent since the summer in advising the Nuggets that he won’t re-sign with them. As for Anthony himself, he refuted a previously published report that Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire had recently texted him urging him to join forces in New York. 

“I read that, that he supposedly texted me or something like that,” Anthony said. “I didn’t get it. I didn’t get that text.” 

Aside from stating his willingness to play this game of chicken with the Nuggets past the Feb. 24 deadline, perhaps Anthony’s most revealing comment was one that won’t get many headlines. The Nuggets’ executives, particularly Ujiri, who were in constant contact with Anthony throughout the protracted trade talks with the Nets, have been quiet lately. 

“I haven’t really talked to those two guys about anything as of late,” Anthony said. “Prokhorov put an end to it. That’s all I can say about it. When something starts going on, I’m pretty sure Masai and Josh will come to me and let me know what’s going on.” 

All that was going on Monday night, as Anthony walked past those Brooklyn posters one more time with his with his manager, Robert “Bay” Frazier, was that he was heading back to Denver with the Nuggets. Whether he’ll be there three more weeks or three more months is the next plot twist. 

“I have to look at it as a business and we just go from there,” Anthony said. “If we make a business decision together, and that’s for me to stay in Denver, or they say the business decision is to trade you somewhere else, then you’ve got to deal with that.”
Posted on: January 30, 2011 10:51 pm
 

Warkentien could bolster Knicks' Melo chances

Revenge, as they say, is sweet. 

Back in August, Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien thought he was going to continue negotiating the two most important contract extensions in the organization's history -- those of Carmelo Anthony and coach George Karl. The fact that Warkentien had been ostracized in the very organization he'd positioned for a run to the Western Conference finals a little more than a year earlier, though, amounted to the writing on the wall. 

Warkentien, the 2009 NBA executive of the year, was let go along with fellow front-office type Rex Chapman in a complete purge of the Nuggets' management team. This was after Warkentien had been insulted with an offer to take a roughly 50 percent pay cut -- with some of the difference possibly to be made up through incentive clauses. (And maybe some Wal-Mart coupons.) 

Within weeks of owner Stan Kroenke's decision to turn the organization over to his son, Josh, and former Raptors executive Masai Ujiri, Anthony's camp began informing the team that he would not be signing a three-year, $65 million extension and wanted a trade. Nuggets advisor Brett Bearup subsequently was let go, and the Nuggets believed they had made a fresh start in their efforts to make the best of the Anthony situation. 

Only one problem: Warkentien, who knows where all the bodies are buried in Denver and has a strong relationship with Anthony, is about to be employed by the enemy. A person close to Warkentien confirmed a report Sunday night by Yahoo! Sports that the Knicks intend to hire Warkentien as a high-level consultant. The move, which has yet to be finalized, represents the first step in Knicks president Donnie Walsh's long-time efforts to hire a right-hand man. In the past, he had considered Warkentien, former Warriors executive Chris Mullin, and former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, while coach Mike D'Antoni had some other candidates in mind. 

After Garden chairman James Dolan's clumsy attempt at hiring former coach and president Isiah Thomas was thoroughly repudiated by Walsh, the decision to go with Warkentien is the strongest sign yet that Walsh -- whose fingerprints are all over the Knicks' revival -- will chart the course for the long-term future of the franchise, too. 

Walsh's contract has a team option that must be picked up by April 1. While the addition of Warkentien as a consultant is viewed by those close to the situation as a prelude to an expanded and more permanent role, sources also say that not only is Walsh's option expected to be picked up, but his contract may be extended as well. Though Walsh has made no noise about wanting the extension, he has expressed to confidants a strong desire to see the Knicks' rebuilding through after overcoming a series of health issues in recent months. After returning to Madison Square Garden recently after undergoing hip replacement surgery, Walsh has been described by friends as especially enthusiastic and strong-willed about completing the massive restoration project. 

So while the addition of Warkentien, a shrewd negotiator with a reputation as a relentless scout, bodes well for a Walsh-driven front-office structure going forward, the natural question is as follows: What does this mean for the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony? On one hand, teaming Warkentien with Walsh on the Denver trade negotiations would make it a decidedly unfair fight -- combining Walsh's experience with Warkentien's direct knowledge of the Denver power structure and Stan Kroenke's tendencies and psychology when it comes to deal-making. Sources say that Warkentien long ago zeroed in on Kroenke's negotiating weakness in any Anthony trade: his obsessive pursuit of cost-cutting. As Warkentien learned in a negotiating class he recently took at Harvard, the best way to win a negotiation is to know what the opponent wants and where his weaknesses are. 

But it is difficult to predict how Kroenke, who is still ultimately calling the shots behind the curtain while his son and Ujiri handle the day-to-day business, will respond to the Knicks' hiring of Warkentien. It is possible, according to one source who understands Denver's still complicated organization dynamics, that Kroenke would stubbornly recoil from any talks with the Knicks and refuse to give Anthony his wish -- or give Warkentien the satisfaction. Also possible, the source noted, is that Kroenke would redouble efforts to once again engage the Nets in trade talks as a far more palatable option than dealing with Warkentien. Another person with direct knowledge of the Nuggets' trade discussions has told CBSSports.com on multiple occasions recently that the Anthony talks have not evolved since the Nets dropped out last week. One reason may have been the Knicks' impending hiring of Warkentien, which sources say leaked to some members of Denver's basketball operations. 

One way or another, it would appear that Warkentien will play a prominent role in the Knicks' pursuit of Anthony -- via a trade or as a free agent. Warkentien is believed to be on board with the notion that Anthony wouldn't lose nearly as much money as some pundits think if he were to play out the season and become a free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement. Estimates showing that Anthony would lose $40 million in such a scenario are nothing short of irresponsible. 

Imagine the irony, though, if Warkentien ultimately winds up signing Anthony to a contract with the Knicks -- a contract he thought he'd be finalizing with the Nuggets last August. The plot, as they say, thickens.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 10:06 am
 

Melo update: Underground talks could lead to deal

Executives haggling over the potential blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey were underground Tuesday, creating a veil of secrecy that could create a more fertile environment for a deal, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. 

After a contentious weekend of talks marked by fury among Denver officials over persistent leaks about the discussions, it became clear that Nuggets executives Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke had taken firm control of the negotiations. 

While Nets GM Billy King, brought to New Jersey for his ability as a savvy deal-maker, has been the driving force behind the Melo-to-New Jersey talks since September, all parties with a stake in the matter are now taking their cues from Ujiri -- signaling a bold show of strength from the young executive who has been thrust into a franchise-shaping moment for the Nuggets. 

“Underground,” is how one prominent agent with ties to the talks described the state of negotiations. 

The secretive tone of the talks bolstered a belief among rival executives that the flurry of information that emanated from the discussions over the weekend was too detailed and public to represent the substance of a real, imminent deal. In fact, sources have told CBSSports.com that Denver officials were not only frustrated with the public nature of the talks, but also felt pushed into a scenario they were not yet ready to act upon. 

Upon receiving word from New Jersey officials Sunday that Pistons president Joe Dumars had received upper management approval to join the potential blockbuster by sending Richard Hamilton to the Nets for Troy Murphy’s expiring contract and Johan Petro, the Nuggets did not view it as a defining moment in the completion of a deal. Instead, Ujiri and Kroenke informed the Nets that they were stiil deliberating several aspects of the situation, including whether a two-team or three-team deal was best for them. The Nuggets also wanted to explore whether they could achieve more savings in the deal by finding a taker for either Al Harrington or Renaldo Balkman, and obtain another young player -- perhaps by inviting a fourth team into the equation. 

The conflicting agendas represented a repeat of the environment that saw a four-team deal involving Charlotte and Utah fall apart prior to training camp. But with the Pistons solidly committed, having negotiated a second-round pick from the Nets for taking Petro, the Nuggets and Nets are left to try to smooth out their differences in an attempt to finalize the complicated trade. 

Ill will over the public nature of the weekend talks and external pressure Ujiri and Kroenke were getting will not be a deal breaker, one executive involved in the negotiations told CBSSports.com. And it became clear Tuesday that with Denver officials calling the shots and demanding discretion, it would give the discussions the best chance they’ve had to reach a conclusion. 

Meanwhile, though, Nuggets officials remain committed to exploring every potential offer from other teams, including the Knicks, who are Anthony’s preferred destination. With a meeting looming among Anthony, Ujiri and Kroenke to discuss the status of talks and his feelings about signing a three-year extension with the Nets, clarity should come soon.
Posted on: January 10, 2011 11:00 am
Edited on: January 10, 2011 12:43 pm
 

Melo blow-by-blow: Denver driving hard bargain

The framework of a blockbuster, three-team trade that could send Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey began coming together Thursday and Friday, but there were miles to go -- not inches -- before the complicated scenario could come together.

After a whirlwind 72 hours marked by acrimony, destabilizing attempts from multiple stakeholders and even a funeral that one executive involved had to attend, the best thing that can be said Monday about the proposed deal is that the Nets and Nuggets are still communicating.

Judging from the hurt feelings and frustration that has built up among some of the participants, that is an accomplishment almost as remarkable as the ambitious framework of the deal itself. And the fact that both sides are willing to put aside grudges means that Denver and New Jersey are sufficiently motivated to complete the trade.

When? Not until the Nuggets have explored every option and tried to extract the highest possible price for Anthony, a three-time All-Star and franchise cornerstone who may already be playing beyond his expiration date in Denver.

Based on first-hand accounts from league sources, here is the latest holdup in the arrangement that would send Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton to New Jersey, Troy Murphy and Johan Petro to Detroit and Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and multiple first-round picks to Denver: The Nuggets, negotiating from a position of strength because they own the most coveted asset in the trade, are trying to extract one more quality young player and more cost savings from the current framework of the deal -- and if they can't do that, expand it or explore other scenarios to ensure they are getting the most assets possible for parting with their superstar.

UPDATE: One issue was quickly resolved Monday, with the Nets and Pistons essentially agreeing that Detroit would get a second-round pick from New Jersey for taking on Petro's contract, sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.

But Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri would prefer to parlay Harris into Nicolas Batum (pictured) by involving Portland in the deal, a scenario they thoroughly explored before the Pistons' involvement as a third team over the weekend, sources said. The Pistons' portion of the deal -- sending Hamilton to New Jersey so Anthony wouldn't have to go it alone in a risky reclamation project -- is solidified as far as Detroit and New Jersey are concerned. But the Nuggets have yet to decide if that is the best option for them.

From the standpoint of easing Anthony's concerns about signing a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nets, it represents a major breakthrough for the Nuggets. But executives in contact with Denver officials say Ujiri hasn't given up on recruiting the Blazers to contribute Batum and wants more time to shop the current offer and make sure it is the best deal he can get. In addition to getting another young player -- and Denver isn't sold on Harris, given the $17.8 million price tag over the next two seasons and the progress of Ty Lawson -- the Nuggets are continuing to explore getting off one of their long-term contracts as part of an Anthony trade. Sources say they are working feverishly to find a taker for either Al Harrington or Renaldo Balkman, a requirement that complicates matters even more.

Among the teams the Nuggets have spoken with previously is Minnesota, which asked for one of the Nets' better first-round picks in exchange for taking Murphy. With that, the conversation died. Sources also told CBSSports.com Monday that the Nuggets have engaged with the Knicks "a little bit here and there" about what it would take to get Anthony to his preferred destination, Madison Square Garden. Executives in contact with the Nuggets said Denver plans to give the Knicks an opportunity to construct a trade proposal that they will compare to what the Nets are offering -- a prospect that seems unlikely to be fruitful for New York, given that the Nuggets have always been more interested in the Nets' assets than the Knicks'.

Privately, members of the Nuggets organization believe they have taken Anthony's wishes into account by trying to construct a deal that does not land him in a bad situation. In addition, they believe the inclusion of Hamilton -- who shares Anthony's agent, Leon Rose -- is tantamount to approval from Melo that he will go against his desire to play for the Knicks and agree to the New Jersey extension. A team executive previously involved in Anthony trade talks but currently on the sideline agreed Monday.

"Melo originally wouldn't sign there," the executive said. "But it seems now, with the addition of Rip if that happens, he could have a change of heart."

Said an executive with a stake in Melo signing off on the deal with New Jersey, "There is going to have to be a sell. But at the end of the day, does Melo say, 'No?' I strongly doubt it."

It is one of many twists and turns in a combustible negotiation that at one point over the weekend seemed destined to blow up because the Nuggets, once again, were facing external pressure to rush into a deal. But it should be abundantly clear by now that Ujiri, a soft-spoken, Nigerian born former scout now in the hottest executive seat in the NBA, "won't back down," according to one executive who described him as "a bulldog."

Ujiri "may seem quiet and soft," the executive said, but is "not stupid."

Based on first-hand accounts, talks between Denver and New Jersey took a back seat to Detroit's involvement over the weekend, with executives waiting to hear back from Pistons president Joe Dumars, who was attending a funeral Saturday. After the Pistons' angle leaked Friday in a report by The Record of Hackensack, N.J., sensitivities were running high in Denver because of the mutual respect between Billups and the organization -- and the fan base's understanding that if Billups were dealt, that would signal the waving of a white flag on this season.

While Ujiri and executive Josh Kroenke internally weighed the pros and cons of involving the Pistons, everyone with a stake in the deal was waiting to hear back from Dumars, who needed to meet Sunday with ownership to find out if he could get the money-saving Hamilton deal approved. Dumars, in the midst of an ownership change, has been hamstrung in trade negotiations but was able to get approval to dump Hamilton and save the organization more than $17 million.

But when word came from Dumars Sunday afternoon that the Pistons were in, the Nuggets didn't view it as moving the larger deal to the cusp of the goal line. As was the case with the four-team deal with Utah and Charlotte that fell apart in the days before training camp, it appeared to those outside the organization that the Nuggets were once again feeling rushed into hastily completing the trade.

If leaks that the trade including fan favorite Billups was all but agreed to were aimed at destabilizing the already frail locker-room psyche in Denver, it appeared to be working. Anthony, Billups and other peripheral players being discussed in the trade played Sunday night, when a disengaged Anthony scored only eight points in a 96-87 loss to the Hornets. Billups, confronted with questions about being traded, was 2-for-12 from the field and scored 13 points.

When asked after the game if this was his final game with the Nuggets, Anthony responded to reporters by saying, "Not at all" five times. The Nuggets host the Suns Tuesday night, and the Nets are at Phoenix Wednesday -- a deadline of sorts since both teams would need their full complement of new players in time for those games.

Conversations between the Nets and Nuggets continued into the early morning hours Monday, which should be read as encouraging given all the twists and turns. One executive stressed, "It hasn't broken down," evidence of the strong commitment on the Nets' and Nuggets' parts to complete the deal.

I guess they can all shake hands and make up when it's over.

 
 
 
 
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