In the end, the biggest holdup in a trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey may be Anthony himself.
According to several league sources, Anthony has not told anyone, not even his representatives, that he will sign a contract extension with the Nets.
One source who has spoken with Anthony since trade talks between Denver, New Jersey and Detroit became public last weekend said the Nuggets forward has never even hinted at signing with New Jersey.
"He has not agreed to go to New Jersey," said the source, who speaks regularly with Anthony. "I have never heard him, in all the times we've talked, say he's willing to go to New Jersey. Not once. Personally, I would be stunned if he went there and signed an extension."
This, of course, does not mean there's no chance of Anthony signing with the Nets. But it does mean the three teams involved in the potential deal that could involve as many as 15 players are working on nothing more than a hunch. For even if they do reach an agreement, Anthony's refusal to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nets would kill the deal completely. New Jersey has been steadfast in its commitment to trade for Anthony only if he agrees to stay with the franchise long term.
Even if Anthony is less than enthusiastic about the prospects of playing in New Jersey, he has never crossed the Nets entirely off his list of potential destinations, as he did with Philadelphia, Washington and Charlotte when those teams showed interest in trading for him earlier in the season.
The Nets, who have pursued Anthony since failing to land a superstar on last summer's historic free agent market, firmly believe Anthony is agreeable to signing with them. That belief is based on numerous conversations with Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, who has worked closely with Denver and New Jersey all season long on putting together potential trade packages.
ESPN.com reported last month that the Nets have already been granted permission to meet with Anthony face-to-face if a trade agreement is eventually struck with Denver. That would allow Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z to lead a contingent that would try to lobby the Brooklyn-born Anthony directly on the team's future in Brooklyn, with the Nets planning to move there in time for the 2012-13 season.
That pitch might also include the Nets' plan to sign all-star point guard Chris Paul, another Rose client, as a free agent in the summer of 2012. But with the amount of payroll the Nets may take on in acquiring Anthony and whatever players come with him, as well as eventually signing Brook Lopez to an extension, it's doubtful New Jersey will have enough cap room to sign Paul. This problem would be compounded if the owners are able to make the changes they are seeking to the collective bargaining agreement.
The proposed deal involving Denver, New Jersey and Detroit would give the Nets Chauncey Billups and the Pistons' Rip Hamilton along with Anthony. Denver would receive two future first-round picks, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and Stephen Graham, while Detroit would bring home Troy Murphy, Johan Petro and a second-round pick from the Nets.
The natural assumption is that Rose is pushing for a deal with New Jersey because Anthony is amenable to it. But sources say that's not the case.
"He [Rose] may want him to go there," one source said. "But Melo doesn't want to be in Jersey. He wants to play in New York."
Anthony's desire to play for the New York Knicks is well-known. But Denver would rather trade him to New Jersey because it can receive more assets -- a young prospect (Favors), expiring contracts and first-round draft picks -- from the Nets than it can from New York. If Anthony were to agree to a trade to New Jersey, it would be mainly to get the $65 million contract extension. With the owners playing hardball as a new labor agreement approaches, Anthony may have to settle for tens of millions of dollars less if he were to play out the season in Denver and sign with New York as a free agent this summer. The sources say such a scenario is not out of the question for Anthony.
While the Knicks, who do not have a first-round draft pick to offer Denver in a trade, lack the assets the Nuggets covet, Anthony's desire to play there keeps them in the hunt. Anthony will soon sit down with Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri to discuss his future, and if he tells them he will only sign an extension with New York and not New Jersey, Denver will almost certainly have to begin serious trade talks with the Knicks.
To date, the Nuggets have not engaged in any thorough trade discussions with New York. But the Knicks insist there are several teams that will give them a first-round draft pick in exchange for Anthony Randolph that they could use in a trade, and the strong play of Knicks forward Wilson Chandler this season would seem to have increased his value in the Nuggets' eyes.