After a final, furious push over the weekend that included near-deals, waffling, misunderstandings and growing acrimony between the two sides, the Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets are close to completing a complicated three-team trade to send Carmelo Anthony(notes) to New Jersey, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The Nets and Detroit Pistons believed they had an arrangement in place Sunday that would've sent Anthony, Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups(notes) and Pistons guard Richard Hamilton(notes) to the Nets as part of the blockbuster deal. Once the Nets and Pistons worked out the details of a side component to the 13-player deal on Sunday afternoon, the two teams were surprised to find Denver general manager Masai Ujiri wanting to replace players in the framework of the overall trade, sources said.
Denver wants more money off its books, and returned to trying to get the Nets to take Al Harrington or Renaldo Balkman from its roster, sources said. The two teams were talking on Monday, trying to find a solution to close the deal.
Billups didn’t attend practice on Monday, telling a source close to him that he had a “headache.”
The thought of pulling out of the Anthony drama has crossed the minds of Nets GM Billy King and coach Avery Johnson, sources said. They aren’t adverse to staying the course with Derrick Favors, the multiple draft picks and building a franchise a sure, methodical way.
Nevertheless, ownership is hellbent on acquiring Anthony. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov had talked a big game about making a splash over the summer and was shut out of the storied free-agent class. Prokhorov wants Anthony for the cachet he’ll bring in the New York area, and, most of all, wants him for the team’s 2012 move into the new Barclay Center in Brooklyn.
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, has worked relentlessly to help structure the package of players that will arrive in New Jersey with Anthony.
Prokhorov would have even been open to the idea of making a deal without an extension for Anthony because of a belief he could sway him over the next few months. The risk would be enormous: Gut your team, give up picks and lose Anthony to free agency in the summer? Management understands it could set the franchise back years, but Prokhorov’s confidence in himself has no limits. Still, he doesn’t understand the business of the NBA, the way he does his billion-dollar industries in Russia.
Nuggets officials were angry with the insinuation they had backed away, insisting they never agreed to a scenario where they would complete the deal. As one Denver official told Yahoo! Sports late Sunday, “People are trying to pressure us.”
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Still, everyone involved in the trade believed the Nuggets had come too far to walk away, and talks continued between Ujiri and King.
The proposed trade will send Anthony, Hamilton, Billups, Nuggets guard Anthony Carter(notes) and forward Shelden Williams(notes) to the Nets. The Nuggets will receive two first-round picks from the Nets, point guard Devin Harris(notes), rookie forward Derrick Favors(notes), guards Anthony Morrow(notes), Ben Uzoh(notes), Stephen Graham(notes) and Quinton Ross(notes). The Pistons will get Nets forward Troy Murphy(notes) and center Johan Petro(notes).
The Nets and Pistons have all but completed a component of the trade that exchanges Murphy for Hamilton, sources said. The teams have agreed to include Petro, who has two years and $6.75 million left on his contract after this season, but were still working out whether Detroit would receive a draft pick. The Pistons are motivated to unload the remaining two years and $25 million on Hamilton's contract for Murphy's $12 million expiring deal.
The Nets were assisting the Pistons in finding another team to move Petro onto because Detroit – in the midst of an ownership sale – needs maximum financial savings for its payroll. New Jersey and Detroit were surprised on Sunday night when Denver allowed the players included in the proposed trade to play in a game against the New Orleans Hornets. The Nets believed they had fulfilled Denver's requirements only to find the Nuggets wanted to rearrange parts in the 13-player deal.
If completed, the proposed trade would match the 13-player deal that sent Antoine Walker from the Boston Celtics to the Miami Heat on Aug. 2, 2005, as the largest in NBA history.
Billups would prefer to stay in Denver, but to make him more comfortable about the trade, the Nets are expected to commit to paying him the full $14.2 million he's due next season in the final year of his contract rather than buying him out for just $3.7 million this summer, league sources told Y! Sports' Marc Spears. Billups' agent, Andy Miller, had said Saturday that his client would immediately seek a buyout if he wasn't happy with the trade.
The New York Knicks remain Anthony's preferred destination, but Ujiri has told Knicks president Donnie Walsh that his team doesn't have the assets Denver wants. When Walsh has asked Ujiri to provide him with a list of the Nuggets' desires, whether it be draft picks or specific players from other teams, sources said Ujiri has been unresponsive.
Rose has been the driving force behind bringing Hamilton into the talks, league sources said. Rose also represents Hamilton, and sources said he pushed King to bring the Pistons into trade talks with New Jersey and the Nuggets. Anthony has wanted the Nets to upgrade their roster upon his arrival for him to sign an extension.
"Leon is driving this one," one front-office executive told Yahoo! Sports on Friday night.
With Anthony's agent so heavily involved in brokering particular players in the deal, the Nets are working under a belief that a proposed package to bring them Hamilton and Billups would be sufficient to sell Anthony on joining them over the Knicks.
Rose and William Wesley of CAA have long wanted to get Anthony and another of their clients, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul(notes), to the Nets as the franchise prepares for a move to Brooklyn, N.Y. For now, Rose is pushing hard to get a suitable package together for Denver to get his client off a team he longer wants to play for.
The Record of Hackensack, N.J., first reported that New Jersey had engaged Detroit in the talks on Friday.
Most league executives were uncertain as to why Anthony would believe Billups and Hamilton, ages 34 and 32, respectively, would be tantalizing. Nevertheless, Denver has shown little interest in negotiating a trade with New York and believes Anthony doesn't want to risk free agency this offseason when a new labor agreement could cost him tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money.
As Yahoo! Sports first reported on Dec. 14, the Nets want the chance to use Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov to personally sell Anthony on signing a contract extension.
- Mikhail Prokhorov