Nets remain optimistic of landing ’Melo

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento Kings guard Pooh Jeter(notes) raced in for an uncontested layup, and it was clear Carmelo Anthony(notes) had seen enough. With his Denver Nuggets headed for a 20-point loss to one of the NBA’s worst teams – a loss he would later call “embarrassing” – Anthony slowly shook his head as he simmered on the bench. Even after the game’s final buzzer sounded and his teammates filed to the locker room, Anthony continued to sit. Not until an Arco Arena worker began removing seat covers from the chairs lining the Nuggets’ bench did Anthony finally stand up and make the slow walk off the court.

If the Nuggets still have faint hope of convincing Anthony to take their three-year, $64 million contract extension, they’re not making a good sales pitch. Not after they followed an embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a listless performance against the Kings – one that was televised nationally.

“My mind is just…” Anthony told Yahoo! Sports after the game, his frustration never more evident.

After a night like this, it’s easy to see why the New Jersey Nets have grown more and more optimistic that Anthony will eventually wear their jersey.

Anthony hasn’t wavered from his desire to be traded, and while he’s always preferred to be sent to either the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, it’s the Nets who have the most attractive assets to land him. The Nets remain confident that Anthony will sign a contract extension with them after a trade is agreed upon, league sources said. In fact, one source said, the Nets wouldn’t still be engaged in trade talks with the Nuggets if they didn’t believe they could keep Anthony past this season.

Only the Nuggets’ patience to find the best offer for Anthony – and their diligence in trying to convince him to change his mind and stay – has held up a trade. Still, Nuggets officials Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke also are realistic and know the Nets can offer draft picks, young talent and payroll savings, all of which they covet.

The Nets could send improving rookie forward Derrick Favors(notes), the expiring contract of forward Troy Murphy(notes) and three first-round picks for Anthony and another player or two (possibly forward Al Harrington(notes)) in a straight-up trade between the two teams. Such a trade would leave center Brook Lopez(notes) and guard Devin Harris(notes) on New Jersey’s roster, giving Anthony some talent around him as the Nets continue to build. And if the Nets land Anthony, don’t be surprised if they turn their sights to New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul(notes) in hopes of bringing the two superstars to Brooklyn in 2012.

Efforts to get a third team involved like the Cleveland Cavaliers (who own a trade exception), the Minnesota Timberwolves (who have been offered Murphy) or the Portland Trail Blazers (whose young forward, Nicolas Batum(notes), is coveted by the Nuggets) have so far proved fruitless, but that could change. Seven weeks remain before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but with each day that passes the pressure grows for the Nuggets to find a deal that offers fair return for their franchise forward.

“It is all on Denver. They will trade him or lose him,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “There is no gray area.”

New Jersey also doesn’t appear to have much competition. The Nuggets have shown little interest in any of the players the Knicks have made available, including forwards Danilo Gallinari(notes) and Wilson Chandler(notes), a league source said. The Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets also have inquired about Anthony – and the Dallas Mavericks could always emerge as a suitor – but none of them can offer the type of package the Nets can. One league source the Rockets are “strongly” interested in Anthony and are willing to put together a variety of proposals to bid for him, but the Nuggets haven’t really engaged them.

“Denver seems focused on the Nets,” one Western Conference executive said.

The Nuggets entered the weekend in seventh place in the Western Conference and have gone 3-4 without Anthony this season. Coach George Karl said the team has played “surprisingly well at times” in Anthony’s absence, and still believes the playoffs are possible without him.

“I think we’d be in the fight,” Karl said. “Yeah, I would bet on us.”

Anthony’s uncertain future has hung over the Nuggets all season, and it’s never more evident than on nights like their loss to the Kings. “Do I want it to drag on, probably not,” Karl said. “But I also don’t think it will. I think something will get done. I think the ’Melo thing still has to be [the front office’s] priority, and I respect that.”

Long after all his teammates had showered and dressed, Anthony sat speechless in the visitors’ locker room, wearing a robe. He looked at what was left of the team’s postgame buffet, then said he had lost his appetite.

“I don’t really know what to say right now,” Anthony said. “We ain’t playing hard. That’s all. We just got to man up and compete. That’s my frustration. We ain’t playing hard.”

Hornets to San Jose?

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison confirmed this week he tried to buy the New Orleans Hornets from outgoing owner George Shinn, but was rebuffed. One league source said Shinn turned down the offer because he thought Ellison intended to move the franchise to San Jose, Calif., and instead wanted to find a buyer committed to keeping it in New Orleans.

The source said Shinn tried to sell the Hornets to minority owner Gary Chouset for less than Ellison’s offer before agreeing to sell the franchise to the NBA for $300 million. Yahoo! Sports first reported on Dec. 3 that Ellison – whose bid to buy the Golden State Warriors also failed – had conversations with the Hornets and was interested in moving a team to San Jose.

That, however, doesn’t mean the Hornets are destined to stay in New Orleans. The team needs to average 14,900 fans over its next five home games to avoid triggering an attendance benchmark that would allow it to break its lease with New Orleans Arena – making the franchise more attractive to potential buyers who want to move it.

Local businesses have aided the Hornets’ cause by buying more than 80,000 tickets recently and team officials are “optimistic” they’ll meet the necessary goal, but it’s not a given.

Forbes reported this week that the Warriors could stand to make $100 million to $150 million if another team moved to San Jose, but a league source disputed that figure. Relocation fees are shared equally among all of the league’s franchises unless the board of governors voted to make a special exception and awarded the Warriors a larger share.

The Warriors are expected to eventually seek a move to San Francisco, a franchise source said, and would likely fight another franchise’s attempt to move into the market.

Smooth sailing for Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers entered Dec. 13 with a 5-20 record and looked headed for another lost season. Clippers owner Donald Sterling had even taken to heckling Baron Davis(notes) and some of the team’s other players.

Since then, however, the franchise has begun to show some life. The Clippers entered the weekend having won six of their past 10 games and their last three losses have been by an average of just 4.3 points. Rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes) and guard Eric Gordon(notes) have played consistently all season, but Clippers first-year coach Vinny Del Negro also credited the team’s improved defense and better play from Davis and center DeAndre Jordan(notes), who has assumed a bigger role with Chris Kaman(notes) sidelined.

“We’ve had some luck now lately with some guys missing some free throws and the ball bouncing our way a little bit,” Del Negro said. “If you stay with it, it usually evens out as the season goes on. Hopefully, we will keep continuing to work and improve. We have a lot of areas to improve with the youth on our roster.”

Should the rest of the NBA start to worry about the Clippers now?

“Tell me their weakness right now,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team became a recent victim of the Clippers. “Their big guys are playing as well as anybody in the NBA right now. I think Baron has got into a groove of running the team and not worrying about scoring points. Gordon is playing at a high level at the two-guard position and their bench is playing.

“It’s going to be a very difficult win on their home court. It’s going to take time for them to win on the road, but at their building right now they’re an exciting team. The crowd kind of likes how they play and they love to dunk it and know how to dunk it.”

K-Mart puzzled by dunk field

The way Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin(notes) sees it, the NBA should just give Blake Griffin the trophy for the All-Star dunk contest right now. Martin isn’t too impressed by the other three contestants: Washington center JaVale McGee(notes), injured Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings(notes) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka(notes).

Martin thinks Houston Rockets guard Terrence Williams(notes) and Toronto Raptors guard Sonny Weems(notes) would have been better picks.

“Serge Ibaka, Brandon Jennings, JaVale McGee? C’mon man,” Martin said. “For real? Ibaka, really? You couldn’t find nobody else to be in the dunk contest? C’mon man.”


Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) returns to Phoenix Friday for the first time since signing with the New York Knicks, and it’s no secret the Suns have missed the All-Star forward. "He is playing great,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said via text. “He is still very much respected and liked around here. He made a decision that he felt was best for him and every one in our organization respects that. He is playing like a MVP right now.” –The Timberwolves are considering using their cap space to add some young talent before the trade deadline. Knicks forward Anthony Randolph(notes) is one possible target. …Don’t be surprised if the Warriors make a run at injured Houston Rockets center Yao Ming(notes) after he becomes a free agent this summer. While Yao is expected to be out as long as 10 months after undergoing ankle surgery, the Warriors have long wanted to add him to help boost their profile in the area’s Asian community. Seldom-used rookie guard Jeremy Lin(notes) is nearly as popular as Stephen Curry(notes) and Monta Ellis(notes). The Warriors would jump at signing Yao for a reasonable price. …The Players’ Association has been telling players to save their money for a lockout that could last until January, a source said. …Seldom-used Rockets forward Jared Jeffries(notes) and Timberwolves guard Sebastian Telfair(notes) are both hoping to get buyouts, sources said. Houston and Minnesota, however, would rather find a trade for the players before the deadline.