’Melo will signal opening of trade market

Like teammate Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets center Nene is wondering about his future

By next Thursday, if not much sooner, the world will finally learn whether Carmelo Anthony(notes) will join the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets or stay in the Mile High City. Because so many players could be involved in a potential deal for Anthony, other possible trades have been held up.

“He’s the big domino,” one NBA general manager said.

But while Anthony is the marquee attraction on this season’s trade market, he’s far from the only player who could be moved before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. Here are a few other names to watch.

Nene, C, Denver Nuggets: While resolving Anthony’s future is the Nuggets’ primary focus, they also have yet to offer their center a contract extension. Like Anthony, Nene can opt out of the last year of his deal and become a free agent this summer.

What isn’t like Anthony: Nene wants to stay in Denver. His wife is from Colorado and the couple is expecting their first child in June.

“I’ve been there for nine years and I’d prefer to be there,” Nene said. “But I can’t guarantee my future. It’s hard. My wife is pregnant. All the family and friends are there.”

Nene is averaging a career-high 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and has attracted interest from the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. The Miami Heat also have long coveted him, but might have to try to get creative to sign him if he becomes a free agent.

Boris Diaw(notes), F, Charlotte Bobcats: Everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Bobcats. Charlotte would like to move Stephen Jackson(notes), but league source said the team hasn’t found a willing suitor. The Bobcats also have become more enamored with point guard D.J. Augustin(notes), whose play has improved under coach Paul Silas.

That leaves Diaw as a likely target. The steady play of veteran forward Eduardo Najera(notes) has made Diaw expendable. Diaw is making $9 million this season and has a player option for another $9 million.

“The Bobcats want to change their team a bit,” one NBA GM said. Anthony Randolph(notes), F, New York Knicks: Anthony has a strong chance of being moved before the deadline, league sources said. The Rockets, Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves have all shown interest in him and the Knicks figure to trade him if they need a first-round pick for a deal with the Nuggets’ Anthony.

Considered a bright prospect for the Golden State Warriors as recently as a year ago, Randolph hasn’t been able to crack the Knicks’ rotation.

“I’m focused on working hard and I am doing everything in my power to get on the floor here,” Randolph said.

Aaron Brooks(notes), PG, Houston Rockets: Brooks has been hoping for a new contract after being named the league’s Most Improved Player last season, and likely wouldn’t mind a trade.

“Brooks wants to get paid, but the Rockets don’t want to pay him before the new CBA is released,” one NBA assistant GM said. “You won’t get equal value for Aaron now because of his [$2 million] salary.”

The Rockets would also like to move one of their many swingmen, possibly forward Shane Battier(notes). Forward Jared Jeffries(notes) could also be used in a trade or buyout. One league source said Yao Ming(notes), who is making $17.6 million in the last year of his deal, isn’t expected to be dealt.

Marvin Williams(notes), F, Atlanta Hawks: Two NBA general managers said the Hawks are shopping Williams. Williams, however, has $16.8 million guaranteed through next season and a team option of $8.8 million for the 2012-13 season.

Rasual Butler(notes), F, Los Angeles Clippers: Butler is hoping for a fresh start after playing sparingly for the Clippers this season, a league source said. The Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Nets are interested in the long-range shooter. Butler is making $2.4 million in the final year of his contract.

Troy Murphy(notes), F, New Jersey Nets: The veteran Nets big man has been in coach Avery Johnson’s doghouse all season and hasn’t played since Jan. 7. For a team looking to dump salary – or for the Nuggets in an Anthony deal – Murphy has an attractive $12 million expiring contract. He also will be attractive to playoff contenders needing another dependable shooter.

If Murphy is waived, the New Orleans Hornets will likely be among several teams interested in signing him.

Richard Hamilton(notes), G, Detroit Pistons: It’s no secret that Hamilton wants out and the Pistons want to grant his wish. The problem: He’s due $12.5 million next season and at least $9 million the season after.

If the Pistons somehow reached a buyout agreement with Hamilton and waived him, the Boston Celtics would have interest in signing him. As for a trade?

“Teams that can absorb his salary are asking for a lot,” one league executive said.

Ron Artest(notes), F, Los Angeles Lakers: Artest’s antics and disappointing play have the Lakers hoping to trade him, league executives said. His contract, which guarantees him at least $14 million in the two seasons after this, will make that difficult, if not impossible. Artest also has a 15 percent trade kicker in his contract.

Andre Miller(notes), PG, Portland Trail Blazers: Miller has long been linked to the Nets in a potential swap for younger point guard Devin Harris(notes). A source said the Cleveland Cavaliers are also interested in acquiring Miller for guard Mo Williams(notes), but Portland isn’t hot on that deal.

Miller is making $7.2 million this season and has a $7.8 million team option for next season.

Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez(notes) also has been mentioned in the possible Miller-for-Harris deal. After initially hoping the Blazers would trade him this season, Fernandez now wants to stay in Portland.

“He’s over his emotional issues with Portland, has produced this season and is very comfortable now,” said Fernandez’s agent, Andy Miller. :He has no intention of leaving Portland and will go back home [to Spain] if traded.”

Will NBA stars play overseas?

Kobe Bryant(notes), Chris Paul(notes) and Stephen Curry(notes) have all said they would consider playing overseas if a lockout cuts into next season. But one European agent doubts whether foreign teams will be willing to pay enough to lure an NBA star.

Obrad Fimic said the market price for an NBA star in Europe, which has weathered its own economic downturn, is about $4 million for marquee franchises like Turkey’s Efes Pilsen and Fenerbace Ulker, Russia’s CSKA Moscow, Spain’s Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Tau Vitoria and maybe Greece’s Panathinaikos and Olympiakos. That’s far short of the $25 million Bryant earns this season.

Fimic said reports that stars like Bryant and LeBron James(notes) will command salaries of more than $15 million per season overseas are laughable.

“Let’s not forget the No. 1 sport in Europe is soccer,” said Fimic, who has sent close to 20 NBA players overseas the past seven years. “So teams in basketball don’t make that much money in marketing to make profits out of big-time players.

“I don’t believe it unless there is some crazy, rich guy whose kids love [NBA stars]. But I don’t believe it will be realistic because it won’t pay them back. They buy soccer players for 50 million Euro, but they know they’re going to sell a million shirts and uniforms for 50 million. So they’re getting paid by jersey [sales]. Basketball, that’s not the case. I’m not optimistic that Kobe Bryant or LeBron James will play in Europe.”

While European teams pay for lodging and food, and provide cars to their players, they method of travel is often far less luxurious than the charter jets NBA players are accustomed to. European teams also have been known to practice twice a day and some of them have reputations for paying their players late. Golden State Warriors guard Reggie Williams(notes) and Phoenix Suns forward Josh Childress(notes) said they were still owed money from their European teams when they returned to the United State, and Williams still hasn’t been paid. Neither player is interested in playing overseas again.

Fimic expects a bigger market overseas for NBA role players who could make about $1.5 million. One key NBA reserve for a title contender who will be a free agent said he would only go overseas if he’s guaranteed of making at least $3 million. Fimic says one potential road block is FIBA could support NBA commissioner David Stern in making it difficult for players with contracts to play for FIBA-governed teams. One source, however, said players’ union president Billy Hunter has told players he believes he can get them cleared to play overseas.

“The problem with a lot of NBA guys in Europe is they‘re curious, they want to play one year and then go back to NBA,” Fimic said. “Right away it brings confusion within the team and a bad situation for the coaches or GMs. How are the other players supposed to feel if they talk openly that they are just here to make a step back to NBA? I’ve talked to a lot of coaches who are afraid to take NBA guys to play in Europe.”

Paul has one other option if the NBA enters a lengthy lockout.

“I’ll go back to school,” he said. “I’m not too far away. Depending on how far that lockout is I might have a chance to finish.”

West’s contract dilemma

Many players would prefer to sign an extension to their existing contract rather than face free agency this summer with the uncertainty of a new labor agreement.

Not David West(notes).

West’s contract is structured in such a way that it makes sense for him to risk becoming a free agent because his annual salary descends next season. West made $9 million last season, is making $8.2 million this season and has a player option for $7.5 million next season. Based on the maximum raise he can receive, West would likely stand to make less in the first year of his extension – not to mention the $7.5 million last year of his current deal – than he likely can by signing a new contract, even with the risks of a new CBA.

“Obviously, from a business standpoint it’s not a good decision for myself to lock into an option just because of the way the contract ended,” West said. “…That’s fine. I don’t mind the way it happened. We did that because there were some things we needed to do in order to get some guys in here.”

The Hornets aren’t expected to trade West before the Feb. 24 deadline and remain optimistic they can re-sign him whenever a new labor agreement is reached. West said he likes the Hornets’ direction under new general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams.

Demps “has been very open, very honest in a lot of the conversations that we’ve had,” West said. “That’s something that‘s new for me. There is nothing out there we haven’t talked about.”

Dunk contest sleeper

While Blake Griffin(notes) is the odds-on favorite to win the dunk contest, don’t overlook Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka(notes).

Ibaka won the Spanish ACB League dunk contest two years ago. The 6-foot-10 forward’s two highlight dunks included one from the free-throw line and another where he bounced the ball off the back of the glass from the baseline, grabbed the rebound and dunked with two hands.

Ibaka said he will likely try to again dunk from the free-throw line at Saturday’s event at Staples Center. He also told fans to expect a “show.”

“Not a lot of people know about me,” Ibaka said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. Why not surprise them?”