The good news for Nuggets fans is that Denver has offered All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony a three-year, $65 million contract extension.
The bad news is that he has almost a year to sign it.
And you thought the courtship of LeBron James was protracted?
With this scenario, every little thing that happens in Anthony's sphere will be scrutinized in terms of what it means for his taking or rejecting the offer -- and, by extension, what that means the Nuggets are thinking about the potential of dealing him if he indeed does not want to stay.
But, really, unless the Nuggets become frustrated by Anthony's failure to commit and set a hard deadline for a decision, there is no reason for him to immediately accept the offer. In effect, he knows he has $65 million in his pocket. Why not wait to see if things can get better? And that does not have to mean strictly financial terms, either -- though that's usually the decisive factor.
For instance, coach George Karl just went through a draining ordeal in his battle against cancer. Though Karl said he plans to return next season under the one-year contract he signed in February, there are no assurances that he will be in place beyond 2010-11. If Anthony signs the contract now, locking himself in for four years and removing his right to opt out after next season, he essentially eliminates any voice he may have in the possible hiring of a new coach.
"If this summer is proving anything, the players are seeing now more than ever that they have leverage to effect change with an organization," said one front-office source who asked to remain anonymous because he is not affiliated with the Nuggets. "As soon as he signs an extension, he loses his leverage."
That extends to roster-building as well, and Denver's window of opportunity is rapidly closing with an aging team that has big money committed at several positions for next season beyond the $17.1 million for Anthony. Power forward Kenyon Martin, whose knee continues to be bothersome (he played only 58 games last season) and whose offensive production has slipped in each of the past three years, will make $16.5 million. Point guard Chauncey Billups, who will be 34 at the beginning of next season, will receive $13.1 million. And center Nene will be paid $11.3 million.
It will be an interesting year for Denver, which lost Utah in the first round of the playoffs last season. If it wants to reshape its roster, it could trade Martin to a team seeking cap relief for the following summer of free agency in exchange for a player who could provide an immediate upgrade. The team has an option on Billups' contract for 2011, so he also is a movable asset. And shooting guard J.R. Smith is in the final year of his deal, too, worth $6.8 million.
The Nuggets also could let all of those contracts expire and go into the summer of uncertainty flush with enough cash to add some pieces around Anthony. Of course, nobody knows exactly what that means because the collective bargaining expires after next season and there has been no meaningful negotiations yet. Everything is supposition based on rhetoric from the league and the owners' initial proposal (which was quickly rejected by the union) in January that included the elimination of fully guaranteed contracts and the reduction in player salaries.
The assumption is that any deal will be worse for the players, and that the huge contracts being offered to this summer's top free agents will be a distant memory. But there is a feeling among some involved in the process that a new collective bargaining agreement may actually benefit a player such as Anthony -- that the likes of Anthony, James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are the driving forces behind the league's popularity and should be compensated more.
"There is definitely an understanding that the real glamour players -- the top 10, 12, 14 guys -- should be entitled to more, and that money is going to come from the middle-class guys who are being woefully overpaid," the source said.
Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. But if Anthony signed his extension now, he'd never really know if that possibility will be a part of the upcoming discussion.
Though the Nuggets recently said they will not trade Anthony regardless of what happens with his extension, the longer he waits the more calls Denver will get -- if they haven't come in already, especially from teams with cap space that fail to land one of the star free agents.
There is one other piece of this equation for Anthony that is not quantifiable but has to be appealing on some level. The Big Three free agents this summer have become the center of the sporting universe, their every move examined, their every word parsed for some clue about their decision. LeBron, for all of the buzz he generates, has had to share the stage with Wade and Chris Bosh. Anthony could have the attention to himself if he waits until next summer.
"He has to be looking at what is going on right now and thinking, 'I'm missing out on all the fun,' " the source said.