Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's stunning declaration that he is pulling out of the trade negotiations for Carmelo Anthony was a tremendous play in this months-long game of poker. Either Prokhorov is trying to lower the price while forcing the Nuggets to trade Anthony on New Jersey's terms, or else he truly has decided that Anthony is no longer the lovely prize he appeared to be in September, when the Nets first believed they could acquire him.
In either case, the Knicks now appear to be back in play for Anthony. Since August, New York and Chicago have been known to be the two places Anthony would be willing to commit to long term.
Here's the other factor: Last week Anthony told SI that his goal is to sign a three-year, $65 million extension before July, when the expiring collective bargaining agreement gives way to the anticipated era of smaller salaries and shortened contracts.
So where does this leave the Nuggets?
They can continue to pursue a deal with the Nets, though it will be on New Jersey's terms now that Prokhorov has decided he's had enough.
They can go back to the Knicks and Bulls to see what the terms would be on a trade for Anthony.
They can trade him to any of the several teams that have shown interest in acquiring Anthony on a for-rental basis, which would leave Anthony at the mercy of his new employer and put him at risk of being a free agent during the long anticipated months of the upcoming lockout. If a "franchise tag'' becomes part of the next CBA -- and this is all guesswork, because no one but no one knows exactly what the new rules will be -- then his rights could be held by his new team, a team not of choosing, indefinitely.
Two other options exist for Denver. The Nuggets could do nothing for the time being. They could hold onto Anthony, make the playoffs with him and Chauncey Billups (who was expected to join Anthony in the reported blockbuster deal to New Jersey) and then move Anthony during the trading window around the draft. At that time Anthony would still be eligible for a sign-and-trade under the current rules.
The last option would be for Anthony to relent and sign the three-year, $65 million extension offered to him by Denver. This would be difficult for all sides to swallow, including fans of the Nuggets who for months have been hearing reports that Anthony wants out.
But in my interview with Anthony last week, he never explicitly ruled out re-signing with the Nuggets, and he and his agent, Leon Rose, have worked to maintain a decent relationship with the team. To repeat: Anthony has acknowledged that signing the $65 million extension is his goal. If the Nuggets refuse to send him to New York or Chicago because they don't like what they're receiving in the exchange, and if Anthony doesn't like the identity of the team that is offering Denver the best trade on a rental basis, then what's to stop him from re-signing with the only team he has known? Because if he doesn't sign the $65 million extension before July, he will never be able to sign it thereafter.