Saturday February 19th, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- The throng of reporters enveloping Carmelo Anthony's table was easily the biggest in the room, a mass of humanity hanging on to Anthony's every word. Indeed, many of the media members who had descended on the JW Marriott on Friday were there just for Anthony, to hear the Nuggets star weigh in on the latest round of rumors about his future.

The latest, of course, being the full-scale war being waged by the Nets and Knicks for the right to call Anthony their own. On Friday, the Bergen (N.J.) Record reported that the Nets and Nuggets had reached a tentative agreement on a deal that would send Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Melvin Ely and Shelden Williams to New Jersey for rookie Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, Ben Uzoh and four first-round picks -- a trade that was contingent on Anthony agreeing to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with New Jersey. A few hours later, Yahoo! Sports reported that the Knicks had ratcheted up their offer to include Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry and a first-round pick, which the Knicks will acquire from Minnesota in a separate deal for Anthony Randolph.

Despite the reported inclusion of Gallinari in the Knicks package, an NBA source connected to the talks said the Nuggets still prefer the Nets offer, primarily due to the quantity of first-round picks. If Anthony says no to New Jersey, there are no guarantees the Nuggets will simply turn around and deal him to the Knicks, just so they can get something instead of seeing walk in free agency. There is a belief in the Nuggets organization that if the team doesn't deal Anthony before the deadline, Anthony will begrudgingly sign the extension with Denver, a possibility Anthony acknowledged on Friday.

But no matter how many ways Anthony was asked about his future -- and it was a lot -- he didn't offer many clear answers. He refused to declare a preference for either New York or New Jersey ("I love the City of New York and New Jersey," Anthony said). He denied a report that said he was planning to meet with Nets officials this weekend ("I really don't know where that came from," Anthony said) but indicated he was interested in having one.

"I would love to sit down with Mr. Prokhorov or with whatever team that the Denver Nuggets want to send me to," Anthony said. "I would love to sit down and look them in the eye so I can see what the future holds in that situation."

Prokhorov wants that, too. The Russian billionaire will be in Los Angeles this weekend, as will Nets GM Billy King, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to construct yet another trade package. Despite Prokhorov's dramatic and public decision to withdraw from the negotiations for Anthony last month, an NBA source says Prokhorov is eager to meet with Anthony, to finally sit down and sell him on how his money and Anthony's game are going to revive the floundering franchise.

Will it happen? Probably. Prokhorov didn't fly thousands of miles to watch the Skills competition. At some point, in the midst of all the madness, the two men will find a quiet room to have a conversation, and the real bargaining can begin. Despite what has become an obvious desire to play for the Knicks, several rival executives have told SI.com they believe Anthony will ultimately agree to sign a long-term extension with the Nets for the simple reason that, as one executive said, "Anthony is all about the money."

It's true, the one irrefutable fact in the ongoing 'Melo Drama (eight months and counting) is that Anthony is committed to locking himself into a rich new contract before the current collective bargaining agreement expires. The amount of money he could lose when the new CBA kicks in, at least in Anthony's mind, continues to increase. Last month, it was $20 or $30 million. Today, Anthony estimated he could lose "maybe $40 or $50 million."

"Nobody knows what's going to happen with the lockout," Anthony said. "At the end of the day, if I was to sit here and say I'm not thinking about that, I would be lying to you guys. I don't want to go into a lockout [without a contract]. I don't think [any] of the players want to go into a lockout, so I hope that we can just come to an agreement. But that is in the back of my mind."

Is the money worth spending at least the next two years rebuilding in New Jersey? Is it worth going to a franchise that will have stripped away all its assets in a Ricky Williams-type deal just to get him? Anthony's future may be determined by the answer to that question.

Another day, another dose of rumors as the saga of Carmelo Anthony continues to gobble up headlines. One way or another Anthony's future will be resolved by Thursday's trade deadline, which is one of the few facts anyone is sure of.

"The Nuggets have to weigh their options," Anthony said. "If it's a deal with somebody else that's legit, we all have to talk about it. But time is ticking, man, and time is money."

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