What Anthony holds is veto power: The Nuggets have offered him a three-year, $65 million extension that he has refused to sign. Because Denver doesn't want to let him walk next summer as a free agent, the Nuggets are considering potential trades. Built into these ongoing talks is the understanding that most teams won't dare deal for Anthony unless he is willing to extend his contract beyond this summer.
Under these circumstances, while Anthony can't force a move of his choosing, he essentially can't be forced to accept a trade either. That's why I'm guessing his future won't be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, here are five intriguing suitors, based on assets that could become available as this drama moves episodically through training camp and the regular season toward the February trading deadline.
Let's jump to the bottom line: What if the Blazers were to package Greg Oden in an offer for Anthony? It would be a bold change of direction that would ultimately be worthwhile for the Blazers -- they would be exchanging their injured center for one of the top half-dozen players in the league (ranking Anthony in the elite group with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant).
Let's say Denver was able to persuade Portland to offer Oden, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller (who is in his final fully guaranteed year), along with a first-round pick and $3 million cash. The Nuggets could sell their fans on Oden's overwhelming upside and that of Batum as a two-way prospect at small forward.
Oden's health worries everyone, but imagine if he stays healthy. Then the Nuggets have a chance of exploiting a 7-footer whose talents made him the No. 1 pick ahead of Durant in 2007. Trading Oden can make sense for the Blazers in exchange for a contending hierarchy of Anthony, Brandon Roy and LaMarcusAldridge -- all 26 or younger.
Would Anthony be willing to commit long term to Portland? Maybe he doesn't like the idea of moving to a smaller market, but his opinion could change as this story plays out over the weeks and months ahead.
They would offer a deal featuring rookie Derrick Favors, who was the No. 3 pick in the June draft, though the Nuggets will be fully aware that Favors needs time to develop. I'm assuming the Nets won't want to include center BrookLopez, which leaves point guard Devin Harris as the next best asset to fold into a deal for Anthony. But Harris plays the same position as ChaunceyBillups, a local hero from Colorado who will play a crucial ambassadorial role for the Nuggets once Anthony leaves.
The reason I don't see the Nuggets hurrying to trade Anthony is because they aren't going to love any of their options. If a rival presented them with a no-brainer deal that improved Denver's roster, then the Nuggets would pounce. But so many of these rumored offers are pennies-on-the-dollar transactions for Denver, and Anthony has yet to -- and is probably unable to -- drop enough pressure on the Nuggets to rush them into a deal now.
I just can't imagine Denver's new management team of Bret Bearup and MasaiUjiri surrendering Anthony in a panic. More likely is that the Nuggets will start the year with Anthony and see how things progress in hopes of creating a bidding war that will result in a better offer. In the meantime, they can force Anthony to come to camp with the hope of getting him to change his mind about signing that $65 million extension.
The Knicks need Anthony badly after whiffing on LeBron this summer. Plus, they need to prevent Anthony from joining the Nets, who will be moving to Brooklyn in 2012. The problem for the Knicks is that they have so little to offer in a trade -- Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry's expiring $11.3 million contract (plus a 15 percent trade kicker), prospect Anthony Randolph and no draft picks. But they are one of Anthony's preferred choices and they'll be highly motivated to make a deal, so they'll be hoping for two developments: the improvement of Gallinari and Randolph in the early season to raise their value, and the appearance of a third team to help facilitate a trade with the Nuggets.
In the meantime, the Wizards and 76ers will be competing with New York in attempting to bring Anthony back home to the Northeast.
They can offer Kevin Martin as a scorer and the draft picks they picked up from the Knicks last February, along with second-year big man Jordan Hill and other pieces. The Rockets are another trading partner that may grow more attractive over the opening months of the season if Martin, Hill and others thrive while playing alongside a healthy Yao Ming.
The Mavericks should also be able to make a strong offer that could include Caron Butler, Jason Terry (in his last fully guaranteed year) and explosive guard Rodrigue Beaubois.
If it's true that the new ownership is willing to deal anyone but Stephen Curry without any guarantee that Anthony will sign an extension -- as sourced Monday to Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times -- the Warriors have to be in the running. They can package Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins, rookie Ekpe Udoh or even recent sign-and-trade acquisition David Lee. And the Nuggets could make the move without having to worry about Anthony's approval.