1. The Knicks aren't in the driver's seat ... yet. Their offer doesn't compare to the wealth of assets being dangled by the Nets, who are said to be offering the Nuggets a package built around four draft picks and rookie power forward Derrick Favors, the No. 3 choice in last year's draft. The Knicks are, however, moving within range of making a deal.
When Anthony requested a trade last August to either the Bulls or the Knicks, the Nuggets rejected the idea of moving him to New York because the Knicks lacked assets that were complementary to Denver's needs. But a comparison of the two offers puts the Knicks' package in a more competitive light.
The Nets are dangling four draft picks assembled from a variety of sources, but what will be the ultimate value of those players? This year, the draft is lacking in potential stars, which diminishes the value of New Jersey's pick this June, even if it remains in the lottery. The pick originally held by the Warriors is protected through No. 7 over the next two years before it turns into a couple of second-rounders. The pick originally held by the Rockets is protected through No. 18, and the pick originally held by the Lakers will be at the bottom of the first round.
Now look at the offer being assembled by the Knicks: small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, point guard Raymond Felton, the expiring contract of Eddy Curry and a first-round draft pick (to be gained in a separate move for Knicks' prospect Anthony Randolph). Will Denver be able to find anyone in the current draft who is as good as 22-year-old Gallinari? How many small forwards in the West have better upside than 6-8 Chandler, who is 23?
Felton would become an asset with a trade value probably equal to that of Devin Harris, who would come to Denver if the Nuggets were to deal Anthony to New Jersey. The Nuggets would look to move either Felton or Harris because they view Ty Lawson as their quarterback for the future.
A trade with New Jersey would put the Nuggets on a patient, long-term course to rebuild with draft picks and Favors. If they were to make the trade with the Knicks, they would be speeding up the rebuilding process with young players already enriched with NBA experience.
As the competing deals stand today, my understanding is the Nuggets have indeed reached agreement on the terms of a trade with New Jersey. If the Knicks don't improve their offer, then they'll leave Denver with an easy decision to send Anthony to the Nets.
Because the Knicks lack draft picks after trading them last season to Houston in exchange for cap space that went unused last summer, they need to find a way to offer enough prospects that would compete with the number of players the Nuggets will ultimately acquire from New Jersey. If the Knicks improve their offer over the next couple of days, they'll leave Denver with a difficult choice to make between the two bids.
2. Are the Knicks giving up too much for Anthony? If it's true that owner James Dolan is responsible for urging Knicks' president Donnie Walsh to include Gallinari and Felton in their latest trade proposal for Anthony, then Knicks fans ought to be grateful.
Yahoo! Sports reported the Knicks would send Gallinari, Felton, Chandler, Curry and the draft pick to Denver for Anthony, Billups, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman. Look at this from New York's side: Curry is an expiring contract with no future in New York, and Chandler would have to be renounced by the Knicks if they were to sign Anthony as a free agent this summer -- which means Chandler has no future with New York either way.
Felton would be exchanged for Billups, which is essentially a wash. Felton, 26, was signed to a two-year deal as a short-term solution for the Knicks; he'll be replaced by the 34-year-old Billups, who is also a short-term solution. Of course, Felton is a better fit for coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense, but was Felton ever viewed as the long-term answer at point guard for New York? All we've been hearing is that Chris Paul or Deron Williams would next arrive in 2012 as a third star alongside Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. So it's fair to consider Felton and Billups as a swap of point guards without long-term impact.
Boil it all down and the Knicks essentially would be surrendering Gallinari and a draft pick for Anthony. If the Knicks lose the race to acquire Anthony, then fans in New York may be asking why New York wasn't willing to upgrade its offer by including end-of-the-bench talent in exchange for one of the league's top stars.
3. Anthony doesn't have leverage. Everyone knows he wants to play for the Knicks, dating back to his August meeting with the Nuggets in which he requested a preseason trade to either New York or Chicago.
As much as Anthony would like to become a Knick, he isn't being stubborn or shortsighted in his pursuit. On the contrary, he told me last month that he was fully aware of the potential changes in the next collective bargaining agreement. When commissioner David Stern revealed Saturday that a "franchise tag" could be negotiated into the next CBA, that news was no surprise to Anthony. If he doesn't sign a three-year, $65 million extension under the current rules and instead decides to become a free agent in July, Anthony knows very well that he could not only sacrifice tens of millions of dollars, but he could also lose his right to move as a free agent should he be "franchised" this offseason. He could wind up with less money and zero freedom.
This is why he hasn't played hardball. He can't tell the Nuggets he's only willing to sign an extension with New York because everyone knows it isn't true. He can't force a trade to the Knicks because the potential circumstances of the next CBA make it too easy to call his bluff.
If the Nuggets tell Anthony on the morning of the Feb. 24 deadline that he is being traded to the Nets, then he can be expected to sign the $65 million extension with New Jersey. What other option will he have?
4. Anthony isn't the villain. Yes, he asked to be traded by Denver last August, in part because he wanted the $65 million extension with a team of his choosing.
But Anthony also did the Nuggets an enormous favor. Unlike the Cavaliers or Raptors, who are a combined 25-87 since LeBron James and Chris Bosh departed as unrestricted free agents last summer, the Nuggets have been given an opportunity to retrieve value in return.
If the Nuggets pull off this deal with the Nets, it could become a lesser version of the Herschel Walker trade that turned the Cowboys into eventual NFL champions. Those draft picks from New Jersey will fast-track the Nuggets' turnaround, and the Nuggets will have them because Anthony has maintained a working relationship with them despite the pressures of this ongoing 'Melo-drama. The Nuggets are helping him to sign an extension under the current CBA with a new team, and he is in effect helping them to rebuild in his absence.