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Now what for Carmelo Anthony? Denver?

Jan 19, 2011, 8:43 PM EDT

Cleveland Cavaliers  v Denver Nuggets

A trade between Denver and New Jersey for Carmelo Anthony always made sense — for Denver and New Jersey. Anthony never seemed all that interested, the fact he wanted to meet with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to be sold on the team does not make him sound like a guy who wanted to go there. Meanwhile the drama dragged on and on and on….

Until Wednesday afternoon, when Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov killed it. He told the Nets management to walk away from the deal, that the costs had of making the deal had become too high.

What this sounds like to me is a face-saving deal:

Anthony never really wanted to go to New Jersey, but Anthony does not like to play the bad guy (as Alan Hahn of Newsday noted). By handling it this way Prokhorov gets to keep some dignity. This way, he’s the one doing the breaking up, not the one getting dumped. He gets to sound like the hard a– Russian rather than the guy who could not win the free agent again (he had enough of that last summer).

So now what? Who is left to chase ‘Melo?

Here is a list of teams where Carmelo Anthony may land:

• The New York Knicks. Knicks fans, come on down, you’re the next contestants on “Is The Price Right for Denver?” As distasteful as it may be for the Nuggets front office, this may be the best deal they can get. Especially if New York is the only place that Anthony will sign an extension.

If Knicks GM Donnie Walsh can trade Anthony Randolph for a 2012 first round pick (as is expected), then the rules allow them to trade their 2011 and 2013 first round picks (even though they did not have a 2010 pick). The package likely would be something like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, the body and expiring contract of Eddy Curry, and a first-round pick or two.

The Nuggets were right to like a deal that involved Derrick Favors more, but this gets them a couple of quality players, a couple picks and payroll savings next year. That’s not terrible.

• The New Jersey Nets… Prokhorov was bluffing. It doesn’t seem likely, but it a possibility. If Anthony was willing to go to the Nets but the Nuggets kept pushing and overplayed their hand — “You have to take Renaldo Balkman or the deal is off!” — this is the way to call that bluff. Make the Nuggets accept your terms, which is still better than any other offer. And it could happen, in a couple of weeks the Nuggets might call the Nets back and accept lesser terms.

Of course, this theory depends on Anthony actually wanting to go to New Jersey. Wanting it bad enough that this stunt doesn’t frighten him off. Yes, that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet the kids’ college fund on it.

• The Chicago Bulls. They were in the bidding last summer but pulled out. However CAA power broker William Wesley is reportedly headed to Chicago to try and convince them to get back in the game. The Bulls might be willing to talk but they have no incentive to up the offer from the Luol Deng based one the Nuggets already soundly rejected. The Bulls are not about to give up Joakim Noah, especially not now. It would be quite a loss of face for Denver to come crawling back to this deal.

• The Denver Nuggets: They could play hardball. They could dare Carmelo Anthony to not sign the three-year, $65 million extension on the table and take his chances as a free agent under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Basically, call his bluff. See if he’s willing to lose $10 million or more. Anthony has said he wants to sign an extension and have a deal under this CBA, he’s comfortable in Denver, so maybe he’ll cave.

Not likely. He’s still gong to make at least $50 million on a new deal wherever it is, which should be enough to live on. If he wants out, he wants out. This strategy also carries big risks for Denver — if he does leave as a free agent the Nuggets get nothing in return. They are Cleveland or Toronto. That seems too big a risk, they need to get something back for losing their star.

• The Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban has said he wants to get in on the bidding if it comes to “rent-a-Melo.” And by rent-a-Melo we mean Dallas doesn’t care if he signs the extension or not, they would be happy to rent him for the remainder of this season to try and win a title.

Denver could get an up-and-coming young player like Rodrigue Beaubois and save money on the expiring deal of Caron Butler (who is already out for the year with knee surgery). Dallas would also have to send picks and other players. It’s really not as good as what the Knicks can offer, but if you want to spite the Knicks and Melo…

• The Rockets: They have wanted to step in as part of the rent-a-Melo portion of the bidding as well (giving them the chance to woo him for the long term). The Rockets have Yao Ming’s expiring contract, a lot of good role players — Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and others — and have a pick or two to send. But right now they are well out of the playoffs and bringing in Anthony means they likely only move up the seven seed at best, to face a team like the Lakers or Mavericks in the first round. Is that worth what would be given up?

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