When the Nuggets agreed to send Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks late Monday night, it was the result of months of wrangling over an appropriate price for Denver’s All Star forward.
With this monumental trade, the Nuggets’ brand new front office proved its negotiating chops versus some stout veteran competition.
For weeks, it appeared that the Knicks had the upper hand.
New York had pared down its offer substantially since trade talks fell apart early in the season. Once word spread that Melo would only sign a contract extension with the Knicks, New York figured they could either land Anthony for a token sum now or wait for free agency this summer.
Suddenly the Nuggets were left scrambling to find a reasonable offer for Carmelo. Even many proposals to rent Anthony for the remainder of this season looked better than New York’s paltry offering. The Knicks took promising young Italian forward Danilo Gallinari off the table, swore they would not include 7-foot center Timofey Mozgov, and claimed that the Nuggets must choose between forward Wilson Chandler and guard Raymond Felton.
In the end, Denver landed all of the above plus draft picks and cash for Anthony, giving up Chauncey Billups and a pile of throw-in bench warmers in the process.
Mitigating circumstances drove the Knicks to slowly increase their offer until the Nuggets figured they could get not a single drop more from the trade.
First, there was the looming specter of the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Aside from guaranteeing that Carmelo would not get paid anywhere lose to as much as a 2011 free agent, the next CBA could also include a Franchise Tag stipulation that would have allowed the Nuggets to keep Melo despite the early-exit clause in his current contract. Anthony decided he wanted to get paid now, a frugal move that put the pressure on the Knicks to make sure a deal happened before the February 24th Trade Deadline.
Second, the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets jumped back into negotiations with Denver last week with a shocking vigor.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov had sworn off negotiations with the Nuggets in January, but saw clear to reinvigorating trade talks just prior to All Star Weekend in LA. That gave the Nets a chance to feel out Melo’s willingness to sign an extension with Jersey. More importantly, though, it forced the trade bar much higher and pressured the Knicks into bending to Denver’s demands.
Third, the Knicks recent struggles (they have struggled to stay above .500 for weeks) left New York ablaze with criticism.
The rabid New York media was ready to crucify the entire Kicks organization, starting with GM Donnie Walsh, if Carmelo did not end up in NYC. Walsh was in a contract year himself, and likely needed to complete this deal to keep his job through 2012.
It looks like a Denver Nuggets front office that was overhauled in 2010 made out like bandits in 2011. Ownership that recently transferred generations down to young Josh Kroenke from father Stan avoided the embarrassment witnessed in Cleveland after Lebron’s fruitless departure.
Now Nuggets ownership and management alike can look forward to rebuilding their team around a host of promising young players that have a chance to gel and flourish under veteran head coach George Karl in Denver.
Certainly, the Nuggets lost any chance they had of competing for a Championship now, and Carmelo Anthony is a rare NBA talent. But the Longview right now reveals a Knicks squad destined to underwhelm its critics, and a Nuggets organization perfectly positioned to deal with the chaos that a potential labor stoppage and an uncertain new CBA is promising to bring.