Let's pretend you're a marginally popular high-schooler, and you want to go to the prom with a big-deal girl.
You know you're a long shot, for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that she's dead set on going with some other, more popular kid.
One good way to play it is to make sure she knows you're her dream date. Tell her that again and again. It probably won't work. But it's a decent way of maximizing your slim chances. People like to be wanted. And if for some reason she can't get together with that other guy ... you just might charm your way to the top of the list, with your earnestness and your flowers.
What you can't do, if you're the long-shot date, is play it cool and expect everything to work out. You can't play hardball. You can't ignore her and drive her crazy.
Well, the Nets are that marginally popular dude. And I'll be honest, I have been admiring their dedication to Anthony. Through all of this, they have had the best offers, the most love.
People have been asking me why they'd offer the Nuggets so much more than the Knicks can, and I'd say because they have way bigger fish to fry than appeasing the Nuggets' front office. They have to woo Carmelo Anthony. And in that, their posture has been unabashed, full-throated and all-encompassing. No way Anthony could ever let himself think they weren't in his corner.
This saga has been reported throughout largely as a trade story, about what this team will give that one. About appeasing Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke. But that's the smaller hurdle. The bigger one is getting Anthony's signature on a long-term deal. And with that as the challenge, this has always been de facto free agency. The final analysis is about where Anthony will agree to sign his next contract.
Now that Mikhail Prokhorov has been so clear that the Nets are out of the Anthony trade game, it is being interpreted as a sign that the Nets could not reach agreement with the other teams involved. But I suspect the calculus is, instead, that the Nets could not reach agreement with the player.
The moment the Nets lost all faith that Anthony would ever sign, a news conference like Prokhorov's would immediately become a great option. It gives the illusion of control, and acts as a nice show of force -- a way to end the groveling, restore some dignity, and move on with reputation more or less intact.
If, on the other hand, the best intelligence was that Anthony was indeed going to sign an agreement with the Nets, I'm sure they would never have held a news conference like this. It'd be crazy to make a decision with a decade of implications on the basis of a few weeks' more haggling.