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Thursday, December 23, 2010
Mavs' Melo dreams remain big long shot

By Marc Stein

The Mavericks' not-so-secret hopes of forcing their way into the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes and corresponding willingness to trade for him without Melo signing an extension as part of the trade have been addressed numerous times in this cyberspace (here and here) and even on the air in a recent interview on 103.3 FM with Mavs owner Mark Cuban.

The concept, in other words, is hardly new.

The reality for the Mavs, furthermore, is that essentially nothing has changed over the past few weeks with regard to their chances of emerging as a feared factor in the Melo bidding.

The subject nonetheless received a significant (and overstated) amount of national attention this week until things came to deeply sad halt Wednesday, when the Nuggets began to inform teams that Anthony trade talks were being placed on an indefinite hold out of respect to their All-Star forward after the death of his 36-year-old sister caused by a pre-existing medical condition.

The following five-point update is where a variety of trade issues stood from the Mavericks' perspective before the sudden and tragic halt to the Melo trade chase, which is expected to put all Anthony-related discussions on hold until after Christmas:

* The Nuggets, according to sources briefed on the teams' discussions to date, have greeted the Mavericks' inquiries with "nothing but pushback" every time they’ve called to check on the status of Anthony's availability. Reason being: Dallas can't come close to the package the New Jersey Nets can assemble, which includes two probable lottery picks in addition to prized rookie Derrick Favors. One source close to the process says Denver remains "heavily" focused on trying to complete a deal with New Jersey, while New York obviously continues to rank as the other standout team in the Melo chase because the Knicks are overwhelmingly regarded around the league as Anthony’s favored destination. Most GMs agree that, at this point, there is no No. 3 option … Dallas or otherwise.

* There's really only one way that the Melo landscape can change sufficiently for Dallas (or Houston, Charlotte and anyone else willing to "rent" Melo) to get seriously involved: New Jersey would have to pull completely out of the bidding. And that would only happen if Melo tells the Nets face to face that he is refusing to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension as part of an "extend-and-trade," which is what Boston pulled off in July 2007 when it acquired Kevin Garnett from Minnesota and got his signature on a new deal in the process. ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan reported Dec. 12 that Anthony plans to do just that if the Nuggets and Nets finally reach terms on a trade -- which might or might not involve other teams as facilitators -- because of his deep desire to join Amare Stoudemire with the Knicks. The Nets, though, continue to believe that Anthony's stated determination to sign the extension before the next labor deal kicks in (June 30 is the deadline) and the ability of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part owner Jay-Z to sell him on the team's future in Brooklyn will sway him when the time comes.

Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony is a hot commodity, but as it stands, the Nets still have the upper hand if the All-Star gets moved.
* It is generally assumed that the Mavericks' best offer for Melo would feature the expiring contracts of Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, multiple future first-round picks (albeit none of them projected to be in the lottery), $3 million (which is the league max for cash sweeteners) and prized youngster Roddy Beaubois. That, again, will only be enough to get in the game if the Nets pull out and the Nuggets are forced to start seriously looking at trade partners from the "rent-a-player" list, as Cuban described it in his radio interview with 103.3 FM on Nov. 30. Bear in mind, though, that Beaubois' biggest fan in the organization happens to be Cuban. So it should be noted that Cuban giving up on Beaubois for a Melo rental can not be regarded as an automatic surrender without some background work first. The odds would certainly strongly favor Dallas surrendering Beaubois if the talks ever get that far, given how much trouble they've had over the years trying to acquire a second star on Dirk Nowitzki's level. Yet you can rest assured that Mavs officials would want to talk directly with Anthony before pulling the trigger to find out how much of a chance he'd legitimately be willing to give Dallas -- with Nowitzki and Team USA pal Jason Kidd heading the welcoming party -- to win him over long-term during whatever's left of the season after a trade.

* Even the Mavericks' appetite for smaller deals, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, has lessened somewhat thanks to a scorching 23-5 start that has made it Dallas' growing priority to preserve the team's current chemistry. Reserve center Alexis Ajinca, for example, has been available since Dallas acquired him as a throw-in from Charlotte in the Tyson Chandler deal and remains the most likely Mav to be dealt. The Mavs, though, are said to be getting more choosy about what they'd expect in exchange for Ajinca, since there will always be a premium on a still-developing young big man in the NBA.

* You probably won't be surprised to hear that there is essentially no external interest bubbling for Brendan Haywood, given that this is Year 1 on a contract with $41.7 million guaranteed over five years and the swiftness with which Haywood (shooting 25.5 percent from the free-throw line) has fallen behind Tyson Chandler in the Mavs' pecking order. Orlando just proved no one is untradeable with the Rashard Lewis-for-Gilbert Arenas deal, but Haywood is high on the list of trade improbables with so many teams out there averse to taking on long-term contracts when they don't know how restrictive the next collective bargaining agreement will be. I’ve likewise been assured in the strongest terms that Houston, even after losing Yao Ming to a potentially career-ending setback, is not looking at Haywood as a potential replacement and has made that clear to the Mavs, despite what has been reported in some precincts locally. "Less than zero interest" is the way one source with knowledge of the Rockets' thinking jokingly described it. Which is why the similarly reported notion that offering up Haywood could somehow put the Mavs in play for longtime Mavs favorite Kevin Martin -- whom Dallas pursued unsuccessfully last season before the Rockets acquired Martin from Sacramento -- has been politely ignored here.

(PS -- For those of you who love NBA contract minutiae, Haywood’s $10,522,500 salary in 2015-16 is fully unguaranteed as long as he is waived on or before Aug, 1, 2015.)