A key potential piece of the Carmelo Anthony trade puzzle will be in action tonight, and we're not talking about anybody who will be playing for the Denver Nuggets or the New York Knicks (or the New Jersey Nets, for that matter, who will not be playing as they travel to Phoenix).
That player is Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, who has been on the periphery of the MeloDrama reports for weeks -- and for good reason: Sources say he is one of the main players the Denver Nuggets want to ultimately land if/when they finally decide what they are going to do with Anthony.
The Nuggets are by no means the only NBA team with interest in Batum, a 22-year-old small forward from France averaging 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds. But the Nuggets could have the means to acquire him if their talks with the New Jersey Nets ever come to fruition, because the Trail Blazers would only consider trading Batum if they were getting back a comparable player plus a likely lottery pick, and the Nets have offered their own No. 1 pick (along with different combinations of No.1 picks owed to them in 2011 and 2012 by the Lakers, Rockets and Warriors) in their efforts to acquire Anthony from Denver.
So if the Nuggets acquired the rights to an unprotected Nets' pick, the Blazers would be willing to listen to what else Denver would add to a potential trade for Batum.
One league source told ESPN.com that acquiring Derrick Favors and Batum is the "grand slam" that Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri would like to hit, but he remains handcuffed by Anthony's preference for a trade to the New York Knicks. As I reported last month, Anthony has made it known to the Nuggets that if he is traded, he will not sign his $65 million contract extension with any team other than New York. The source said Anthony has steadfastly maintained that stance in his recent discussions with Nuggets officials, despite the Nets being told that Anthony would sign the extension with them if he is traded to New Jersey.
Another league source said Knicks officials were perturbed to hear that Anthony was being told they were "dragging their heels" in their efforts to acquire Anthony. (Which could lend some sort of an explanation to the origins behind the latter part of this quote from Anthony after practice Monday in Denver): "Who wouldn't want to play in New York?" Anthony said. "I told you that last year. I think that's how all this stuff started, by me making that comment. New York is playing well right now. I don't think they're looking at me, they don't want me to come in here and mess what they have up. That's what I've read."
Someone needs to ask Anthony where he read that, because I do not believe it has been written. The Knicks remain very much interested in acquiring Anthony, but right now all they can do is wait for the Nuggets to re-engage them in further trade talks.