Melo Sweepstakes (sorry) haven't started yet

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
3:04
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
Archive
They’ve already had one press conference in Denver this week, but that will almost certainly be the only one.

The Nuggets and new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, just introduced Tuesday to the local media, are not close to announcing a Carmelo Anthony trade.

Sorry to disappoint again: Anthony isn’t even on the market.

Not yet, anyway.

That status could certainly change before NBA teams open training camps later this month, should Ujiri prove unsuccessful in his forthcoming attempt(s) to convince Anthony to sign the three-year, $65 million contract extension that the Nuggets, right around the June draft, believed Melo was on the verge of accepting.

The current reality, however, is that Melo is not in play for trade pitches.

The Nuggets can do nothing to prevent the future of Anthony – along with Chris Paul and Deron Williams (“I have a feeling he’s next for all these trade stories,” one Western Conference team official said of D-Will) – from becoming the new season’s sidebar obsession to the actual basketball. But they can tell teams that call about Anthony that they’re not ready to discuss potential Melo trade scenarios.

They can and they have said that already.

You can safely assume that roughly 29 teams have called Denver since Aug. 16, when our own Ric Bucher reported that it was “a matter of when, not if, Anthony and the Nuggets will go their separate ways.”

Yet sources tied to five potential Anthony suitors, reached in recent days by ESPN.com, all relayed the same story about the Nuggets’ response: They’re pretty much ending these conversations before they even start by saying that they don't want to engage in Melo talks.

Ujiri's Denver superiors instead want him to lead the club's mountain climb of a bid to try to reconnect with the 26-year-old scoring machine before they even consider trading him, hoping that some sort of positive karma exists in the reunion of Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout, and Anthony, who both arrived in Denver in 2003 and spent several formative seasons together in the organization.

A face-to-face plea before camp starts from Nuggets coach George Karl, who’s nearing his return to work after a frightening battle with throat cancer, is likely as well. Futile or not.

So …

Considering Anthony just got back to the States from a trip to China, next week would appear to be the soonest that trade talks with any substance could commence … and that likewise seems awfully fast for Denver's surrender. If Ujiri and new boss Josh Kroenke, alongside longtime Nuggets adviser Bret Bearup, ultimately have to trade away one of the game’s three most feared scorers in their first season holding such positions of prominence, they’d probably prefer not to rush it.

Unlike the two-year wait for free agency that Paul faces, Anthony indeed has the leverage to force a quicker exit with the ability to become a free agent after this season. It thus figures to be much tougher for Ujiri and Karl to dial down the tension between franchise and superstar in the way new GM Dell Demps and new coach Monty Williams appear to have done in New Orleans with Paul.

But the Nuggets do at least have some time.

Although one source close to the situation insisted last week that a trade could materialize quickly enough that Anthony “might never wear a Nuggets uniform again,” Denver isn’t obligated to do anything drastic before the February trading deadline.

Anthony would essentially have to be dealt by that point if he continues to refuse the contract extension, lest the Nuggets wind up in July 2011 like Cleveland or Ujiri’s last team in Toronto when LeBron James and Chris Bosh bolted for Miami in Summer of 2010 free agency. Yet it’s a serious stretch – for all of Melo’s presumed longings to return to the East Coast and the understandable appeal of the Knicks and (eventually Brooklyn) Nets to Anthony and wife Lala along with the Nuggets' obvious desire to be proactive while maintaining as much control as possible – to suggest that the bidding has already begun.

Maybe check back in two weeks.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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