Updated: October 31, 2010, 2:11 AM ET
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey Will Denver risk letting Melo walk this summer instead of trading him before the February deadline?

1. Melo Trade Watch FAQ

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

George Karl isn't calling it Melo Drama. He's got his own term.

"Melo turmoil."

Having survived the fight of his life last spring, Karl doesn't have the inclination or desire to expend energy on coverups. He's been open and blunt in acknowledging the difficulties facing the Denver Nuggets in their quest to keep hold of Carmelo Anthony, after Denver's face of the franchise refused to sign a contract extension over the summer and nearly got traded to New Jersey on the eve of training camp.

Roughly a month removed from that collapsed four-team blockbuster, where are we now in the Melo saga? The season's maiden Weekend Dime gets you up-to-date FAQ-style:

Q: Can the Nuggets realistically get Melo to abandon the idea of leaving?

Realistically? No.

But it shouldn't be described as an anti-Denver thing. Karl said this week on NBA TV that it's his belief Melo not only likes the city but "might even love Denver." That's not in dispute. Sources close to the situation insist that Anthony -- on top of longstanding rumblings that he has a strong desire to return to the East Coast after growing up in Baltimore -- is most concerned with being somewhere he can realistically (and regularly) contend for championships.

The Nuggets are lobbying him hard and have succeeded somewhat where many naysayers were sure they couldn't, calming the storm that made the final few days before training camp opened feel like the last 72 hours before the trade deadline in February. They are trying desperately to convince Anthony that the West is where he wants to be, two years removed from a closer-than-it-looked West finals series with the Lakers in a conference that currently features no clear-cut top challenger to L.A.

It also must be said that Karl has been a source of cautious optimism amid the openness and bluntness while taking the lead role in Denver's charm offensive, which includes his recent pronouncements about how "Melo and I are together more than we've ever been together." Nuggets legend Dikembe Mutombo has also been in town this week, partly to impart the message that Melo will miss the Rocky Mountains dearly -- as Deke did -- if he chooses to move on.

Melo, though, will eventually have to be convinced that the Nuggets -- with new general manager Masai Ujiri and rookie team president Josh Kroenke -- can do the best job of building a contender around him. And his less-than-clear "it's a time for change" comments this week stand as the strongest hint yet that Melo isn't buying in, no matter how hard the Nuggets -- synonymous with front-office instability for years and likewise regarded in some circles as reluctant spenders -- try to sell him on the idea that he's their John Elway.

What happens when the Nuggets hit their first rough stretch of the season? What happens to Denver's patience if Anthony or the fans get frustrated? What happens when the Nuggets, still without injured big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, go to New York to play the Knicks in mid-December? The season started about as well as it possibly could Wednesday night when they dismantled their division rivals from Utah in Karl's inspiring return from last season's debilitating cancer treatments. But it's very early.


Q: How plugged in has Melo been since reporting to training camp?

As stated, Karl has been frank about discussing his franchise player's uncertain future and how the "Melo turmoil" has to be acknowledged if the franchise has any hope of getting past it. The Nuggets have nonetheless been privately thrilled with Anthony's demeanor and professional approach, when some expected him to try to force things by being distant or disinterested.

Anthony hasn't budged on signing the three-year, $65 million extension that's been on the table for months, but he has consistently doused the tension with mostly benign (or vague) public commentary about his situation. And Anthony is at least listening to the behind-the-scenes pleas coming from Ujiri and Kroenke, which is what Nuggets officials hoped he would as the end of their interminably-long summer approached. They've clung to the belief, na´ve as it might sound, that being around pro-Nuggets voices for the first time in months would soften Anthony's disappointment with the team's swift fall from the West elite last season.

If he played with a sense of detachment, Anthony could perhaps force Denver's hand because of the resulting distractions such disengaged behavior would cause. But there have been no such crises yet. Even a rival executive who would love to trade for the All-Star forward told ESPN.com that it "sure looks from afar that Melo is being a good soldier."


Q: Don't the Nuggets lose trade leverage every day that passes leading up to the Feb. 24 trading deadline?

But that's only a theory. It assumes that the Nuggets are doomed to field lesser offers as the deadline nears because the whole NBA will be able to smell their desperation.

Yet, that's only a theory. Another plugged-in rival executive insists that no one knows for sure, no matter what anyone claims.

The first exec would argue that the Nuggets could "actually gain leverage" by waiting, given that players who signed contracts over the summer become eligible to be traded Dec. 15, potentially adding several new names to existing trade scenarios.

He also contends that the Nets are so determined to win the Melo Sweepstakes that Denver could easily go back to New Jersey in January, if nothing appetizing materializes in December, and still assemble a deal that would land them Nets rookie Derrick Favors and multiple future first-round picks.

One prominent player agent sees another benefit to waiting for the Nuggets. No teams out there have had time to get off to disastrous starts. What if, say, Chicago stumbles badly out of the gate? The Bulls hypothetically might be willing a month from now to part with assets they deem untouchable today.


Q: Can the original four-team deal that involved Charlotte, Utah and New Jersey be revived?

Doesn't look like it.

The Nets, sources say, haven't backed off their pursuit of Anthony one bit. But recent discussions with Denver have focused more on a direct two-team deal with the Nuggets or a multi-teamer that ropes in Portland rather than anything that brings the Bobcats (who wanted Nets point guard Devin Harris) or Jazz (who would have saved significant money by swapping Andrei Kirilenko for Charlotte's Boris Diaw) back to the table.

The Nets and Knicks remain the most fervent Melo chasers. Yet one source close to the situation maintained that the Nuggets -- if they can manage it -- continue to prefer not to send Anthony to his preferred destination in New York should they ultimately concede that a trade is unavoidable.

Whether that's because the Nuggets don't like the idea of Spike Lee allegedly serving as the Knicks' lead recruiter or because they simply don't like what New York has to offer is not fully clear. Yet you can rest assured that the Knicks won't be backing off any time soon.

The Knicks have also been trying to enlist the Blazers' help to put together a package Denver won't be able to resist, since New York needs to manufacture at least one first-round pick and probably an additional asset or two to tempt the Nuggets. The Knicks simply don't have the assets to deal with Denver directly, since their most attractive pieces are Eddy Curry's expiring contract and still-developing forwards Anthony Randolph and Danilo Gallinari.


Q: What does Denver expect in return if it does ultimately surrender Melo?

To go with multiple future first-rounders and payroll relief, Denver would want at least one quality young player that it can sell to its fan base. No. 3 overall pick Favors remains a prime example, as does a more seasoned former lottery pick, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala.

Sources stress that the saving-money element is an underreported key here. The big problem with the original four-team trade was that Denver would have been forced to pay more than $5 million in additional luxury tax at season's end after parting with Anthony, which longtime Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, Josh's father, found unacceptable.

Sources said that the Nuggets have registered strong interest in Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum and would naturally be unable to resist if a trade scenario emerged that enabled them to acquire Favors, Batum and future draft considerations. But the Blazers, sources said, continue to tell the Nuggets and all other interested parties (and, yes, it's a long line) that Batum is not available.

The Blazers do like Harris and almost crashed the September four-teamer with an offer to send Andre Miller to Charlotte to get the Nets' point guard, who was originally Bobcats-bound. But the Blazers dread the idea of parting with the blossoming Batum, especially in a deal that the Blazers don't end up with the best player.


Q: What happens if the Nuggets decide not to trade Melo before the deadline?

It remains difficult to imagine the Nuggets convincing Anthony to suddenly pledge his future to them after he's steadfastly refused to sign an extension that the organization once believed he'd sign in June or July. Hearing that saving money is such a Denver priority makes it even harder to imagine.

So if Anthony finishes the season with the Nuggets, it will almost certainly be because that's a gamle Denver wanted to take, not because Melo has had a change of heart.

And going into free agency without trading Anthony would indeed be a major risk that the overwhelming majority of league observers continues to believe Denver ultimately won't take.

It's widely assumed that Anthony could be forfeiting millions if he doesn't sign an extension with the Nuggets or his potential new employers under the current collective bargaining agreement before June 30. But Denver is more scared of its worst-case scenario -- ending up like Cleveland did last summer -- than it wants to admit.

Could the Nuggets gamble and keep Anthony beyond the trade deadline with the hope that doomsday scenarios about a possible lockout eventually convince him to sign the extension before the June 30 buzzer? Possible ... but far short of probable.

Don't forget Ujiri was hired by the Nuggets from Toronto, where Chris Bosh forced the Raptors to scramble for whatever they could get in a sign-and-trade with the Heat. The prospect of settling for a large trade exception and a consolation fistful of draft picks because its franchise player exercised his right to walk, as Cleveland and Toronto had to do with LeBron James and Bosh, weighs on the Nuggets every day. Especially since the Nuggets have a much clearer idea than the Cavs or Raps had with James or Bosh that Melo is serious about bolting.

"No way they put themselves in a Cleveland position," said one source close to the situation.

Dimes past: October 27 | 28 | 29

2. In Case You Missed It


Decided to stash a few links all in one place containing the various preseason predictions I've lodged at Stein Line HQ, knowing that they can be easily missed amid the countless waves of season-preview copy swamping you.

(And for the record, yes, I am already asking myself why I didn't go with OKC's James Harden as my Sixth Man Award favorite -- since Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry are starting the season as starters -- or give Indy's Roy Hibbert or Cleveland's J.J. Hickson more of a Most Improved Player look.)

• Team-by-team predictions in each conference are here.

• My Most Valuable Player pick is here, along with links to all the other individual awards right underneath the staff-wide MVP selections.

• My championship pick is here, along with links to division winners at the bottom.

• Here's a bonus link to the Power Rankings that will appear (and undoubtedly infuriate many) Mondays throughout the regular season.

3. Eastern Conference


It's one of those questions that typically circulates going into the season but was easily drowned out this time with so much else going on in Week 1: Who are the coaches on the hot seat?

Miami's Erik Spoelstra is a popular nominee, given the expectations on South Beach and Pat Riley's presence. Indiana's Jim O'Brien and Toronto's Jay Triano are other Eastern names that have been tossed out in various precincts, thanks largely to the short-term nature of their contracts.

But the name I hear most in NBA coaching circles in terms of seat warmth is Detroit's John Kuester. The Pistons have no shortage of issues, obviously, in their struggles to reload a roster that generated five straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals from 2004-08, but NBA coaching sources maintain that Kuester is particularly exposed to the threat of change, with Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Illitch closing in on the purchase of the Pistons.


Some numbers of note in the East this week:

1: The Heat are the first team in NBA history to field three teammates with at least five All-Star appearances each before the age of 30.

38: At 38 years and 234 days old as of Tuesday night, Shaquille O'Neal is officially the NBA's oldest active player. But Boston began the season ranked as only the fifth-oldest team in the league. Miami is the oldest, thanks largely to the signings of Juwan Howard (37), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (35) and Jerry Stackhouse (35).

11: Paul Pierce's 19 points in Tuesday's win halted a run of 11 consecutive openers for the modern-day Mr. Celtic with at least 20 points, one shy of Karl Malone's all-time record of 12 straight for Utah.

4: The Hawks have won four straight season openers. That is tied with Boston for the league's longest active streak.

3: The East has three of the league's five highest-paid players: Orlando's Rashard Lewis ($19.5 million), Boston's Kevin Garnett ($18.832 million) and Milwaukee's Michael Redd ($18.3 million). The Lakers' Kobe Bryant ($24.8 million) is No. 1 and San Antonio's Tim Duncan ($18.835 million) is No. 3.


Missing the first 10 games of the season through suspension will cost Boston's Delonte West (weapons charges) just over $97,000 in salary. Indiana's Brandon Rush (five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug laws) will lose just over $94,000. ... One of the Heat's better secondary tricks this summer after flanking Dwyane Wade with LeBron James and Chris Bosh was that they're still somehow staying nearly $4 million under the luxury-tax line. That leaves them some wiggle room to sign the extra center Spoelstra appeared to need against the Celtics, although they've already missed out on the ideal candidate, Houston-bound Erick Dampier. ... My favorite tweet of the week, probably because I'm a deranged 41-year-old with two Apollo Creed figurines in my home office, was from Celtics radio play-by-play voice Sean Grande in the buildup to Tuesday night's season opener: "Anyone getting a Rocky IV Drago-Apollo 'this is bizarre' vibe for Celts-Heat? Creed's over the hill and the Russian hasn't fought anyone."

4. Not Quite Record-Setting


Remember all that talk Tuesday night about the Celtics and Heat cramming more former All-Stars into one game than any game witnessed in the NBA for more than 40 years?

The teams actually fell one All-Star short of tying the record because Stackhouse, in his first game since signing with Miami last week, didn't dress.

Miami and Boston could've combined to field 13 players with a combined 75 All-Star selections. For the Heat: James (six), Wade (six), Bosh (five), Ilgauskas (two), Stackhouse (two), Howard (one) and Jamaal Magloire (one). For the Celts: Shaquille O'Neal (15), Garnett (13), Ray Allen (nine), Pierce (eight), Jermaine O'Neal (six) and Rajon Rondo (one).

The last time at least 13 former All-Stars played in the same regular-season game was Jan. 29, 1969, in Philadelphia's 119-96 victory over Atlanta. For the Hawks: Richie Guerin, Don Ohl, Bill Bridges, Zelmo Beatty, Lou Hudson, Walt Hazzard and Joe Caldwell. For the Sixers: Hal Greer, Johnny Green, Chet Walker, Archie Clark, Billy Cunningham and Darrall Imhoff.

In compiling this data for ESPN's NBA team, ace researcher Pete Newmann assembled a list of notable events from 1969 ... which I'll pass along even though he omitted not only my birthday but Manchester City's seminal FA Cup triumph over Leicester a day later.

Jan. 30, 1969: The Beatles give their last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records. The impromptu concert was broken up by the police.

May 15, 1969: An American teenager known as 'Robert R.' dies in St. Louis, Mo., in mysterious circumstances. In 1984, his death is identified as the first confirmed case of HIV/AIDS in North America.

July 20, 1969: The world watches in awe as Neil Armstrong takes the historic first steps on the Moon.

Aug. 15, 1969: The Woodstock Festival begins in upstate New York, featuring some of the top rock musicians of the era.

Oct. 16, 1969: The "Miracle Mets" win the World Series, beating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in five games.

Nov. 15, 1969: Dave Thomas opens his first restaurant in a former steakhouse on a cold, snowy Saturday in downtown Columbus, Ohio. He names the chain Wendy's after his 8-year-old daughter Melinda Lou, who was nicknamed Wendy by her siblings.

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