Anthony was weighing various contract lengths Monday night, according to sources close to the forward, sparked in part by Sunday's ESPN report that James plans to sign a three-year deal with the Cavaliers with a player option for a fourth season. James reportedly prefers the shorter contract to the maximum five-year extension worth an estimated $80 million.
Anthony committed to signing an extension with the Nuggets mere hours after the NBA's free-agency period commenced on July 1. He can officially sign the deal as early as Wednesday, which is the first day NBA teams can officially sign free agents and complete trades after the salary cap is set for the 2006-07 season.
Earlier Monday, one of Anthony's agents indicated that the forward favors the original five-year plan. Bill Duffy called Anthony's future in Denver and James' conditions in Cleveland "two different situations."
Anthony echoed those sentiments in Tuesday's editions of the Rocky Mountain News, which quotes the 22-year-old as saying his preference is a full five-year extension with the ability to opt out after Year 4 and become an unrestricted free agent.
"Of course, I would want an option year," Anthony told the newspaper during a break at his annual basketball camp in the Denver area. "That's what we're negotiating right now."
Anthony also told the paper that he, James and Miami's Dwyane Wade have remained in contact with each other as all three prepare to sign lucrative extensions.
"We're a group," Anthony said of the trio, all taken in the top five of the 2003 draft. "No matter if we're on different teams or whatever, we're still together."
Anthony, James, Wade and Toronto's Chris Bosh all received maximum extension offers from their teams minutes into the free-agent period on July 1. The longest and richest deal those players can receive is the five-year extension worth about $80 million, with the exact value to be calculated in July 2007 when the salary cap for the 2007-08 season is established.
James, though, is interested in signing only a three-year contract with the Cavaliers, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, with a player option for a fourth season. The total package would be worth closer to $60 million if James played all four seasons in Cleveland.
The shorter arrangement James prefers would potentially leave some $20 million in guaranteed money on the table but would also provide potential benefits, especially given James' unquestioned ability to recoup that money in the endorsement market.
The biggest benefit would be that becoming an unrestricted free agent after three seasons would enable James, an Ohio native, to see how close the Cavs can get to championship contention before making an extended commitment to his hometown team.
Tim Duncan followed a very similar path in San Antonio in the summer of 2000, flirting with a lucrative free-agent offer from Orlando before ultimately signing a three-year extension to stay in South Texas. The Spurs' franchise power forward decided he wanted to see how the club would weather David Robinson's retirement in the summer of 2003.
Robinson went out as a champion after the Spurs beat New Jersey in the 2003 NBA Finals and Duncan, who by then could claim Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as teammates, signed a seven-year deal worth in excess of $120 million.
Under the terms of his expected deal with the Cavaliers, James would have the right to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-10 season.
It remains to be seen whether Anthony would follow suit or opt for the greater financial security of a five-year agreement, which would potentially keep him in Denver through the 2011-2012 season. If Anthony gets the option he wants, he could become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011.
Wade and Bosh have both stated publicly that they intend to sign extensions with their respective teams this month. Henry Thomas, who represents both players, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether Wade and Bosh prefer the five-year plan or something shorter.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.