As deadline nears, Mozgov is the key

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The most important man in the NBA stood with his 7-foot-1 frame pressed up against a Knicks backdrop and offered up something that has been in limited supply over the past several days: truth and candor in a Russian accent.

As the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets emerged from an All-Star Weekend of subterfuge, secret meetings, misinformation, untruthful denials and high-stakes charades, the only thing holding up a trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to Madison Square Garden for the next 4½ seasons was Timofey Mozgov.

The Nuggets want him, and they were ready to send Anthony to the Knicks along with Chauncey Billups and others, sources said, if New York agrees to part with Mozgov along with Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph in a three-team trade that also would include the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But the Knicks want to keep Mozgov, and they were holding steadfast Monday in their refusal to add him to the trade as the hours counted down to the NBA's trading deadline at 3 p.m. ET Thursday.

"How I feel?" Mozgov asked when questioned about his temporary stature as the man holding up all trading activity around the league. "Uh, thank you. I don't know this, it's great, but I don't feel nothing."

That feeling of numbness extended to several members of the Knicks, who are awaiting word on their futures while keeping abreast of the latest reports, including the bombshell from ESPN's Chris Broussard that the Nuggets might move several players they would acquire from New York back into the Knicks' backyard by dealing them to the New Jersey Nets.

"All what I know I know from the newspapers," Mozgov said. "If I was traded, for me it is a new experience. Because in Europe, before they trade with some team you have to speak with the agent, there's some paperwork, a new contract. And in the NBA it's like a business. Usually nobody questions the player, [whether he] wants to be where he's going or not."

Of course, those particulars that Mozgov cited do not apply to Anthony, who has been the driving force behind this trade since he informed Nuggets officials early in the season, as first reported by ESPN.com, that he would not agree to sign an extension with any team, if traded, unless he is dealt to the Knicks.

The Nuggets have been trying to perpetuate the belief ever since that Anthony might agree to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension with the New Jersey Nets, a charade that extended though All-Star Weekend with Anthony's acquiescence and facilitation when he agreed to sit through his 40-minute meeting with Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and other Nets team officials (the meeting that Prokhorov and his spokeswoman continually maintained would not happen) to hear their sales pitch.

But that meeting, as Anthony was fully aware, was designed for the primary purpose of scaring the Knicks into improving their offer, which they did over the weekend by agreeing to add Gallinari to the package of players they are offering.

The Nuggets responded by asking for Landry Fields or Mosgov, then dropped the Fields request but insisted upon receiving the Russian rookie who moved back into the Knicks' starting lineup five games ago after beginning the season as New York's starting center.

"I'm sure they're all really on edge. No doubt about it, as everybody else is. You have to be," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I was talking to Raymond before, and his phone blew up over the weekend. That's part of the business now. It's not great. But we'll deal with it and, like everyone else, we'll see where it comes down and be ready to go."

At a certain point, somebody is going to blink in what now has become a staredown.

And what the Knicks have going in their favor is that they can sit on their current offer until 2:59 p.m. Thursday, knowing it will preclude the Nuggets from making the rest of the domino deals they have lined up as they attempt to dynamite their way into rebuilding mode.

It thereby behooves the Knicks to remain static in their refusal to include Mozgov -- even if the Nuggets offer to give back Melvin Ely, who would fill New York's need for another big body to play behind Ronny Turiaf (who joked Monday that he has forgotten how to speak English, a condition that will revert to normal after Thursday afternoon).

But the pressure to acquire Anthony now -- both from Knicks ownership and from Anthony himself -- is intense, and the prediction here is that if the Knicks acquire Anthony before Thursday, Mozgov will be included the deal.

However, if Thursday morning arrives and the status quo has held, the Nuggets will be the next to blink.

They'll settle for the package the Knicks have on the table, do with it what they will, and Anthony will be part of a starting lineup that includes Mozgov, Stoudemire, Billups and Fields on Friday night in Cleveland.

Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »